Informal Mentoring of Faculty Teaching Online: Strategies & Techniques

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Brief Abstract

This session will highlight an informal faculty mentoring program around online teaching and learning developed in one University Department that could be used as a model for other departments and Universities seeking to support and mentor faculty new to online learning.

Presenters

Dr. Elissa T. Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Southern Indiana where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Mitchell's research is broadly focused on at-risk youth and their families, particularly those affected by foster care and adoption, divorce, and domestic violence. She is also focused on online teaching and learning, specifically in the use of social media, online debate, and incorporating service learning in online courses.

Extended Abstract

This session will highlight an informal faculty mentoring program around online teaching and learning developed in one University Department that could be used as a model for other departments and Universities. Background information will be provided regarding the development of a Technology Committee within a Social Work department, the function and contributions of the committee, the increased need once the pandemic hit, and the outcomes the committee has achieved. This will be especially relevant to higher education faculty and administrators who seek ways to support and mentor faculty new to online learning.

The presenters are both experienced online educators with interest in the scholarship of online teaching and learning. Through regular collaboration within the department, it became apparent there was a need for faculty to more fully understand online education. Social work is somewhat of a late adopter in the field of online learning with many programs still resistant to teaching interpersonal skills online (Creswell Baez et al, 2019; Siebert et al, 2006). While the department does not have an online program, it does offer online and hybrid courses. Stimulating discussion and increasing awareness of online social work education often fell to the presenters, and it became clear faculty needed to enhance their skills to effectively teach online and hybrid courses, and to understand best practices in the field. There was also a need for faculty, including adjunct faculty, to better utilize the learning management system (LMS) for all types of courses. After discussion, the presenters joined with two other colleagues to create the Social Work Technology Committee. 

The committee’s purpose was to explore and promote the ethical and competent integration of technology into courses and practice, with the following objectives: 1) Stay current on standards related to technology in the field and disseminate such information to faculty and students; 2) Explore and recommend online readiness assessments and orientation for students; 3) Determine how effectively technology is being utilized in department courses; 4) Provide support and consultation to faculty; and 5) Identify, prioritize, and recommend potential areas for further integration of technology.

Over the past two years, the committee has become a resource for faculty in the department. Each month there is a “tech tip” shared with faculty that provides a new skill, tool, or app related to teaching online in the discipline, along with how it relates to the field.  The presenters have created various resources including reference sheets for students and faculty to clarify definitions and formats of course delivery, a basic LMS template for continuity across courses, and information related to technology use in the department. In the Spring of 2019, the committee conducted a survey of all faculty and current students to understand the use of technology, preferences of students, along with faculty and student desire for additional online courses to be offered.
 

While the technology committee was active and fully engaged in ways to mentor, support, and grow the department prior to COVID-19, the department needed immediate assistance to respond to the abrupt shift in course delivery to fully online. Once the pandemic hit, the University’s strong online learning department was overwhelmed with requests for assistance. Individual support and access to resources were especially important during this time when some instructors found themselves teaching online for the first time. Steinert and colleagues (2006) suggest that faculty professional development related to online learning is most effective through peer and colleague relationships, experiential learning, when faculty have the opportunity for feedback, and can apply effective teaching and learning principles. Some faculty believe that they can teach online in the same manner they teach in person. However, online learning requires a different skill set that must be developed, particularly for social work education (Knowles, 2007). Brinkley-Etzkorn (2018) found that faculty training impacts the quality of online teaching and that online instructors need continued support. As the presenters understand the multiple factors that go into online course delivery, along with the value of relationships in seeking assistance, it was a natural response to assist colleagues during this time period. Faculty peer mentoring is key in developing online teaching skills and maintaining them over time. 

Consistent with Steinert et al (2006), the Social Work faculty tend to call or email one of the committee members for questions or for technology support, likely because they have an already established relationship. It was through already established relationships, that the informal mentoring was able to be developed. The presenters will discuss their experiences with individual consultations, brainstorming with faculty, the development of resources to help mentor colleagues through both the strategic planning of courses as well as the crisis response due to COVID-19. Some of the resources developed include a best practice guide for using the LMS effectively, a training module, and resources to share with students on how to be successful in online courses. The committee was also able to advocate for and implement the LMS template that had already been developed to be utilized in all courses across the department.  

While this will be an asynchronous presentation utilizing VoiceThread, there will be opportunities for participation and interaction among participants and the presenters. Throughout the presentation, participants will be able to leave comments and questions for other participants and/or the presenters. To elicit discussion, the presenters will post questions throughout the presentation for attendees to consider & respond with experiences and ideas. The presenters will also respond to each comment or question, further engaging participants, and deepening the conversation around the concept of developing and using faculty peer mentors. This is consistent with a Discovery Session that typically allows for more interaction than a traditional presentation and encourages individual discussion and connection. 

Those who attend this session will learn about a faculty peer mentor program established through a departmental committee. They will be able to discuss the development of the committee and consider how they might be able to establish a similar structure in their own program/department. Attendees will also be able to collaborate and explore various experiences and ideas related to faculty mentoring from other attendees.  

References:

Brinkley-Etzkorn, K. E. (2018). Learning to teach online: Measuring the influence of faculty development training on teaching effectiveness through a TPACK lens. The Internet and Higher Education, 38, 28-35. doi: 10.1016/J.IHEDUC.2018.04.004

Creswell Baez, J., Marquart, M., Yae-Eun Chung, R., Ryan, D., & Garay, K. (2019). Developing and supporting faculty training for online social work education: The 

Columbia University School of Social Work Online Pedagogy Institute. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 39(4-5), 505-518. doi: 10.1080/08841233.2019.1653419 

Knowles, A. J. (2007). Pedagogical and policy challenges in implementing e-learning in social work education. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 25, 17–44. doi:10.1300/J017v25n01_02 

Siebert, D. C., Siebert, C. F., & Spaulding-Givens, J. (2006). Teaching clinical social work skills primarily online: An evaluation. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(2), 325-336. doi:10.5175/jswe.2006.200404103

Steinert, Y., Mann, K., Centeno, A., Dolmans, D., Spencer, J., Gelula, M., & Prideaux, D. (2006). A systematic review of faculty development initiatives designed to improve teaching effectiveness in medical education. Medical Teacher, 28(6), 497-526.