Utilizing Innovative Strategies to Collaborate with and Support Novice or Nontraditional Faculty in Their Move to Online Instruction

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

 How can we effectively engage faculty at all levels when the nature of pedagogy requires specific knowledge and support? How can we collaborate with faculty who would normally be unwilling or unable to teach online? This presentation will discuss and have participants collaborate on strategies and solutions.


I have been in the Instructional Technology field for 10 years, focusing online course design and faculty collaboration. I am currently an Instructional Technologist and Designer at the Queens College Center for Teaching and Learning, I received my MA from TC, Columbia University in their Instructional Technology, Media and Design program after focusing on the various macro and micro factors that are essential to successful online course design, as well as a mechanism for collaborative faculty development. This work is essential to my work with collaborators. It was remarkably timely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which this framework was utilized in part as we moved hundreds of faculty online. I am a firm believer that online learning and education must be designed with the modality in mind- one cannot just copy and paste in-person materials into an online frame. We must take into account the limitations and affordances of a modality, and how that works in concert with the human element- prior knowledge, cognitive load and the like. I also believe that for design to be successful-one must be flexible with the mechanisms. For today’s learning to be successful, we must analyze and utilize the most effective learning framework, modality, and methodology. Each circumstance should take into account the goals, prior knowledge, motivation, affordances and limitations of the modality, and learning framework. We must adapt and change as we collaborate.

Additional Authors

Michelle Fraboni is Assistant Professor in the Department of Elementary & Early Childhood Education at Queens College, where she teaches digital literacy to preservice teachers. Before Fall 2020, Michelle spent more than ten years working with the Center for Teaching & Learning at Queens College, serving as Associate Director from 2013 - 2015, and Director from 2015 - June 2020, providing QC faculty with opportunities to enhance their teaching in online and face-to-face environments. She continues to work with faculty through the STEM Bridges Across Eastern Queens grant (http://hsistem.qc.cuny.edu), funded by the United States Department of Education.

Extended Abstract

The Covid19 pandemic revealed just how unprepared many faculty were when it came to teaching online. This dearth in online teaching knowledge and skills was seen in faculty across a wide array of disciplines; with significant pedagogical and technical issues. While in the past this has been handled by limiting online courses to faculty whom were fully willing and capable of embracing online best practices and tools, the pandemic has rendered that untenable. To succeed and thrive in our new paradigm, we must embrace strategies that allow us to effectively reach faculty at all levels. 

Online pedagogical best practices by its very nature can be extremely subject and discipline specific. If one course relies wholly on direct instruction, and another relies heavily on in-class discussion, peodogical advice can come across as so broad as to be useless. Given many novice online faculty have never attempted to imagine what their course could look like online, faculty may not even know where to start, which tools to explore, or which tools would be best suited for that course goal. Therefore, they hit a wall as they are unable to articulate their issue, may feel embarrassed and thus don’t reach out at all.

Existing strategies lean towards dedicated instructional technology teams who work on improving knowledge and access for technology and quality online pedagogy for faculty. That strategy may have been effective when a faculty member knows what they want, but when they don’t, or are ineffectively trying to “copy and paste” the face to face class in the online frame, they often get frustrated and give up. Further, such teams rarely if ever have sufficient staffing to arrange dedicated one on one collaborations for every single faculty member. Instead, they use a “self selection model” where faculty who are interested in exploring new pedagogical strategies or best practices reach out. 

 Our campus has a Center for Teaching and Learning as well dedicated to solving this exact issue, but our numbers weren’t adding up. Even though the team was spending every waking hour supporting faculty, we found by the time faculty reached out, they were already frustrated and overtaxed. Discussions with overtaxed faculty were by definition less productive, with the faculty less willing to explore and embrace best practices that differed from their existing work. How then do we reach faculty before they hit that “frustration wall?” How do we tailor support and discussions for faculty when we ourselves have limited skilled personnel? 

After presenting the broad problem, the session will go into breakout rooms for people to discuss how their specific campus handled these issues. This discussion will be focused on challenges the particular participants encountered, what strategies they found effective, and what they implemented going forward. These ideas will be collected in a collaborative Google Slides presentation, which can serve as a valuable resource for participants well after the session concludes.

The session will continue with everyone returning to the main room to discuss takeaways and commonalities the peers have faced. The presenters will then discuss strategies we found to be effective on our campus. Solving this issue for us required a multitiered approach done in conjunction with several of our ongoing “Best Practices for Teaching Online” workshops. The workshop modules focused on broader best practices and tools that can be applied in a variety of disciplines and types with resources geared towards more specific strategies that can apply depending on an individuals specific aims. 

To target the more specific needs of faculty (be it due to pedagogical specificity, lack of technical knowledge, or any combination of the above), we hosted regular “ video open office hours” where faculty could drop in to ask any question about technical issues, pedagogical advice, troubleshooting, or teaching help. The drop in, open-ended nature of the hours mitigated the articulation issues of faculty who weren’t quite sure what they needed help with. The video nature of the technology added a needed human element that put faculty at ease. The screen sharing capability was essential as a support person could easily see and advise faculty on how to work through issues. The encompassing nature of this support meant faculty felt more confident exploring new technologies since they knew the office hours were there to fall back on ( even if they ended up rarely reaching out, they were willing to try since they had the option).  We scaled hours and days up and down depending on the volume of the faculty requests at that given point. For example, at the start of the pandemic, drop in hours were held 7 days a week, for 8 hours a day. 

Since this was obviously a resource intensive endeavor, we trained student workers, interns, and other part time college workers (whose previous positions were funded, but unutilized in the virtual climate) to supplement support for the main instructional technology team. This also allowed a tiered response system (enabled through a backend Slack)  so front line support staff passed higher level issues to the appropriate party, allowing them to focus more specifically on issues that took advantage of their specific skillsets. 

For the final portion of the talk, participants will move to specific breakout rooms to discuss in a focused manner the topic participants are interested in. These will be geared towards what participants expressed the most interest in the first breakout room, but some general ideas we have are “extremely technically limited faculty”, “dealing with difficult faculty who are not willing learn”, “the faculty perspective”, and “train the trainers: When the trainers are new to online.” Participants will then return to the main room to discuss final takeaways, strategies going forward, and questions for the presenters.

Level of Participation:
The session is extremely collaborative and participatory. After presenting the broad problem, participants will move into breakout rooms to discuss the issues on a more granular level. The strategies discussed thereof will be shared in a collaborative document allowing resources and continued collaboration beyond the session itself. 

Towards the end of the session, participants will move into another breakout group that focuses on the issue that they want to discuss in the greatest detail, allowing participants to collaborate with like-minded peers in the most effective manner possible. This collaboration will also be in a collaborative document as a shared resource which can be utilized later.

Session Goals:
Individuals attending this discussion will discuss several strategies and challenges with online faculty, focused specifically on supporting them on using best practices in their online course. They will be able to discuss with peers at large about similar challenges, as well as discuss specific topics they are interested in exploring in greater detail. All of these vital resources will be shared with participants in a collaborative document, allowing them to utilize knowledge of the presenters and their peers beyond the session.