Faculty learning communities provide opportunities for faculty to get together to discuss similar interests and improve their teaching and learning practices. In the past 15 years, they have become more formalized through the work of Milton Cox and others as well as through use of Web-based technologies to connect faculty in new ways.
Web-based technologies can enhance faculty learning communities by providing faculty with more ways to communicate and by providing a collection of internal and external online resources, says Pamela Sherer, associate professor of management at Providence College.
Sherer, who helps faculty establish and maintain technology-enhanced learning communities, says that by using listservs, threaded discussions, chat, Webcasts, and portals, technology-enhanced faculty learning communities can bring faculty together across campus as well as from other institutions. Sherer sees a wide range of possibilities for the use of Web-based technologies in faculty learning communities.
For example, an interdisciplinary group of faculty interested in discussing the teaching of statistics in various disciplines might use the technologies to
- take an online course together on the teaching of statistics
- collectively or individually download trial versions of new software and talk about it
- participate in listservs and chat rooms with colleague from other institutions
- write a joint article for an online newsletter
- serve as a group of experts for other colleagues.
Web-based technologies also can make visible the work of these communities to a wider audience than the work of faculty who meet only face to face, which can be helpful for other faculty members. It also can let administrators know the kinds of activities the group is engaged in and the progress they are making, which can be helpful in seeking funding.
Creating and maintaining technology-enhanced FLCs
Establishing technology-enhanced learning communities is becoming easier to do as more faculty members become familiar with Web-based technology and institutions develop the infrastructure to support this technology.
Faculty learning communities should be a group of six to 16 people, Sherer says. They can be members of a cohort such as junior or mid-career faculty, or they may be faculty members brought together for a particular topic such as multicultural course transformation, problem-based learning, the capstone experience, teaching writing, teaching and learning in a lab setting, teaching a foreign language, or teaching and learning in large classes.
These communities may exist for a short time and have clear goals such as development of a published report or article or they may continue indefinitely with new members sustaining the efforts and bringing new ideas to add to a growing list of best practices that can be made available to others.
“Most faculty learning communities emerge out of an on-campus faculty development program with a person or persons helping to maintain them over time. That’s where I think a faculty development person can help,” Sherer says.
Faculty developers and department chairs can be instrumental in generating topics and identifying cohorts. To maintain a technology-enhanced faculty learning community, there should be a person in place to
- coordinate funding
- provide technology support
- educate faculty and administrators about faculty learning communities
- identify people with common interests
- help faculty find relevant resources
- form partnerships with others on campus such as student affairs and the library.
In technology-enhanced faculty learning communities, the goal is to develop a portal where community members and others can go to access all the tools and resources related to that learning community. A logical place to house such a portal would be on the institution’s faculty development website.
Institutions with large faculty learning community programs such as Miami University, Indian University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and The Ohio State University can serve as resources for institutions that have faculty learning communities that are less established, Sherer says.
Sherer says that the technology-enhanced learning communities can
- create more faculty development opportunities
- expand faculty development from an event on campus to everywhere, all the time
- provide resources for faculty in times of need
- bring the scholarship of teaching and learning to a wider audience.
Continued need for F2F communication
Sherer does not think the technology will replace face-to-face faculty learning community meetings but will become “just another way of conducting business.”
“Contrary to what some other people may say, people do like to meet face to face, and I think face-to-face meetings have been critical and will continue to be critical for faculty learning communities,” Sherer says. “I think we’re developing our [communication] styles. These are major changes in how we communicate, how we get together, and what we consider being in touch. And for people like me where everything had been face to face, we need to learn new ways of thinking about things.”
Contact Pamela Sherer at firstname.lastname@example.org.