Full Throttled Out: Running on Fumes for Fall Faculty Development Efforts (Issue 20)

Car doing drifting, and doing a burnout.


Ever since the Spring, my colleagues and I have shifted gears to help faculty teach in a virtual or online format while working from home! The global pandemic has popularized virtual/online teaching, consequently, increasing demands for our virtual/online course design, development, and facilitation know-how. We continue to selflessly give knowing that our help facilitates students learning and faculty teaching at a distance to remain free from COVID-19 exposure.

We do, however, realize that there is an extent to our race to nowhere fast. My colleagues and I are suffering from Zoom fatigue, mixed up sleep patterns, and concerns for balancing rapid course development with course quality. On top of work stressors, our family members are either needing extra care, working from home, or completing school from home. They depend on us to meet their needs. We are in full throttle, running on fumes, with no expectation of hitting the brakes any time soon.

Now, as Fall begins, we are running out of energy. Please help us curtail burnout!


Running on Fumes

Dear Running on Fumes,

You are experiencing stress and anxiety in uncertain times. You are on the verge of burnout if not already experiencing it. 

What is burnout and its symptoms? According to the Mayo Clinic (2020), job burnout is marked by physical or emotional exhaustion with a reduced sense of accomplishment and personal identity. Symptoms could include any combination of these work related reactions: cynicism, trouble getting started, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, reduced satisfaction with achievements, feeling disillusioned, or impatience with colleagues, staff, faculty, or students. You may also experience a change in sleeping habits or unexplained physical symptoms. Some may use substances to feel better. 

Whether or not you and your faculty development colleagues are experiencing burnout, you likely have experienced a range of emotions as you addressed faculty development needs during this pandemic. During the onset of the pandemic, many higher education institutions closed campuses and faculty mass transformed their courses into a virtual format. Though those in your profession had the requisite knowledge for the transition, it was a transition nonetheless and likely extra work, especially navigating the changes the pandemic brought to your lifestyles.

Taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe if essential to feel better and optimally perform.

The type of work accomplished by consultants, technical problem solvers, coordinators, and facilitators of faculty development combined with the increased demands has real effects. Those who prepare faculty to teach virtual, online, or hybrid courses engage in emotional labor, regulating their emotions in order to take care of the faculty with whom they are helping, similar to that of healthcare professionals caring for patients.

The task demand for those in our profession during these times required fast-tracking faculty development and speeding up course production while ensuring quality courses. Though, few additional resources were likely allocated towards those efforts, thereby workloads likely increased. You may have been counting on summer for some rest, but work demands were such that you could not use that time to rejuvenate. Nights of late work or anxiety due to the stressors of the transformation may have taken a toll on your circadian rhythms, now your sleep patterns are off. No wonder you are exhausted!

Burnout is a real phenomena in this line of work, because we tend to be passionate about what we do until we do so much that we aren’t sure that we are making a real contribution. Continuing to work while feeling depleted may put your job performance and health at risk.

I, myself, have grappled with managing stressors related to burnout throughout my career in digital learning. I have found that engaging in self-care practices empowered me to sustain my professionalism throughout the years.

Taking care of yourself during these times is paramount. Taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe is essential to not just feeling better but also to optimally performing to help others. According to Huijser, Sim, and Felton (2020), this is a call to action.

I offer this list of tips to prevent burnout.

  • Harness the power of social connection. Surround yourself with nurturing people.  Debrief with a trusted friend. Seek solace from supportive, hard-working colleagues. Stay connected to supervisors who have trust in you. 
  • Work for a progressive unit. If you have a choice, choose to work for an institution that is forward-thinking, has clear strategic goals and priorities, and offers resources to support these.
  • Create autonomy over your activities and schedule. This may mean taking breaks and being okay with work products that are good enough rather than pursuing a nebulous state of perfection. Definitely let go of non-essential tasks. Make some room for engaging activities that are intrinsically motivating for you or professional development opportunities related to your career growth.
  • Enjoy and find satisfaction in your work. Know that you provide a valuable skill set. Make your work your own and enjoy collaborating with supportive colleagues when possible.
  • Take care of your physical self. Exercise, eat right, sleep well, and listen to your body. When it is time to stop and get up from your computer, do so. 
  • Practice self-care. This may mean taking a day off work, conducting daily reflections, connecting with nature, engaging in spiritual practices or meditation, or practicing gratitude. 
  • Seek professional help. Look into your Employee Assistance Program or health insurance plan for a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist that meets your needs.

 In the words of Parker Palmer (2000), 

Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.

We owe self care to ourselves, to others, as well as to our profession. 

Though demands of events triggered by the pandemic have placed extraordinary demands on professionals in our field, we are finding ways to take care of ourselves. Many more strategies for self-care and preventing burnout likely exist that particularly address the unique situations of those who prepare faculty to teach online during these unprecedented times.

What strategies have you found effective for taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe? Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit community!


Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Road to Instructional Designer Credibility (Issue 19)

Credibility road sign


I am new to the instructional design profession. I got this job–which I love–because I taught online, used flipped classroom strategies, and redesigned my course several times—not because I have any training or education in this field. I also did not have the support I needed with my first supervisor (who has since left). I’m looking to re-image myself because my faculty see me and automatically think “Oh you just want me to teach online!” OR “You demanded I take a survey. Who are you to tell ME what to do?”

What do you suggest? I really want to help my faculty move toward the 21st Century in higher education.


Reformation in Progress

Dear Reformation,

Thanks for your question! First of all, I hope you are keeping yourself safe. Even in the best of times, the scenario you present is challenging – yet quite commonly encountered. During the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 situation, it can be even more difficult to engage faculty in quality online instruction. If ever there was a time to consider yourself as a central figure in your institution, it is now. Instructional designers have been called upon to assist and play a vital role in supporting faculty in teaching remotely. There are a few strategies that can be used to navigate various organizational cultures.

More than ever, instructional designers are central figures for institutional teaching and learning goals.

#1 Ensure that you locate a faculty member who is an advocate for online teaching and learning. Once you do so, make every effort to build a healthy relationship. This will create a way for you to provide needed instructional guidance. Once you find this online champion, you will have access to others who may be interested. Remember, any cultural shift will take time.

#2 I would also recommend that you use the online Faculty Development Decision Guide (FDDG) to assess your organizational needs. Doing so will also provide you with a pathway for developing initiatives for supporting faculty.

#3 Since you have also taught online and have developed various courses, it will be necessary to model/show faculty members the endless possibilities of online teaching and learning. The most significant way to show your skills will be to demonstrate them in practice.

#4 Finally, I would also recommend that you start a series of communication with your faculty members. Your conversation could focus on current practices and research in online teaching and learning, tools, and technologies used in online learning and teaching, and your research. Importantly, I recommend that you consider hosting some informal sessions. These sessions could take the form of one-to-one meetings or group meetings. Your ultimate aim is to build rapport with faculty. Doing so will require time, understanding, support, engagement, and effective communication.

I’m sure there are many more tips that others in the community have found useful. What strategies do you use for effectively engaging faculty in the online course design process – especially during such challenging times as we are currently facing? Please share your thoughts with our community!

Mergers & Acquisitions: Models of Curriculum Design Review (Issue 18)


I’m an Instructional Designer at a R1 university where our teaching and learning center has recently merged with our Academic Technologies team. As part of this process, I’ve been asked to lead a curriculum review of all the workshops, institutes, and training we offer to our teaching community (this includes faculty, graduate students and post-docs). This is a large task that involves reflecting on what competencies we want them to have, and where there is  overlap or gaps in our offerings. One of the attributes we want to assess is modality and where it might make sense to increase our offerings either fully online or blended. My questions are:

  • What suggestions or recommendations do you have for designing online faculty development courses? Are there specific examples where a self-paced, fully online facilitated or blended might be the best choice?
  • What approaches have others taken to broadly reviewing all their offerings and going through the process of curriculum mapping?


Lost in Translation


Dear Lost in Translation,

Merging your teaching and learning center with your academic technologies team sounds like an exciting but daunting process. I hope the consolidation of the teams improves the progress toward your common goals as the teams learn to communicate in each other’s design language. As you mentioned, this is a critical time to review your faculty development offerings to ensure your curriculum design develops the intended learning outcomes free of gaps and superfluous overlaps, and aligns across all offerings.

As you review the gaps in your curriculum and select the modalities in which to design and deliver new offerings, consider utilizing a faculty development framework. A recent TOPkit Digest described three top faculty development models for planning new or revamping faculty development programs.

Whichever framework you use to redesign your faculty development program, Curriculum design review assesses learning outcomes, closes gaps, and aligns training with other programs.consider incorporating these three components in your project to strengthen your effectiveness:

  • Survey your stakeholders as early in the redesign process as possible, including your unit personnel, institutional faculty, and even stakeholders external to your institution. This survey will help garner valuable feedback and preferences regarding faculty development in general, your past offerings specifically, and future faculty development offerings. The results of your survey can inform your decisions about modalities, pacing, gaps, etc.
  • Continually align the learning objectives, content, activities, and assessments throughout your redesign. This can help you close gaps and reduce needless overlaps in your offerings and outcomes.
  • Include a timeline in your project planning. This is important for keeping everyone involved in sync and to ensure the redesign actually gets completed. The timeline should include:
    • Tasks to be completed
    • The expected duration of each task
    • The date on which each task needs to be complete
    • Dependencies between tasks

Another resource you may find useful is the Faculty Development Decision Guide (FDDG), an interactive tool designed to allow institutions to evaluate their online faculty development needs, create a plan of action for their own online faculty development program, and have access to resources that will support faculty development. This tool is based on the Quality Transformation Model for Faculty Development (QTMFD).

Whatever the outcome, I hope your unit will share lessons learned and recommendations when your process is complete and your newly formed unit is in operation and progressing toward its objectives.

I’m sure there are many more tips that others in the community have found useful. What strategies do you use for effectively engaging faculty in the online course design process? Please share your thoughts with our community!