Dynamic Faculty Mentoring – Using Feedback Loops to Align Faculty Support During Times of Change

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Brief Abstract

Peer mentoring, an effective and established practice for higher education faculty, became crucial to our community college’s successful COVID-19 response. This session describes the interplay of data, planning, and collegiality as we leveraged peer mentoring, not just to facilitate Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT), but to foster long-term quality online teaching.

Extended Abstract

Faculty peer mentoring has been cited as an effective strategy for accomplishing departmental and institutional goals such as increasing faculty diversity or research productivity. The technique is employed both formally and informally and typically involves the pairing of more established faculty members with junior faculty, who may be new to a department or institution. In recent years, this strategy has been extended to adoption of teaching methods, including teaching in online and hybrid environments. Its potential success rests on providing support in a non-threatening, supportive manner from colleagues who are intimately familiar with teaching conditions and the student population. Faculty peer mentors can serve as relatable models of professional development for faculty who may not otherwise know how to improve their skills in ways that are relevant to their background and professional needs.

 

This presentation reports on how one community college implemented a faculty peer mentor program during a period in which faculty quickly transitioned their teaching from face-to-face to fully online. In particular, the program rapidly adapted to the needs and timeframe not initially anticipated at the start of the program. The presenters, an administrator, instructional designer, and three faculty peer mentors, describe how the peer mentors became an integral part of the college community by continually aligning themselves to the community’s needs during the transition.  

 

The faculty peer mentor program was initiated to increase the overall capacity of the college faculty to design effective online learning environments and to teach well in them. The setting was a community college where faculty have traditionally had high levels of autonomy over course content and mode of delivery. Significant growth in online enrollment at the institution had occurred in the last five years with approximately 30 percent of their courses now delivered online. At the same time, online teaching and curricula varied considerably in quality and the college was actively pursuing a strategy to assure that student outcomes were assured regardless of whether they were taught face-to-face, hybrid, or online.

 

The program started early in the Spring 2020 semester and offered one-on-one coaching for faculty. A small group of three faculty, recognized for their depth of online teaching experience, was recruited as peer mentors and were expected to meet with at least ten faculty members during the semester. Midway through the semester, the college made the decision to suspend courses for two weeks while the faculty transitioned all courses from face-to-face to online format to address safety concerns from Covid-19. To support this transition, an additional nine faculty peer mentors were added to the program and the types and level of support changed dramatically.

 

During the two-week transitional period, the faculty peer mentors met daily with instructional support and IT staff. They offered one-on-one virtual meetings, answered requests through email, created tutorials, and hosted brief, one to two-hour workshops on specific topics related to online teaching. The peer mentors reported out on their impressions of individual and group meetings with faculty. In addition, daily activity was recorded and summarized. This combination of feedback was used continuously during the transitional period and for the rest of semester to adjust the type and topic of training opportunities offered and how they were offered (individual vs. group; f2f vs. virtual.) Tools such as Microsoft Teams ®and Bookings were utilized to assist in data-gathering as well as organization of peer mentor work. From the start of the transitional period on March 16th through April 24th, a total of 25 topical workshops with 205 faculty attendees took place along with 102 individual appointments with faculty peer mentors.

 

Following the transitional period, feedback from peer mentor interactions and data on faculty engagement was used to shift the meetings of faculty peer mentoring from daily to weekly and to plan for next steps. A decision was made to host was an online teaching bootcamp, with 45 faculty participants, that was offered near the end of semester to prepare faculty for teaching classes online during the summer. Faculty peer mentors assumed lead roles for components of the bootcamp and were able to shape its content based on work with faculty during the semester. They also each took responsibility to follow up with bootcamp participants who taught during the summer to see how they applied what they learned to their teaching. Further data was collected through focus groups with faculty peer mentors and a participant survey.

 

In addition, a college-wide survey of faculty and staff was administered at the end of the semester. Preliminary results indicated that the faculty peer mentors served as the second most frequently used sources of support after colleagues within their own department. The survey results also showed that student engagement in online learning environments was a top concern for faculty. That data, in turn, was used to plan for topical webinars during the beginning of summer semester on how to create a “warm welcome” in the online classroom and run effective online discussions.

 

The initial model of the program changed quickly to match the needs of the college and relied on the ongoing collection of qualitative and quantitative data on their work with faculty to continually align their efforts to institutional needs. As institutions continue to plan for disruptions that impact how academic programs are delivered, they need to consider the role of faculty development in these transitions and how such support may need to adjust quickly during a disruption in order to be effective. 

 

Peer mentoring is a relevant and important concept in communities inside and outside higher education. In the past several months, faculty peer mentors were able come together with effective communication, responsiveness, and compassion, in the face of crisis.  With a basic model of peer mentoring in place, staff and faculty were able to move quickly to work within a community. This, in turn, contributed to the college sense of community beyond the immediate crisis.  Opening doors and conversations has not only helped faculty to achieve a better online learning environment, but also helped build a quality model for student success.

 

Plan for Interactivity

Presenters are familiar with using multi-media technologies for teaching. Presenters will use the features of VoiceThread to trace the connections between data-gathering, decision-making, and implementation of different facets of the faculty peer mentor work over the semester. For example, the presenters will post the data collected over the semester to show changes in faculty response as well as how tools like Microsoft Bookings ® were used to manage the work of peer mentors. Presenters will also share examples of development artifacts created based on engagement of faculty peer mentors (e.g. quick “how-to” videos or resources constructed for the online bootcamp.) Finally, presenters will share stories about the peer mentor approach with faculty and invite attendees to ask questions or comments. Attendees will also be invited to share how they assessed and planned for faculty development during the past academic year. Discussion will focus on how to use data in short-time frames to make adjustments to development strategies.

 

Session Outcomes

Participants will:

  • Understand faculty peer mentoring as a technique for increasing institutional capacity for online teaching.
  • Apply rapid feedback loops to plan and adjust activities of faculty peer mentors.
  • Implement planning techniques to align faculty peer mentoring to changing institutional needs.