Cultivating Stronger Relationships with Online Faculty through an On-Campus Visitation Program

Strategic relationships build strong commitment and a measurably higher expectation of compliance in all areas, including institutions of higher learning. Columbia Southern University (CSU), a fully online institution, developed an on-campus visitation program in the spring of 2011, inviting groups of faculty to attend a one-day or two-day event for the purpose of connecting faculty to their campus support structure.

Through May 2012, more than 130 faculty members have attended the sessions held at the campus in Orange Beach, Alabama. Participants offer suggestions for enhancing courses and programs, and learn how the latest technology will foster greater student learning. While engaging in activities to build camaraderie with fellow instructors and a long-lasting relationship with the university, faculty members are informed of strategic plans, goals, and initiatives from academic and administrative leaders, including the provost and president.

The theory behind the visitation program is to foster a positive relationship between the faculty and the institution; therefore, enhancing faculty-student engagement and interaction. In addition, it is believed that as faculty members connect with the university, students will benefit from an energized and motivated faculty body that possesses a stronger association to CSU’s institutional mission and vision of changing lives through education.

The Faculty Services leadership team hosts monthly on-campus visits, featuring a wide variety of activities, presentations, speakers, and networking opportunities to help ensure faculty are comfortable, confident, and committed. Attendees complete a survey at the end of the event, evaluating their experience and offering opinions and suggestions to enhance future planning and expansion of the program. Through the campus visits, faculty take away an understanding of specific departmental responsibility and how each department can contribute to the success of both the faculty member and the students.

Faculty members discuss best practices in grading assessments, unique teaching opportunities, and integration of personal and professional experiences to increase comprehension of course objectives and theories. The ability to network fosters a sense of community that allows individuals to benchmark their performance against fellow instructors, increasing teaching effectiveness, student learning, and alignment with the university’s goals. Based on survey results, faculty indicated they enjoyed meeting fellow instructors that teach within their college and might even teach the same course in a different section. Professor Smith wrote, “I have worked with several other institutions, but have never experienced what I experienced the past two days, it was awesome!” Dr. Lee commented, “No other university acclimate faculty into the ‘university family’ the way CSU does.” Feedback from faculty indicate the visits create a sense of duty and commitment to the teaching profession. Face-to-face interaction dissolves barriers that might exist between off-site faculty and on-site administration in a virtual learning environment. Meeting campus leadership and support staff deepens the relationship and commitment of both parties.

The on-campus visitation program positively affects communication between the faculty member and the campus, revealing the resources that faculty need to be effective in the online teaching environment. Faculty gain a better understanding of CSU’s teaching requirements and the methods utilized to measure performance. And, in turn, university leadership teams hear about the most important components of online teaching from a faculty member’s point of view, which allows support staff to create learning guides, training modules, professional development opportunities, and resources tailored to meet specific faculty needs.

Seven steps to implementing an on-campus visitation program
If your institution employs a geographically dispersed faculty and you wish to begin your own on-campus orientation program, we offer the following steps to consider:

  1. Generate buy-in and commitment from all areas of the institution.
  2. Define the goals and objectives of the visit.
  3. Create a budget that will fund trip expenses (travel, meals, and accommodations).
  4. Construct an agenda that is educational, fun, informative, and interactive.
  5. Schedule activities and presentations from university leadership, providing networking opportunities.
  6. Assemble an informational resource packet to utilize during and after the event.
  7. Survey participants and evaluate data to improve the activities and presentations of future faculty visits.

Elwin Jones is the dean of academic services and Katherine Quinley is the faculty services manager at Columbia Southern University.