Improving Online Teaching Practice, Creating Community and Sharing Resources

Concurrent Session 10
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Brief Abstract

The purpose of this session is to explore the implementation of a Community of Practice to support professional development, enhance online course and program development efforts, and to foster community and engagement between and among full and part time faculty.


Dr. Laurie Daily is an Associate Professor, Education Department Chair and Director of the online Masters in Education and Special Education Programs at Augustana University. She received her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Argosy University and earned a Masters degree in Special Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Coming to Augustana in the fall of 2015, Laurie Daily had been the education chairperson at Northwestern College (Orange City, Iowa), where she was chair for seven years and also taught for twelve years. Before that, she directed a distance special education teacher training program in New Hampshire, coordinated the special education program at Plymouth State College, and taught children with special needs in North Carolina.

Extended Abstract

According to Golden (2016), “providing online faculty with enriching experiences designed to improve practice, combat isolation, and share resources is a challenge.” The purpose of this session is to explore processes and practices that one university implemented to address these three critical issues in its growing online graduate program.

Augustana University holds excellence and community as two of its core values.  How can these two ideals be fostered within the context of a graduate program that is delivered completely online, and with a significant percentage of part-time faculty?  The guiding conceptual framework for the Education department is the Circle of Courage, which is based on a model of youth empowerment supported by contemporary research, the heritage of early youth work pioneers and Native American philosophies of child care. The model is encompassed in four core values:  belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. The central theme of this model is that a set of shared values must exist in any community of learners, including public education and teacher training institutions, to create environments that ultimately benefit society. 

It is important that these ideals are not only real and experienced for undergraduate students on campus, but also for our online graduate students around the country and the world.  How can online students know the power of the framework if the part-time graduate faculty are not experiencing it themselves?

In the fall of 2016, several approaches were implemented to address these issues in an intentional and multi-faceted way.  The goals were to engage full-time and part-time faculty together in program improvement efforts, provide “just in time” professional development for online faculty in ways that met their learning needs, and to foster community between and among faculty. Most would agree that teaching online necessitates a faculty support system and infrastructure to assist in improving practice. 

Communities of Practice

Master of Arts in Education (MAE) “Faculty Gatherings” were held on a bi-monthly basis during the fall and spring semesters.  All full-time and part-time faculty teaching courses online were invited to join the meetings either face-to face, or via Zoom.  These meetings became a powerful and transformative mechanism for program development, community building, and faculty development. 

Wenger and Lave (1991) generated the idea of Communities of Practice (CoP) as they conducted their research on Situated Learning. Smith, Hayes and Shea (2017) acknowledge that Wenger’s work is one of the most widely cited and influential conceptions of social learning. CoPs have a goal-oriented focus on collaborative learning to meet common goals or outcomes.  Lorenzetti (2010) indicated that these can include the development of teaching strategies to enhance student learning. They are purposefully designed to develop participant capacities and to build and exchange knowledge. Lorenzetti went on to say that CoPs could benefit faculty in higher education-especially those teaching at a distance, as they are often isolated from their peers.  CoPs also affords opportunities for trust building and ownership to empower faculty to build their knowledge, skills, and awareness.  This has the power to create an even stronger sense of community or belonging among faculty.

Golden (2016), who reviewed the literature on the implementation of CoPs, uncovered six themes that describe different aspects of CoP interactions that the particpants felt brought value to their practices:

  1. Shared practice/ professional growth and development
  2. Promoting reflective practice
  3. Peer support/mentoring/motivation
  4. Trust building/safe environment
  5. Community building/preventing isolation
  6. Sharing resources and modelling techniques

According to Dolan (2011), tending to the social needs of online faculty can develop a sense of commitment and institutional pride.  The author goes on to say that this can then translate to a stronger sense of purpose and responsibility to students. 

Brooks (2011) goes on to say that there is growing evidence about the importance of creating community for faculty development in order that long term change might be realized.  This is affirmed in the 2012 Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members completed by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. 

The current reality in higher education is that there is a growing number of contingent faculty, many of whom are part-time faculty. The number of part-time faculty teaching online courses has also increased dramatically as colleges and universities have expanded online course offerings.  Part-time faculty typically have minimal inclusion in academic decision-making, and receive fewer opportunities for professional development. (Roney & Ulerick, 2013)  The authors also suggest that existing PD structures should be examined to determine whether or not there are ways to increase inclusivity, as well as to create mentoring and recognition opportunities.

Lead Faculty

Another mechanism adapted to enhance online program improvement efforts and to empower faculty was the creation of “lead faculty” for all core courses in the MAE program.  Lead faculty are responsible for updating the syllabus and online course template, on-boarding new faculty who teach the course.  Lead faculty also work with Instructional Designers to review and revise courses.  They also seek input/feedback from other instructors teaching the course, and well as receive summarized course evaluation data about course design and delivery.  Both full-time and part-time faculty serve in these positions, and faculty are compensated with an annual stipend for their work.

These collaborative efforts have provided fertile ground for processing ideas and generating productive conversations to help improve the online courses and program, to improve the teaching practice of both full-time and part-time faculty, and to create community in a way that has provided powerfully positive energy/synergy for the collaborative work and improvements that have been accomplished to date. 

“Just in Time” Faculty Development

Robust faculty support is crucial to success of an online program. It needs to be available when the instructor needs it, "just in time". Through our monthly Zoom faculty gatherings, where both adjunct and lead faculty have opportunities to share, we have discovered common issues and frequently-asked question. As a result, we've developed short 1-to-5-minute screencasts providing answers. Those are housed in a single Moodle course shell, along with other tips and training resources. These screencasts provide virtual "just-in-time" answers whenever an instructor needs them.

We also use something we call "immersive faculty development" in which instructors participate as students in a "Teaching and Learning Online" Moodle course. Instructors become familiar with the challenges in online instruction from the student's perspective. Effective course design and delivery is modeled while the instructor participants design or modify their own courses. They experience features and functionality of the learning management system (Moodle) from the student's perspective while learning how to incorporate those same tools into their own courses. They learn firsthand how important clear instructional design is.



5 minutes of Reflection

Structuring the Q & A/Group Discussion

Use Poll Everywhere and/or Google form to capture audience responses to one or more of the questions below, and to make the results available to the audience if desired:

What processes and practices does your IHE have in place to foster engagement and connection between FT and PT faculty?

How might a CoP work in your context?

What are the greatest challenges at your IHE to empower faculty to engage in collaborative improvement effects in online teaching?




Brooks, C.F. (2010, August) Towards ‘hybridized’ faculty development for the twenty-first century: blending online communities of practice and face to face meetings in          instructional and professional support programmes. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(3), 261-270.

Coalition on the Academic Workforce. (2012, June) A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members: A Summary of Findings on Part-Time Faculty Respondents to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors.

Golden, J. E. (2016) Supporting online faculty through communities of practice: finding the faculty voice.  Innovations in Education and Teaching International 53(1), 84-93.

Lorenzetti, J.P. (2010, Nov.) How your faculty can benefit from a community of practice. Distance Education Report, 14(21), 1-3.

Monks, J. (2009, July/Aug.) Who are the part-time faculty? Academe, 95(4), 33-37.

Roney, K & Ulerick, S.L. (2013, Summer). A Roadmap to engaging part-time faculty in high-impact practices. Peer review. American Association of Colleges and Universities, 24-26.

Smith, S.U., Hayes, S. & Shea, P. A critical review of the use of Wenger’s community of practice (CoP) Theoretical Framework in Online and Blended Learning Research, 2000-2014. Online Learning 21(1), 209-237.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.