The Future of Teaching in Higher Education
Higher education is undergoing a period of rapid change and evolution. Technological advances, new pedagogical approaches and changing student demographics are forcing colleges and universities to rethink how teaching and learning happen. At the center of this transformation are faculty members, who have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of higher education. By embracing change, developing new skills and leveraging technology, faculty can create more effective, engaging and accessible student learning experiences.
What Faculty Can Realistically Expect
The role of faculty in higher education is shifting. Gone are the days when professors could rely solely on lecturing from the front of a classroom. While subject matter expertise remains vital, faculty will increasingly be expected to guide, facilitate and design learning experiences. This does not mean starting over from scratch and abandoning lectures altogether but diversifying teaching methods and integrating new technologies to engage students better. Faculty can expect to spend more time developing blended and online learning opportunities, using learning analytics to tailor instruction to individual students and creating multimedia resources.
Faculty should also anticipate increased use of educational technologies in their courses and classrooms. From simple tools like learning management systems and lecture capture to more advanced technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, colleges and universities are investing heavily in educational technology. Faculty members must assess how these technologies can improve student outcomes and complement in-person instruction. Though it may seem daunting, most faculty will find they can incrementally integrate new tools into their existing teaching methods. With an open mindset to experimentation, faculty can lead the way in determining how best to leverage technology for learning.
Making teaching more transparent is another near-term expectation for faculty. Recording lectures, sharing assignments and rubrics publicly and collecting student feedback are becoming standard practices. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, transparency is beneficial for both students and faculty. Students gain access to valuable study resources and a clear understanding of expectations, while faculty can gather data to improve their teaching over time. Teaching will become more public as classrooms and courses become more digitized. Embracing this transparency will be essential for faculty adaptation.
Skills for Faculty to Develop Now
To remain effective teachers in higher education’s changing environment, faculty should look to develop skills in four key areas:
- Instructional design—Faculty must become adept at designing engaging and measurable learning experiences both online and face-to-face, which requires knowing best practices in learning science, using multimedia tools and writing clear learning objectives. Regularly partnering with instructional designers is highly recommended.
- Educational technology—With most courses integrating some educational technology, faculty will need hands-on skills in their specific tools, which means learning the LMS thoroughly, incorporating multimedia tools, experimenting with new technologies and staying up to date as innovations emerge. Dedicating time each semester to expanding educational technology skills is wise.
- Data literacy—As higher education moves toward evidence-based teaching practices, faculty must collect, interpret and apply student learning data. Developing skills in learning analytics tools, assessment techniques and data visualization is critical. A data-driven approach allows faculty to target instruction and support student success.
- Cultural competence—With student demographics changing, faculty must strengthen their cultural competence and ability to teach diverse learners, which includes examining personal biases, expanding representation in curricula and employing inclusive pedagogies. Graduate courses, workshops and ongoing reflection can all build the faculty’s cultural competence.
Building expertise in these areas will position faculty to find success as teachers, regardless of the specific changes that come.
The Growth of Online Learning
Without question, online and hybrid courses will continue growing and influencing higher education instruction. The pandemic dramatically increased the prevalence of online learning, breaking down barriers and revealing its potential. Moving forward, institutions will look to retain the flexibility, expanded access and pedagogical innovations that online instruction enables. Faculty can expect more courses to be offered in hybrid formats, blending online and face-to-face teaching elements.
For many educators, this is uncharted territory, which brings up many questions. How can we maintain quality and rigor online? How much time does it take to teach online effectively? What exactly constitutes a hybrid course? It is wise for faculty new to online teaching to start small and simple if time permits. Begin by putting a portion of your course online, like discussions or multimedia resources. Partner with instructional designers and early adopters on campus to learn best practices. Take advantage of campus training and support resources. Build confidence before making an entire course online or hybrid.
It is also vital that faculty advocate for policies and resources that empower quality online instruction including reasonable development time and workload calculations, instructional design support, quality standards and evaluation processes tailored to online teaching. Faculty should also insist that online courses meet the same learning goals and be held to the same rigor as face-to-face alternatives. By taking an active role, faculty can shape the integration of online learning on their campuses.
Preventing AI-Enabled Cheating
Artificial intelligence tools capable of generating written work, solving problems and even passing exams present new challenges to academic integrity. As these AI applications become more advanced and accessible to students, faculty must vigilantly safeguard against misuse.
Faculty have a few options to deter AI cheating in their courses:
- Detail academic honesty policies and consequences in syllabi. Require students to acknowledge understanding.
- Adapt assignments and assessments to make AI completion difficult. Avoid broad essay prompts and instead use contextualized multi-part or applied problems. Oral exams and presentations also measure authentic student knowledge.
