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Establishing an Online Professional Learning Community to Promote Faculty Engagement and Excellence

In online higher education, adjunct faculty members are an essential resource. These faculty members teach, research, perform service and outreach, and even oversee administrative aspects of higher education institutions (Doe, Barnes, Bowen, Gilkey, Smoak, Ryan, & Palmquist, 2011). Unfortunately, adjunct faculty members often feel isolated and set apart from the full-time faculty, administration, and staff. Dolan (2011) reported adjunct faculty members are generally disappointed with communication, recognition, and a lack of opportunity. One way to improve a sense of belonging is through the development of a strong professional learning community. A successful learning community is primarily focused on student learning, collaboration, and accountability for outcomes (DuFour, 2004).

Higher education leaders can foster an online professional learning community to promote faculty engagement and teaching excellence in the following ways:

Establishing an online professional learning community allows all online faculty, whether adjunct or full-time, to connect and collaborate with one another. The creation of a faculty development team, at the heart of this professional learning community, allows online universities an effective way to orchestrate faculty development efforts. Leaders in higher education should strive to foster a sense of community among all faculty members. This professional learning community will build faculty retention, ensure standardized processes and policies are enforced across the institution, and promote excellence in teaching leading to student success.

Doe, S., Barnes, N., Bowen, D., Gilkey, D., Smoak, G., Ryan, S., & … Palmquist, M. (2011). Discourse of the firetenders: Considering contingent faculty through the lens of activity theory. College English, 73(4), 428-449.

Dolan, V. (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculty and its impact on their performance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 62-77.

DuFour, R. (2004, May). What is a professional learning community? Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

Anne O’Bryan is an online adjunct instructor at Colorado State University-Global Campus. Todd Kane is the Faculty Training Manager and teaches business at Colorado State University Global Campus. Melanie Shaw serves as an adjunct faculty member at several universities, including Colorado State University Global Campus.