Innovative Ways to Create, Support, Sustain, and Grow an Online Community of Practice

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

Open SUNY COTE leverages the diversity of roles and expertise among our online practitioners across the SUNY system. This session will show how we have innovated with badges to solve various challenges in faculty attitudes, large-scale community engagement, systematic online competency development, and in cultivating a culture of continuous online quality improvement.


Extended Abstract

Since 1994, the Open SUNY and the Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE), formerly the SUNY Learning Network, has been developing online faculty and building a diverse community of online practitioners on a large scale with a great deal of success. We have earned a number of awards and recognitions, contributed to scholarly work to better understand how people teach and learn well online, trained more than 5000 faculty at all levels and in all disciplines to teach online, and developed and mentored more than 300 online instructional designers.

Today Open SUNY offers:

  • 200 fully online degree programs. - 64 online programs from 19 SUNY institutions carry the Open SUNY+ designation.
  • 400 certificates and programs with more than 50% of the learning online.
  • 12,000 online course sections.
  • More than 100,000 annual online enrollments.
  • 86,000 individual students studying online. 

In 2013 we began the design of Open SUNY to take online teaching and learning at SUNY to the next level, and focused on system-level initiatives to strategically leverage online education to address student access, completion, and success. Open SUNY COTE was designed to focus on system-level supports and initiatives targeting online competency development, online course supports, online community of practice, and research and innovation.

Open SUNY and the Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) were challenged to innovate ways to engage the newly formalized roles of Open SUNY Fellows in aspects of community, engagement and contributions, and online competency development. We wanted to create an environment where our online practitioners felt accountable and recognized for participating, engaging, volunteering, mentoring, networking, and sharing their expertise, effective practices, challenges, and reflections with their colleagues across the system.

We began with our challenges:

  1. How can we recognize the diversity among online teaching and learning practitioners in our system?
  2. How can we target communications and information across our system to those interested in online teaching and learning?
  3. How can we promote networking and sharing across a large diverse system of institutions and online practitioners?
  4. How can we cultivate and reinforce a culture of iteration and continuous online quality improvement?
  5. How can we leverage the community itself to assist in addressing faculty resistance to and misperceptions about online learning?
  6. How can we acknowledge the contributions of those in the community that share themselves, their expertise, and their resources with the community?
  7. How can the community assist the system to scale strategic innovations and initiatives?
  8. How can the community contribute to the development of online competency development content and facilitate professional development programs?

Digital badges have given us the opportunity to create a framework with which to recognize, honor, and track community engagement, professional development, and achievements. A core team with interest in badging was brought together from across the system in 2014 to define competencies and design the Open SUNY COTE badging ecosystem, and the first badges were issued in February 2015. Badges are digital shareable recognitions that are being used by COTE to acknowledge, commemorate, recognize, endorse, honor, award, validate, certify and authorize various activities, behaviors, events, individuals, and accomplishments. Badges provide the earner, and the viewer, with a visual indication of their skills, progress, and status, empowering and recognizing our community of online practitioners.

We issue digital badges through Credly, a digital badging platform for issuers and earners, to document and recognize membership in the online teaching community of practice, level of engagement and contributions to the community, and online teaching and course design competency.

Badges are only awarded if the participant can demonstrate evidence of their learning or effort, such as writing a reflection, creating a video tour of their online course, delivering a Fellow Chat to share an effective with their colleagues, or volunteering to mentor or peer review a colleague’s online course. The badging system is tied to the Open SUNY Fellow roles, is designed to guide development as online practitioners from novice to master, and supports networking, sharing, and mentoring across the entire community of online practitioners. The badging system supports and reinforces a culture of continuous improvement in online teaching practices and course design, provides recommended learning paths and levels, and promotes opportunities for various types of community engagement.  

Open SUNY Fellows can earn and share their badges to demonstrate their role in, contribution to, and the value they place on our community of practice and professional development accomplishments.

This badging ecosystem is unique in its scope and scale and in the innovative ways that it weaves together and stacks three distinct elements that define our online community of practice:

  1. Membership in a living breathing community of practice is declared by formally selecting the “role” in the community that they are willing to play and that most closely aligns with their qualifications, experience and expertise and being recognized as an Open SUNY Fellow. View the members of the Open SUNY Online Community of Practice.
  2. Participation in the online community of practice requires joining the virtual community of online practitioners and fulfilling the commitments to the community that vary based on selected “role.” There are a number of ways to engage in the community of practice. Community members can:
  3. Completion of Online Competency Development programs that move practitioners along the continuum in the community from novices in online teaching and learning to masters, and cultivate a culture of learning, reflecting, and continuous online quality improvement.

Individuals, who meet the established criteria for each badge, or set of badges, have an opportunity to earn badges to recognize that accomplishment or engagement in online education, Open SUNY COTE, and with the community of online practitioners. Open SUNY Fellows can earn and share badges to demonstrate their role in, contribution to, and the value they place on our community of practice and professional development accomplishments.

To date we have created 4 constellations comprised of 31 badges in the membership, professional development, and community of practice categories, with multiple stackable levels envisioned. We have issued a total of 1,689 badges and of those badges accepted, 90% have been shared in LinkedIn and 10% in Facebook. This strategy has been both successful and motivating. Participants report they feel more accountable to participate, and the digital badge rewards serve as a source of pride, engagement, and motivation.

OS COTE Badges Offered in 2015/16

Badges have been awarded according to specified criteria:

  • Membership badges recognize role in the community of online practitioners.
  • Community engagement badges recognize efforts to share and network within our community of practice.
  • Competency Development badges acknowledge those who engaged in professional development programs and can provide evidence of their accomplishments and learning.
  • Social Media badges acknowledge efforts to share knowledge or expertise via social media.
  • Events badges commemorate participation in OS COTE events.
  • Participation badges endorse contributions and attendance at community activities and events.
  • Awards badges recognize community members honored through the OS COTE Effective Practices awards, Exemplary Online Courses, and Online Teaching Ambassadors programs.
  • Certify and authorize individuals and campuses to train and award badges on our behalf.

In this education session we seek to inform and educate the participants with our lessons learned about how we are creating a comprehensive badging ecosystem that innovatively and systematically addresses challenges we all face in learning communities dedicated to online teaching and learning:

  • Creating mechanisms for systematic and consistent communications.
  • Motivating and engaging faculty.
  • Addressing faculty resistance to online teaching and learning.
  • Building a community that is willing to expertise and effective practices.
  • Cultivating a culture of continuous online quality improvements.
  • Recognizing those that contribute to benefit the community.
  • Leveraging the expertise in the community.
  • Systematically scaling online competency development.
  • Addressing online course quality (and accessibility) in design and teaching practices.
Session Participant Engagement Strategies
  • Join as a “Friend of SUNY” and earn the “Friend of SUNY” badge.
  • Explore concepts of badging for specific purposes and the importance that "evidence" plays.
  • Earn the "Community Participation" badge for attending the presentation, which demonstrates interest in learning more about badging.
  • Have the opportunity to continue the conversation on badging beyond the end of the session.