Working remotely is commonplace for many universities in today’s higher education environment. Working from home provides faculty and staff with flexibility; however, remote workers can also have feelings of isolation and disconnection from their teams and universities (Dolan, 2011). How can relationships and professional development be fostered when faculty are working in various time zones?
Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) and Communities of Practice (CoP)
Interactions with peers can promote faculty engagement and connectivity (McKenna, Johnson, Yoder, Guerra, & Pimmel, 2016). When leading virtual teams, we want to ensure our faculty feel connected to their teams, peers, and university. We also want to include faculty in meaningful professional development opportunities and discourse around curriculum, teaching, and learning. Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) and Communities of Practice (CoP) have become highly utilized in education in recent years. FLCs and CoPs can improve teaching and learning practices through collaboration and shared knowledge building (Cox, 2001). Typically, FLCs and CoPs are conducted at a physical location with participants engaging in face-to-face conversations at a specific date and time. While this experience can be beneficial for educators, those working remotely may find it challenging to engage in a traditional FLC or CoP. In order to provide faculty with an opportunity to connect and learn together, we decided to implement a hybrid community of practice.
A remote opportunity to collaborate
Recently, our team came together to discuss how we can engage our remote faculty, both part-time and full-time, in meaningful professional development. Our remote faculty have stated that they often feel disconnected because they work different hours of the day, different days of the week, and in different time zones. In response, we decided we would offer several hybrid CoP groups ranging in a variety of topics, such as Working Virtually, Using Technology, Pathway to People Leadership, Social-Emotional Learning, and Evaluation Best Practices. The first experience, which will roll-out in fall of 2022, will be open to all full-time and part-time evaluator faculty across four different teams and will utilize a hybrid model. This will include asynchronous components as well as monthly synchronous meetings. All asynchronous components will be completed within the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), where participants will be able to engage in discussions around the topic of their specific cohort, and the synchronous meetings will be held in Microsoft Teams. Due to the nature of our work, it was decided that each hybrid CoP will run for 12 weeks, with the exception of the Pathway to People Leadership, which will span 24 weeks.
The goal of this project is to provide our remote faculty with opportunities to collaborate with faculty from other teams on topics that they are interested in and have a desire to grow in. Discussions within the LMS as well as in the face-to-face monthly meetings will focus on topics of the chosen hybrid CoP cohort. Faculty will also discuss strategies for supporting our students, academic integrity, and time management. While it is our hope that the discourse surrounding learning and growing as faculty will be energizing, we aim to the provide our faculty with a space to build relationships with their peers. While there was some hesitation about delivering this experience initially, our team and our faculty have stated that they look forward to the opportunity to learn and grow with their colleagues.
Improving hybrid CoP cohorts
Because this is the first time we are implementing hybrid CoP cohorts within our team, we realize that there may be opportunities for improving the next iteration. For instance, we may find that 12-weeks is not necessary for all CoP cohorts as some topics can be covered in a shorter period of time. However, we are hopeful that even with some adjustments, the benefits of cross collaboration will be seen. The asynchronous component of our CoP allows faculty to work with their peers within the parameters of their schedules, while the synchronous portion will lead to deeper discussions and relationship building. CoPs can be used in a myriad of ways, including across teams, departments, and students. These collaborative groups provide participants with the opportunity to build knowledge, share experiences, and foster relationships.
Cristina Cottom is a manager of evaluation faculty at Western Governors University. She has a plethora of experience in higher education and has researched the benefits of implementing communities of practice in virtual environment. She holds an EdD and EdS in curriculum and instruction and resides in sunny Ormond Beach, FL with her two daughters.
Cox, M. D. (2001). Faculty learning communities: Change agents for transforming institutions into learning organizations. To Improve the Academy, 19, 69-93.
Dolan, V. L. (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculty and its impact on their performance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(2), 62-77.
McKenna, A. F., Johnson, A. M., Yoder, B., Guerra, R. C. C., & Pimmel, R. (2016). Evaluating virtual communities of practice for faculty development. The Journal of Faculty Development, 30(1), 31-39.