Is This Mine?: Developing a Scope of Practice for Online Educators

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Brief Abstract

As online education continues to expand, scope of practice, a model used within the healthcare fields to identify the breadth of one's professional role and responsibilities, is increasingly relevant. In the online classroom, what is ours? What do we let go of, and what do we address? What do we take on as our own, and what do we refer to others? With the advent of humanizing online learning practices and a growing awareness around mental health, addiction, and trauma, online educators can benefit from developing a scope of practice to guide their work. In this discovery session, participants will discuss the potential of applying this model to our work, and begin crafting a potential scope of practice for today's online educators. 

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Karen Costa is a faculty development facilitator specializing in online pedagogy and trauma-aware higher education. Karen loves leading faculty learners through fun, interactive, and supportive professional development experiences. Karen’s first book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos (Stylus, April 2020), focuses on helping faculty and teachers to make creative use of videos in their classrooms. Karen is involved in various faculty development initiatives including as a facilitator for the Online Learning Consortium and Online Learning Toolkit. She spent four years as a regular writer for Women in Higher Education. Her writing has also appeared in Inside Higher Education, The Philadelphia Inquirer, On Being, and Faculty Focus. Karen graduated from Syracuse University with a B.A. in sociology. She holds an M.Ed. in higher education from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a CAGS in educational leadership from Northeastern University. A proud lifelong learner, Karen recently received a Professional Certification in Trauma and Resilience from Florida State University, a Trauma-Informed Organizations Certificate from the University of Buffalo's School of Social Work, and a Certificate in Neuroscience, Learning, and Online Instruction from Drexel University. ​Karen is a certified yoga teacher and Level 1 Yoga for Arthritis teacher. She lives in Massachusetts with her family.

Extended Abstract

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, online educators worked with an extrememly diverse population of students who come to our courses with a number of needs that extend beyond the desire to learn and complete a course. Those needs have only expanded during this current crisis. Students live with mental illness, addiction, trauma, and toxic stress. They carry these challenges while working, caring for children or aging parents, and as active members of their communities. A recent study by McMillion and Tucker King (2017) found that self-disclosures of personal information was common in the online learning environment. What role can and should faculty play in addressing students' challenges and their self-diclosures? Further, higher education now recognizes that wrap-around supports in the form of personal and academic outreach and resources are critical for student success, particularly amongst first-generation college students (Paterson, 2019). What role can and should faculty play in connecting students with online support, communities, and resources? 

In short, what is ours?

The healthcare field has long used the model of scope of practice to help health care practitioners clearly deliniate their roles and responsbilities. Could the scope of practice serve as a guide to online faculty to help clarify the boundaries and opportunities of their work? Would a scope of practice help reduce faculty overwhelm, by more clearly explaining what does and doesn't belong to faculty in the online classroom? Can scope of practice head off concerns about faculty overstepping their role and crossing over into an attempt to provide counseling to students? What do students and administrators expect of faculty? What do faculty expect of themselves? Currently, the answers are incredibly varied across higher education, even within institutions. 

This session will open up the conversation around scope of practice, in support of online faculty and student success. 


McMillion, T. & Tucker King, C.S. (2017). Communication and security issues in online education: Student self-disclosure in online course introductions. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 15(1), 1-25. 

Paterson, J. (2019, May 3). Report shows wraparound services' impact on community college success. Retrieved from