Faculty Learning Communities: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Improve Online Teaching

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

As more faculty are being asked to teach online, building capacity to support an ever increasing number of faculty is a significant challenge.  Faculty require opportunities to dialogue, support, and time to reflect on teaching. Faculty learning communities have transformed how Grand Valley State University is providing timely, and high quality professional development. This presentation describes how interdisciplinary faculty learning communities have been successfully implemented to build collegiality across the institutional while supporting online/hybrid instructors.

After attending this session, participants will be able to:  

  • Analyze how FLCs can encourage interdisciplinary partnerships with faculty and other campus units (i.e. Instructional Designers, eLearning Instructional Technologists, Digital Media Developers,  University Libraries and Faculty Teaching & Learning Center)
  • Describe how using FLCs can strengthen and enhance the quality of online teaching and learning
  • Discover the benefits of building capacity through collegiality among faculty
  • Identify principles, methods, and takeaways that can be implemented at participant institutions


Kimberly holds a Masters in Information and Library Studies from the University of Michigan and joined GVSU in 2000 as an instructional designer. In addition to her instructional designer duties, she is also responsible for leading university-wide and department specific faculty development workshops and coordinates the Online & Hybrid Teaching Faculty Learning Communities. She enjoys facilitating the Foundations of Online/Hybrid Course Development series and holding individual consultations with faculty who are developing and teaching online/hybrid courses.
Eric Kunnen has a passion for, works to lead, support, and coordinate effective uses of technology in teaching and learning. He is an Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Michigan. His primary role focuses on collaborating and supporting distance learning initiatives at the university while exploring future trends in emerging technologies in teaching and learning. He also collaborates to research and support academic technologies used in the classroom and in eLearning. Previously, Eric was the Emerging Technologies Coordinator at GVSU and a Director of Distance Learning and Instructional Technologies at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Extended Abstract

Like most institutions offering online courses, faculty scheduled to teach a fully online course or hybrid course at GVSU must complete a Foundations of Online & Hybrid Course Development training and provide evidence of Blackboard competency.   Faculty are also encouraged to work with their library liaison, an instructional designer and digital media developer for individual support, but there are significant challenges in building capacity with an ever increasing number of faculty, along with providing ongoing opportunities for faculty from varying disciplines to get together and share their experiences.  As the instructional designers and eLearning specialists were supporting a variety of departments, we witnessed amazing pockets of innovation (as well as areas of concern/frustration) and knew that faculty would benefit from learning from each other.  Working in collaboration with our Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Center, the instructional designers began organizing interdisciplinary faculty learning communities for online and hybrid instruction.  

The GVSU Faculty Learning Community model is based on a structure developed by Milton Cox at Miami University.  The FLCs engage in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning in an online/hybrid format and include activities and discussion that provide learning, development and community building.

Sponsored by the Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Center, and organized by the Instructional Designers in Instructional Design for eLearning (IDeL), these learning communities provide an outstanding venue for faculty-led dialogue and to share collective expertise regarding online/hybrid instruction at GVSU.  The FLCs hold monthly meetings on all three campuses and meet (September through April) during the fall/winter semester(s) for 90 minutes to:

•          Support new and experienced online/hybrid faculty through dialogue and samples
•          Explore best practices associated with online/hybrid teaching and learning
•          Identify emerging technologies to support online teaching and learning
•          Share collective expertise across disciplines

Secondary membership also include library liaisons, and staff from eLearning and Emerging Technologies.  All participants are also given access to a Blackboard organization which houses samples, resources, agendas and additional professional development opportunities.  Faculty are required to submit a grant application to FTLC to attend a faculty learning community and then asked to identify topics of discussion related to online teaching and learning.  Those topics are then shared with the FLC members and the first meeting is spent ranking discussion topics and identifying faculty presenters for the subsequent meetings.  Each meeting covers a multitude of discussion topics, and faculty are given an opportunity to share their examples from their courses and their experiences with their peers.  As appropriate, scholarly resources and other materials are also used to complement specific discussion topics. Unlike some FLCs, faculty are not given a financial stipend for attending, but a small budget is used to provide refreshments or to purchase supplemental materials.

It’s extremely important to let the faculty select topics to meet their needs, which may differ from those of instructional designers and other support staff; but provides a scaffolding upon which they can build. By creating a safe environment for honest engagement using a faculty learning community model, faculty from interdisciplines are encouraged to share innovations, inspire community and create mentorship with their peers. Some of the ongoing challenges include supporting and engaging adjunct faculty who have scheduling conflicts.  Equally necessary are providing adequate opportunities to sustain ongoing support in-between meetings. Faculty frequently comment, “that they benefit from participation by receiving helpful advice and encouragement.”  They also appreciated having a say in the design of the discussion topics and many commented that “it strengthened their confidence to experiment and try new pedagogies and technologies that they wouldn’t have tried on their own.”   Locating, exploring and applying online teaching pedagogies can be extremely time consuming, but finding support from colleagues within the faculty learning communities provides new and effective ways to examine teaching and learning.

As a result of implementing FLCs at GVSU, we have seen amazing synergy and collegiality among faculty, an increase in the capacity for timely high quality support, effective best practices sharing, and a vibrant community of faculty on mission to deliver high quality online learning opportunities that contribute to student success.

*Online templates and resources will be provided for the audience members to access after the conference ends, enabling attendees to create their own FLCs at their institutions.