Faculty learning communities: an opportunity for professional growth
Most of us have experienced moments in the online world when something really clicks. The interaction is rich, students are deeply engaged, and there’s a strong sense of community. Yet how often does this actually happen? What strategies can we implement to promote more instances of this rich engagement and meaningful flow of ideas? Beyond the training that Distance Education has to offer, what opportunities do we have to learn about such strategies?
Before I attempt to answer that, allow me ask another question. Do you ever find yourself secluded in the silo of online teaching? In spite of your robust discussions with students in your online classes, do you find yourself closed off from interacting with your own teaching colleagues at PCC? Are you yearning to gain some perspective that is outside of the box, to interact with peers to share ideas and effective strategies for online teaching?
My own perspective is that one of the best opportunities we have is through online faculty sharing their own strategies and expertise with colleagues at PCC. I have heard from a significant number of online instructors who are looking for opportunities to share and learn in this way.
Welcome to the Faculty Learning Community!
With this opportunity for sharing and professional development in mind, I invite you to consider a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) approach, specifically for online instructors focusing on instructional topics of the group’s choice. There are plenty of topics that would be of interest, e.g. promoting student engagement and interaction, academic integrity, the “problem” student, online student retention, strategies for providing feedback, truly communicating our own voice in the online environment, effective assessment, effective use of audio and video, unexplored tools in D2L… I’m sure that you have a number of additional topics in mind. In their book Developing Faculty Learning Communities at Two-Year Colleges, Susan Sipple and Robin Lightner highlight a number of potential benefits of an FLC for faculty, including
- exploring strategies that can improve teaching and impact student learning
- improving the professional lives of faculty by reducing the sense of isolation and burnout
- creating opportunities for peer mentoring relationships
- providing the time and space for scholarly reflection
- developing additional expertise in teaching and learning that supplements discipline-based expertise (Sipple & Lightner, 2013).
Faculty Learning Community exploration sessions during in-service week
To begin the exploration and implementation of this opportunity, lightning-round style presentations focusing on strategies for promoting interaction and engaging students in the online environment have been scheduled during in-service week at each campus. These will be followed by some time for discussion, and the final part of the session will be dedicated to exploring the concept of a faculty learning community, interest in such a community, preferences regarding the structure, and possible topics of focus. The goal is to collect input and begin one or more faculty learning communities fall term.
It would be great if we could have a Faculty Learning Community for online instructors at each campus, and a fifth one meeting virtually. This will depend on interest and having at least one instructor interested in co-facilitating such a group. (You are welcome to let me know if you might be interested in such a role.)
Here are the sessions scheduled during in-service week. The CA & RC sessions could use more volunteers for the “lightning round” sharing. Let me know if you’re interested ;-)
- Sept 16 (T), SY, FT Faculty In-service, 2nd breakout
- Sept 17 (W), RC TLC, 1:30 – 2:30
- Sept 17 (W), SY, PT Faculty In-service, 8:00
- Sept 18 (Th), CA Terrell Hall 100, 1:00 – 2:00
- Sept 18 (Th), SE, PT Faculty In-service (TBD)
In closing, faculty learning communities have been popular in other states for many years. They can be an excellent way to stimulate innovation and to increase communication and collaboration among faculty who are often isolated from their colleagues. I hope you’ll consider joining us to share your ideas.