- Leverage plagiarism detection software to identify misconduct after the fact and as a deterrent.
- Use lockdown browsers, webcam proctoring and authentication tools for exams.
- Develop new test bank questions each term, so recycled ones are less susceptible to AI.
- Incorporate AI into the curriculum. Teaching about the capabilities and limitations of AI tools makes cheating seem less viable.
- Faculty play a central role in reducing the likelihood of high-tech cheating. While stopping every case is challenging, faculty can implement comprehensive integrity policies, adjust assignments and assessments and utilize technology to make cheating much harder. With proper safeguards, AI does not have to undermine academic integrity.
Leveraging AI to Enhance Teaching
Rather than viewing artificial intelligence as a threat, faculty would be better served to explore how AI can become an ally. Specific applications of AI have real potential to enhance teaching effectiveness.
One example is using AI to grade routine assignments like quizzes and homework automatically, which frees up faculty time from basic grading to focus on higher-order instructional tasks like project design and mentoring. Algorithms can provide quick feedback to students as well.
AI also allows for advanced learning personalization based on individual student needs. Analytics tools can help faculty identify gaps in students’ understanding. Then AI platforms can deliver customized content, practice problems and interventions tailored to each learner. This approach humanizes education, meeting students where they are.
AI chatbots are being developed for online and hybrid courses to answer common student questions or provide tutoring support. These bots operate 24/7, expanding help availability. Faculty could customize bots to align with course content and teaching style.
Finally, AI is powering new developments in educational content. Complex simulations, adaptive learning environments, VR-powered field trips and sophisticated tutoring applications are all becoming possible. Faculty should be familiar with emerging tools that may benefit their students and teaching goals.
Rather than displacing faculty, AI is more likely to become an amplifying tool. Just as calculators did not replace math teachers, AI will augment and assist faculty. Adopting this supportive perspective of AI is the wise path forward.
Actions for Higher Education Institutions
Colleges and universities play a vital role in preparing faculty for the future of teaching. Here are some essential actions institutions should take:
- Make pedagogical training core to faculty onboarding and annual development. Offer workshops on instructional design, educational technology integration and evidence-based teaching practices. Bring in experts for training and consultation.
- Develop flexible workload models that account for online and hybrid instruction. Faculty need fair compensation and the time required to innovate instruction.
- Increase instructional design support through campus centers dedicated to teaching enhancement. Provide instructional designers as consulting partners to faculty.
- Create pipelines for continuous upgrades to educational technology infrastructure across campus. Provide instructional technology coaches to ensure adoption.
- Establish clear quality guidelines, expectations and support systems for online, hybrid and technology-enhanced teaching. Hold both online and face-to-face courses to consistent, rigorous standards.
- Develop academic integrity policies and resources to address AI cheating threats, emphasizing deterrence and prevention.
- Highlight and disseminate successful teaching innovations. Support interdisciplinary sharing of ideas and best practices.
By taking a proactive and supportive stance, institutions can empower faculty to evolve teaching and learning for the future.
Managing the Workload
Making significant changes to one’s teaching often requires investing a lot of time and effort at first. This extra workload can feel burdensome to faculty, especially those on the tenure track. Institutions must acknowledge these demands and provide concrete support.
One approach is to offer course release time for faculty engaged in substantial course redesign, such as moving a course online or to a hybrid format, which would provide them with dedicated hours for development without increasing their overall workload. Schools might also compensate faculty for the time they spend on intensive course building outside the semester.
Schools should set reasonable parameters around online course sizes for long-term workload balance and prominently factor educational technology use into tenure and promotion decisions. Adjusting how teaching intensity is calculated in personnel reviews can enable more innovation.
Faculty must also practice self-care and set boundaries. Trying to do a little too fast can lead to burnout. Start with small changes and grow them over multiple semesters. Seek help from instructional support staff when needed. Use time-saving technology, so innovations enhance rather than overwhelm. With planning and support, faculty can manage the initial workload associated with teaching evolution.
Higher education has always adapted to the times, and this era of change is no different. With technology accelerating many shifts, faculty have more tools than ever to make teaching more effective, engaging and accessible. It is an exciting time to be an educator.
While change brings work, it also brings immense opportunities for faculty to shape the future. By maintaining academic rigor, evolving intelligently and putting students at the center, higher education can transform teaching for the modern age. The future is uncertain, but faculty can light the way. The key is embracing a spirit of openness, flexibility and experimentation. When faculty adopt new skills and leverage technology as a teaching partner, the possibilities for progress expand greatly. Despite the challenges, faculty can look to the future with optimism. Teaching roles will not be replaced but rather enriched, strengthened and made more student-centered. With work and advocacy, faculty can help build a higher education system fit for the future.