Eight Ways to Support Faculty Needs with a Virtual Teaching & Learning Center

Teaching and learning support professionals, particularly those who must perform miracles as a “Department of One,” can have one of the most challenging jobs on campus. They not only support the course design, content delivery strategies, technology integration, and training/orientation for faculty and students in online learning programs (asynchronous and synchronous formats), but they also support all other teaching/learning needs for classroom, blended, and any other teaching environment. This professional may be an instructional designer, an educational technologist, or very often, a designated faculty member with some or all of these skills.

During this decade, there has been a trend within academic institutions to create full-service, multi-staffed Teaching & Learning Centers, which may have various nuances in titles, such as Center for Excellence in Teaching. Still, a great many smaller institutions have not been able to fund and staff such formal support environments, particularly within the current economic crisis. Nonetheless, the rapid changes and expansion of ideas, techniques, and technologies to enhance teaching and learning and, thus, to also assist in the development of faculty competence and professional advancement, continue to make equal demands on every institution’s ability to provide appropriate support.

Through my own experience of nearly 15 years, research on other similar situations, and discussion with colleagues operating under the same conditions (no Teaching and Learning Center, no multiple support sources), I’ve developed a “virtual” T & L Center framework.

By taking advantage of the myriad of low-cost and free resources available, along with equal parts creativity, resourcefulness, and determination, implementing the strategies outlined below will help support professionals successfully meet faculty needs for improving and enhancing teaching and learning.

Tips for Creating a “Virtual” Teaching and Learning Center

Leverage expertise of faculty who are experienced with student-centered learning and educational technology

  • “Faculty Fellows (FF)/Experts Exchange” on the Intranet. The information in the exchange would consist of instructional documents and updates on trends and techniques for teaching/learning support for specific strategies and/or disciplines (Faculty Fellows are designated faculty members with expertise in areas of teaching and learning who are selected to serve as support for other faculty)
  • FFs lead related user groups of faculty and coach colleagues

Create resource/reference repository for teaching and scholarship

  • Online/Intranet – instructional documents, links
  • Recordings of Webinars and other training sessions (e.g. Magna Publications)
  • Focused training videos (e.g. Derek Bok Center, Harvard University)
  • Library relationships – use librarians to help support faculty needs in teaching/learning resources, and publishing/grants assistance

Participate in listservs, SIGs, conferences, forge I.T. Department relationships, build in-house support

  • Specialized listservs – examples: for wide and immediate support from professionals and experts (“Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education [POD@LISTSERV.ND.EDU]), or http://podnetwork.org/; Blackboard/WebCT (BLKBRD-L@ASU.EDU); and discipline-based listservs
  • Networking/forging alliances – foster a champion in I.T. for your needs
  • Trading and bartering: exchanging training sessions with other instructional designers, trainers, educational technology specialists from other colleges; sharing documentation and online resources

Mine the Web: including free sites for self-paced faculty training on specific methods and tools, as well as sites that teach integration of particular tools within standard course content/design

  • Sites that include training modules and resources (eg YouTube, Wikis, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook)
  • Online Teaching and Learning Centers from other colleges and universities that share openly, such as San Diego State, Vanderbilt, Central Michigan University
  • Formal online Teaching and Learning resources offering multiple resources to members (join!), such as Merlot, and the TLT Group (http://www.tltgroup.org/ ), “The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group” (highly experienced and highly recognized not-for-profit group helping college and university educators take advantage of changing technology to improve teaching and learning)
  • Free sites (or those with 30-day free trial downloads) for interactive tools, activities (Puzzlemaker, Concept Mapping, Quest Garden, the Web Quest Page)

Extend your reach

  • Use Videoconferencing (VC) and Web conferencing to increase the number of participants you reach in one training session; Skype for free VC (Kelly, p. 1-2)

Take the “building block” approach

  • For your course management system look for special tool integrations or “building blocks” that can be an easy way to expand the technology features and keep the training requirements minimal (new features but related to familiar technology or builds on familiar technology).
  • Plan ahead each year to factor in an estimated budget amount for building blocks you may need (maybe an average of two blocks per year in order to make a reasonable estimate).
  • Factor in an average estimated cost for training Webinars offered by such organizations as Magna, which provide quality training experiences for many at low cost. Or purchase the recorded videos, transcripts, and handouts to be able to continue training more faculty.
  • Select from these vendors the best programs that target topics for which you need to develop proficiency to be prepared to train/coach faculty/staff.

Form Internal User Groups, such as a group focused on learner-centered teaching

  • Work with your Faculty Fellows to create user groups based on certain methods, tools and systems, who meet regularly. For example, not only could you have user groups related to specific technologies, such as the course management system or wikis and blogs, but also related to methodology, such as student-centered learning, assessment, or new methods and interactive tools targeted at a specific academic discipline.

Create an annual faculty showcase

  • Plan annual event with other local colleges where faculty can share success stories, or demonstrate effective learning activities. This can inspire more reluctant faculty to get involved with new ideas and changes, as well as see what their colleagues are able to accomplish.

Kelly, R. (2009). An Inexpensive Way to Bring the World to Your Course. Online Classroom, May, 1-2.

Kathleen MacDonald is an Associate Professor and Director of Instructional Design Services at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.