Shifting to Online Learning Through Faculty Collaborative Support

Shifting to Online Learning Through Faculty Collaborative Support

Lucretia M. Fraga, Susan Hall, Kathy Bottaro
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6956-6.ch007
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This chapter describes the process of supporting faculty as they moved their classes online during the pandemic. It describes how a range of professional development experiences fostered a sense of community among participants, as well as supporting their transitions to online teaching. These virtual communities enabled faculty members both to exchange information and to offer one another peer support. This experience of teaching online also prompted changes in pedagogical practices. Informed by social cognitive theory, these conclusions are supported by survey data as well as case studies.
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This chapter will describe professional development efforts at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in a large Southwestern city. The institution’s demographics mimic those of its city, so about half of the students are Hispanic. Moreover, many are low-income and first-generation college students. In addition to traditional academic offerings, this university has many professional schools focused on health care. While it has a separate division devoted to online learning, many faculty members in other divisions had little experience with online teaching. There was also a tradition of faculty autonomy in course creation which sometimes inhibited discussions of teaching and learning.

Over six months, this university engaged in the transition to emergency remote teaching (Hodges, et al. 2020). During this process, two important contextual issues emerged: the role of faculty as models for their colleagues and the search for community. These features, more than specific content at workshops, call for discussion. From the beginning, the faculty developers used faculty colleagues as presenters--initially in desperation. In quickly putting together a primarily in-person workshop in March, they scanned the university directory looking for presenters with relevant skills. However, planning an important follow-up activity, a series of one-hour Zoom sessions, prompted them to think more deliberately about using faculty as presenters. As Bandura’s social cognitive theory points out, people often learn from models, attending to them only when they consider them relevant to themselves (1986).

This insight into the role of models had several practical effects. First, it made this team redouble their efforts to make sure presentations addressed practical teaching issues. Second, while expertise remained important, it was no longer the only issue to be considered when selecting presenters. Rather than always turning to the early adopters, they sometimes sought out faculty members not noted for their skills with technology. The implicit message became, “If she—or he—can do this, so can you.” They also carefully chose presenters from a range of disciplines. These choices were consistent with social cognitive theory (Kurt, 2019). It has long been held that people’s ability to learn in any situation is supported by their self-efficacy, the sense that they can succeed at the task (Bandura, 1986). While previous success builds self-efficacy, models also have a role. When faculty members see others who resemble them succeed, it builds their conviction that they can do the same thing.

This institutional story is worth telling both because the university involved addressed challenges typical of those that emerged when the pandemic caused a sudden move to remote learning, and it had some success in doing so. The numbers tell the story. When so many universities were losing students, student retention went up at this institution in the fall 2020 semester. Facing COVID-19 was the impetus for creating collaborations and overcoming both academic and geographical boundaries. This chapter should enable readers to describe ways that professional development experiences can leverage faculty members’ desire for community, support faculty transitions to online teaching, and prompt changes in pedagogical practices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Community: Groups that gather online for information sharing and peer support.

Emergency Remote Teaching: Shifting in-person instruction online due to unforeseen circumstances.

Professional Development: Opportunities for faculty to hone their craft by building pedagogical knowledge and technological skills.

Learning Management Systems: An online platform used to host course content, assignments, and interactions.

Online Engagement: The process of making three types of digital connections: student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor.

Formative Assessment: Periodic feedback given to students to strengthen their learning.

Low Stakes Activities: Course activities that have a minor impact on final student grade.

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