The Promise and Practice of Online Faculty Consultations

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Online faculty consultations have the power to foster, model, and generate effective online education practices. They can exemplify the best aspects of online education; build relationships among faculty, designers, and technologists; and create community between institutional teams (IT, librarians, faculty development, instructional design, and program administration).


Beth Cohen is an Assistant Professor in the Liberal Arts Department at Montserrat College of Art, where she teaches courses in the humanities, and is a Senior Webinar Specialist at Columbia University's School of Professional Studies. In her role at Columbia, she trains and coaches faculty in pedagogical and technological best practices for the online classroom, and manages the delivery of virtual class sessions. She is passionate about creating engaging experiences for students, and leads workshops and consultations for SPS faculty to support that goal. She received a BA from Bennington College in English Literature and Visual Arts, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Film, Video, and New Media.
Clea Mahoney is an experienced higher education administrator and educational technologist. Her 'day job' includes offering virtual and in-person consultations on teaching with technology to faculty and staff. She leads the design and facilitation of webinar and in-person workshops on centrally-supported instructional technologies at NYU, and collects an embarrassing amount of cat-themed cubicle decorations. Clea has an MS in Library & Information Science from Drexel University, and is currently pursuing an MA in Digital Media Design for Learning (instructional design).

Extended Abstract


How can virtual faculty consultations foster, model, and generate effective online education practices? Many institutions have established consultation programs that allow faculty to meet one-on-one with instructional designers, faculty development and support professionals, and multimedia specialists to facilitate successful course design and delivery. No matter the course modality, these sessions often take place on campus, face-to-face. The session leaders, who are two online education specialists, will present their experiences developing and running fully-virtual faculty consultation programs at universities. They will show how virtual consultations, held via web conference, can promote online learning best practices and demonstrate the promise and benefits of online education to gain faculty buy-in.

Relevance and Overview

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions have had to rapidly find ways to maintain instructional continuity for face-to-face classes, provide class access for students geographically dispersed from on-campus housing, and support faculty in making a sudden change from face-to-face instruction to remote learning. Institutions are now faced with further challenges about forward planning for an uncertain future and are relying on online delivery models as a balm and savior that they can flexibly implement and scale as needed. Yet planned online education looks vastly different than a quickly modified remote learning plan. Online education has a robust and successful history and current practice, one which faculty are eager to learn about and implement in their current and future online courses. Now, more than ever, faculty need support to pivot and adapt to the online teaching environment.

Direct, individualized virtual consultations with online education specialists can provide this support to faculty. Consultations can help faculty include robust, research-based practices for online education in their courses. Furthermore, consultations held virtually, over web conference, can instantiate best practices for the online virtual classroom, demonstrate the affordances of online learning, and leave faculty hopeful and empowered to explore and implement the rich possibilities inherent in online education. They can exemplify the best aspects of teaching online, build individual relationships between faculty, designers, and educational technologists, and create community among institutional teams (IT, librarians, faculty development, instructional design, and program administration). Our presentation will explore consultation programs at two institutions. We will outline the development of these consultation programs, discuss the shift to virtual consultations, and explore how implementing a virtual consultation plan helped bring multiple faculty support teams together. We will also report on the development of a specialized group consultation model that follows the structure of OLC Ideate’s discussion salons, currently being implemented this summer.

At our institutions, consultations are initiated by faculty request and connect faculty to a variety of specialists to meet their needs. Developing consultation programs is an ongoing process of crafting connections and creating bridges between teams/departments that can have intersecting and overlapping charges in terms of services and goals. We have found that formally instituting a collective consultation process has allowed a previously inaccessible level of collaboration between teams, which has streamlined the faculty experience and strengthened the support models of the organization. Newly conceived consultation models can bring together disparate services offered by multiple teams to provide a “one-stop-shop” for incoming faculty consultations. This collaborative model can address common issues that arise from decentralized services. 

We will show how a new, collaborative virtual consultation model can provide faculty with a streamlined process for accessing services. We will outline the process for collective tracking of consultations, which can close knowledge gaps between teams and provide a fuller implementation of services. In this model, faculty can be guided in defining their needs and finding solutions to questions that can best be solved by inter-team collaboration. From a larger perspective, teams can better strategize to assess trends in faculty needs and address larger-scale issues that can be identified by collectivizing the consultation process. Finally, we argue that bringing teams together through a collaborative consultation process is crucial to a cohesive faculty support and development model, and can help build bridges institutionally and strengthen the work of all collaborators. 

By the end of our presentation, participants will be able to articulate the affordances of a virtual consultation model, consider how such a model might work in their institutions, and reflect on the benefits of holding collaborative, cross-team consultations with faculty.

Interactivity and Engagement

We plan to engage the audience early in our presentation by asking about their prior experience in facilitating or joining consultations, either on campus or virtually. 

We also plan to ask:

  • What kind of support has your institution offered regarding the transition to online teaching? If you are faculty, what are you being asked to do, and how is your institution supporting it? If you are on the administrative side, how has your institution supported faculty?

  • Do you know where to go to get individualized help in your institution? Are there multiple ways to get help? (As many schools are decentralized and have duplicated service offerings, a virtual, collaborative consultation model can help direct faculty to the right resource for their needs).

We plan to open the following questions for reflection or group discussion:

  • For faculty: what is one problem that you have that you feel a virtual consultation could address?

  • For administrators: how might virtual consultations help you support faculty? What challenges might you face at your institution in implementing a plan for virtual consultations? 

Lastly, we plan to complete our session with the following activity:

  • Raffle prize: two virtual consultations with the presenters to take place at a future date (one might be based on active engagement during the session, and the other on participant need, i.e. faculty at an under-resourced institution. We are happy to take conference organizers' advice on this idea).