How to Move Faculty Forward Using The Community of Practice Model
Concurrent Session 1
Research shows that advancing faculty satisfaction is problematic in virtual learning environments. This presentation illustrates the successful application of the Community of Practice model as an approach to stimulating teaching excellence, dissolving faculty isolation and promoting awareness of reflective thinking practices among online educators teaching first year, adult learners.
Established in 1991, American Public University System is a fully online institution serving diverse populations including corporate professionals and the military. Academic programs are focused on preparing students to be leaders and innovators in a global society.
College 100, Foundations of Online Learning, is the institution’s gateway course for new students. The asynchronous course is designed to provide first year, adult learners with the necessary skills to be successful online learners and critical thinkers in the digital information age.
College 100 has had several iterations over the years, but in 2014 the course curriculum was experiencing multiple and regular revisions in an effort to maintain relevance in a changing world. Faculty were apprised of the department’s frequent curriculum changes and new initiatives via virtual quarterly meetings.
These meetings functioned as top-down communication with little required from instructors other than they attend the meetings, manage the regular flow of information and be responsive to changes required in content and teaching practices.
Over time, inconsistencies in instructional delivery became evident and faculty satisfaction began declining. With growing concerns about how to meet the needs of today’s adult learner and get faculty to shift instruction to more metacognitive-based instructional methodologies, and seeing the need to re-energize instructors, the department applied a Community of Practice model to leverage “collective learning” and inspire renewed teaching excellence.
By definition, Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Traynor, 2015, para. 5).
A community of practice, or CoP, has three distinct characteristics: the domain, community, and practice. The participants have a shared interest and competence in a topic or field of study. The participants have a shared community where they discuss, perform activities together, share information and resources, and provide assistance. “They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Traynor, 2015, para 8). Members of the community of practice are practitioners. “They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015, para 9). They are actively working in the domain in which they are forming their community (Algozzini, Batchelor, Bessolo, Gabay, & Voyles, 2016).
Applying a Community of Practice model to the College 100 online teaching community was a sweeping project; however, accomplishing this task was possible with leadership's clear vision of where the faculty could go, and an understanding of coaching and mentoring as a vehicle to get there. Engagement in collective learning (Community) was achieved through weekly to bi-weekly mentor meetings, classroom shadow observations, open discussions surrounding the challenges of teaching online, and shared academic resources and tools (Gabay, 2016, Wenger -Trayner, 2015, p.2). Faculty needed to demonstrate courage, patience, flexibility and a willingness to grow but perfection was not required. This shift was messy, organic and sometimes a scary process; however, the results in faculty stimulation and engagement, and the positive spill over into the classrooms proved the wisdom of the endeavor.
Working within the CoP framework reduced faculty isolation and increased faculty satisfaction. It encouraged synergy that comes from working with other professionals with similar interests, and increased vitality in the online classroom making it a more dynamic and enriching experience for students. The CoP was instrumental in building reflective educators so that they were more skilled at teaching students in a way that would encourage judgment (Sharpe & Bolton, 2016; Algozzini, Bessolo, Gabay, Voyles, 2016).
This presentation is for administrators, department chairs, individual instructors or corporate entities wanting the richness of an on-ground professional community while functioning in the online or global arena, with the resulting vitality that naturally spills over to adult learners regardless of representation. Participants will observe how the isolation that is sometimes a hallmark of online teaching can be replaced with energized conversation and growth. Attendees will find inspiration on ways to institute an intentional and systematic Community of Practice on a large or small scale level. (i.e., department-wide or simply a committed group of individual instructors).
Algozzini, L., Batchelor, G., Bessolo, K. , Gabay, V. & Voyles, S. (2016, September). Moving teams forward: 10, 000 Ft. view. Unpublished internal document, American Public University System
Gabay, V. (2016, September, 24). Community of practice segment [video file]. Retrieved from https://spark.adobe.com/video/dLMlan03ev55g
Wenger-Trayner, E. & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015) Introduction to communities of practice. http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/