Impact of Faculty Development on Physical Therapy Professors' Beliefs

Article excerpt

Physical therapy faculty share similarities with faculty across allied health fields, such as nursing, and other clinical disciplines that educate students in licensing and board certification programs. Most have clinical experience and discipline-based expertise, however they may not have had the benefit of continuous learning aimed at enhancing their teaching repertoires. Because of the rapid influx of clinicians into the academy, faculty development is considered essential to their integration. The purpose of this study was to describe how faculty development impacted physical therapy professors' understanding and use of new instructional skills. Eight physical therapists from a university located in the Southeast U.S. participated in a six-week, 12-hour teaching seminar focusing on curriculum and teaching where participants kept reflective journals to record their responses to question prompts. Basic unitizing, coding, and categorizing were used to conduct a multi-stage analytical process. Eight themes emerged including assessment, instructional strategies, teaching styles, and individuals' planned changes to their classroom practice, among others. Findings showed that professional development is essential for enriching faculty instructional capacity to promote student learning and patient care. Investing in the professional development of faculty may help ensure quality teaching so that professors become conduits to knowledge production.

Faculty development is "the continuous learning that professionals may need to pursue throughout their careers in order to maintain, enhance, and broaden their professional competence" (Gottlieb, Rogers & Rainey, 2002, p. 280). Studies in physical therapy, and other health professions, have shown that the faculty development process is central to effective teaching and the preparation of future healthcare practitioners and professional educators (Behar-Horenstein, Childs, & Graff, 2008, 2009, 2010; Farmer, 2004; Mahara & Jones, 2005, Steinert et al., 2006). Keeping physical therapists continuously informed about new knowledge, skills and technology is essential to their capacity as instructors.

Historically physical therapy (FT) programs have been disadvantaged. They have been forced to hire an overwhelming number of clinicians as faculty rather than individuals who have been trained in higher educational instruction and assessment (Harrison, «Sc Kelly, 1996). Most of the clinical instructors, while quite skillful, often lack teaching abilities (Gottlieb, Rogers «Sc Rainey, 2002). Hiring clinicians resulted because universities were in the initial stages of developing physical therapy degree programs. Such an action highlights the importance of developing a mechanism to continuously determine faculty effectiveness and productivity. Faculty development can help new faculty examine their own beliefs about teaching and consider how they might apply their thinking. New faculty from clinical disciplines are often different from traditional academicians who earn several degrees and typically experience graduate student teaching and research roles aimed at faculty-type expertise.

The American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) former director of professional development, Marilyn Phillips, encourages the use of faculty development. This process can be a vehicle to create one's own plan or "blueprint for career development" (Starcke, 2005, p. 42). APTA' s Board of Directors acknowledges varied modes of faculty development including where and how it can occur. " [It] may occur in formal instructional settings or in natural societal settings and may include . . . academic courses of study, organized continuing education, independent study, and self- and external assessment" (p. 42). Although some individuals benefit from structured activities, others may work on their own plan of professional growth. However, the APTA directors emphasize the role of assessment in professional development stating, "All professional development experiences should be planned and assessed" (p. …