Faculty Engagement means Engaging Faculty: Best Practices and Strategies that Support a Student-Centric Online Faculty Community

Concurrent Session 4
Leadership Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

Online faculty may feel disconnected from the institution and their peers. In order to support students effectively, institutions must fully support and create a strong faculty community as well.  This session shares effective strategies in building engaged faculty cohorts who create student-centric learning environments. 


Dr. Kathleen Embry currently serves as the Online Program Chair for General Education at American InterContinental University. She holds a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education from Capella University and has presented and co-authored on the supervisory relationship with virtual faculty members. With more than 20 years’ experience in on-line and face-to-face higher education teaching and administration and an additional 15 years in marketing, management, and entrepreneurship, Dr. Embry brings a plethora of experience to her engagement with online faculty and students, and within the online classroom. Positions held in higher education include adjunct instructor, Program Chair, Dean of Design Studies, and Director of Education; with additional corporate experience in Regulatory Compliance.
Dr. Anna Selga currently serves as the Online Program Chair for New Student Experience at American InterContinental University. She holds an EdD in Higher Education Leadership from Trident University International. As a leader and manager, Anna has experience in training, coaching and development spanning 15 years that focused on staff development and operations management, along with more than 15 years of experience in higher education leadership, operations and management. Her higher education leadership career has a distinct focus on fostering interdepartmental collaboration and data driven decision making to support student success, student retention and faculty development– both in online and ground campuses serving traditional and post-traditional learners. Dr. Selga held the following positions in higher education: Lecturer, Program Chair, Director of Education, Dean of Academic Affairs, and Campus Director.
Dr. Bhalla holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and has published and presented in the areas of spatial perception, body image, and the pedagogy of teaching and assessment, especially with regards to serving the non-traditional/post-traditional learner. She is active in the American Psychological Association's working group on Undergraduate Education in Psychology. For over two decades, she has served traditional and non-traditional students, both campus-based and online, in the capacity of faculty member, department chair, undergraduate dean, and vice-president of academic affairs. She currently serves as the Dean for General Education at American InterContinental University.

Extended Abstract

Hello? Is anyone else there? Teaching online can create an isolated experience for online faculty, void of peer and leadership support that would otherwise be easily available in a brick and mortar institution.  If online faculty members lack a sense of community with the institution, how can they create a sense of belonging and inclusion for their students? How can online institution leaders provide faculty with a sense of community and belongingness in an online environment?

Consider this: While individual onboarding experience vary between institutions, it is not uncommon for online faculty (full time or adjunct) to feel unsure of where to go for questions or seek support for their classes.  Finding information about policy or processes, knowing who the key players are, their role in the student experience, or other faculty resources may not be so easy to come by.

Couple this with the expectation of active engagement in their classes. Some institutions communicate concrete engagement expectations for each component of the class, where faculty are asked to complete a certain number of activities to demonstrate their level of engagement in their course.  When levels of student engagement decline, online faculty have to quickly identify strategies to implement in order to improve student outcomes. As this occurs, multiple faculty members may be experiencing the same challenge of disengagement in the class.  There may be occasions where online faculty members could have benefited from brainstorming with peers, or knowing who they can reach out to for help.  This creates a challenge for faculty members who may feel alone and disconnected from the institution yet are asked to facilitate classes as communities and highly engage with their students. How can faculty create community in the classroom when they do not feel part of a community? Having a sense of community within the faculty cohort helps mitigate the feeling of isolation that can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement among online faculty.

How do we create these spaces?

Creating a student-centric environment is a shared process where leaders and faculty both take an active part in defining student success for the institution as well as an understanding of their role in supporting student success.  Operating in a culture and environment of service, leaders model expected engagement behavior to faculty members.  An investment in faculty demonstrates the leaders commitment to serve; in the same manner, that faculty will be serving students.

Inviting, including and empowering faculty of all ranks to be part of defining faculty cohort culture is one of the key elements that will be discussed in the session.  Additionally, the session will describe and detail the experience of online academic leaders in creating the additional elements that help build a student-centric faculty community.  Apart from creating a shared culture, the session will discuss the value of shared definitions, the importance of identifying needed faculty resources and how to provide effective individualized support. 

The session will provide examples demonstrating online institutions taking care of faculty who take care of the students.  Best practices and strategies in building and supporting a highly committed online faculty community will be shared and can be readily implemented in other online institutions. Among these include how to facilitate engaging cohort meetings with online faculty, how to create opportunities for peer to peer interaction, and the power of Kudos. Some of the early challenges will also be shared along with strategies implemented to overcome these challenges. Join us for a fun and lively sharing of our experience building strong faculty cohorts in a strictly online environment.

Level of Participation: The session will invite attendees to engage in polls reflective of their experience as faculty or faculty leader in an online environment throughout the session.  In addition, participants will be invited to a guided individual reflection to identify possible opportunities for faculty collaboration within their institutions. 

Session Goals: Individuals attending this education session will be able to identify strategies and best practices in building a student-centric online faculty community.  Attendees will be invited to identify current faculty community opportunities within their institutions. Attendees are encouraged to continue the conversations with stakeholders in their institutions, share these strategies and best practices from the session, and consider implementing similar efforts in their respective institutions.