Exploring the Factors that Influence Faculty Connectedness to their Online Graduate Programs

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Brief Abstract

Explore findings from a multi-institution (N = 4) and multi-program (N = 10) study examining the psychological factors that influence online graduate faculty perceptions (N = 187) of their own connectedness. Implications for online graduate program design, ongoing faculty development and contingent faculty support will be discussed.


Andrew C. Wiss, PhD, EdM is the Director of Online Learning and a Professorial Lecturer of Health Policy and Management in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. He has extensive experience designing, developing, implementing and evaluating the effectiveness of technology-enhanced, situated and organizational learning solutions across a broad range of industries and knowledge domains. In his current role at GW, Dr. Wiss leads the development and delivery of the Milken Institute School of Public Health’s continuously growing portfolio of online and hybrid programs and courses. Andrew’s teaching and research focuses on: adult learning, organizational learning, gamification and learner motivation, faculty motivation and development, the learning and performance of experts in practice and the use of emerging technologies (including simulation mediums such as AR and VR) to support learning in authentic contexts.

Extended Abstract

After more than two decades of close attention by both researchers and academic institutions alike, the supports required to properly guide faculty across the many facets of the distance educator role remain an ill-defined and moving target. Further, existing research on distance education focuses largely on the undergraduate and community college settings, with some question as to the generalizability of those findings to online graduate programs that focus as advanced career preparation. With these issues in mind, this research investigates: 1) the relationship between an instructor’s perceptions of their own connection to the institution for which they teach; and 2) explores the relationship between that connectedness and their learning, development and performance as online instructors.

Informed by the findings of a recently published pilot study entitled Faculty Development for Online Learning Using a Cognitive Apprenticeship Model (Wiss, DeLoia, Posey, Waight & Friedman, 2018), this multi-institution (N = 4) and multi-program (N = 10) study examines the psychological factors that influence faculty perceptions (N = 187) of their own connectedness to the programs for which they teach. Through an extensive review of the literature, a multidimensional instrument was constructed to measure the dimensions of instructor connectedness and was disseminated to participants via web based questionnaire.

Key findings from this research include: 1) significantly positive levels of affective commitment, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation experienced by contingent faculty, at higher levels than their full-time counterparts; 2) role ambiguity as the single most important predictor of ongoing learning and professional development as described by cognitive apprenticeship, and; 3) overall levels of instructor connectedness increased with experience teaching online over time.

A discussion of these findings in context of the online graduate program model utilized by participating programs is conducted, with focus on the influence of: team teaching models, small class size, synchronous program components, and the professional identity of contingent graduate program instructors. This research enhances the existing body of literature relating to faculty development by focusing attention on the interplay of complex workplace and psychological factors that contribute to ongoing instructor development and performance in the online graduate program setting.