A Philosophy of Faculty Development

In my Theory of eLearning class last night, the subject of working with clients came up.  This class is for the Educational Technology track for a Masters in Education in Adult Learning.  This program is designed for individuals who

“…want to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of adult learning theory and practice, specifically in the fields of Human Resource Development and Adult Literacy, and through exploring technology in learning in today’s digital environment. Our graduates and current students work in business and industry, healthcare, government, non-profit, higher education, and community and human service agencies.”

NMC_HzSo, a program that attracts a diverse group of students … and my class is no different.  Last night, we explored emerging trends in technology for learning, using the 2014 NMC Horizon Report as a launch point.  As one might suspect, this track attracts students who are comfortable with digital technology.  During the class session, laptops, tablets, and smartphones were in constant use.  One student texted a resource to another student with his phone as we discussed it…and no one batted an eye.  So while we discussed the cost/benefit of staying with older technologies versus shifting to the new thing that is out … and facilitating those discussions with clients … their questions had less to do with their own ability to stay current and explore technologies as it did with working with clients who might not share their passion for digital technology.

Using Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation, we discussed backwards translation of their early adoption terminology and practice to the early and late majority clients with whom they might be working.  We also began to discuss general philosophies of instructional designer relationships with clients.


This brought back to my mind an earlier conversation I had with Enoch Hale.  Enoch noted that he had a Philosophy of Teaching, and that he intended to work on a Philosophy of Faculty Development.  It struck me as a great idea … and one I had never personally articulated.

My Philosophy of Teaching notes that teaching occurs in a distributed networked environment.  Per my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I see my role as:

  • Promoting positive learning, modeling what I teach and learn;
  • Sparking learner enthusiasm for learning and peer-teaching;
  • And providing a strong foundation for lifelong reflective practice.

My role in faculty development is similar, but nuanced due to the collegial nature of the relationship one has (or should have) with fellow colleagues.  In my role as faculty developer, I hope to both inspire and empower faculty.  To do this, I like how Dakin Burdick framed his philosophy around three goals, and I will adopt them for my philosophical statement.

Digital StudentsFirst, our work in faculty development is a means to an end, and that end should impact student learning.  There is little empirical evidence that can directly correlate faculty development with improvements in student learning, and yet, that goal should be at the heart of what we do.  My first priority is to effectively coach the fellow faculty with whom I work to experiment with new practice informed by what we know about how people learn, evolving theories of learning in distributed networks, and the selection of digital tools that lead to active and authentic learning.  I also wish to partner with them to observe the impact and learn from it.

Happy ClientSecond, what we do should enhance faculty satisfaction.  For me, faculty development is all about the relationships I build with my colleagues.  Jeffrey Nugent suggested a mindset with the term “Consultant for Life” that really resonated with me.  Tom Peters noted once that in any organization, we are “all in sales” … but as faculty developers, I believe that we are all in the Human Capital business.  In working with colleagues, I have my passions … but it is equally important to understand the passions of my colleagues … and look for ways to align the two.  I need to see linkages between the digital affordances of the web and the learning goals of each discipline.  By building relationships, I am also able to bring an interdisciplinary lens to these discussions.  If I can help raise the faculty comfort level with digital processes, while keeping true to their disciplinary passions, I will facilitate faculty satisfaction … and perhaps spark some creative juices!

Social ReputationThird, our work should enhance the reputation of our institution.  In a networked world, we have an amazing opportunity to share our celebrations and share our missteps … learning from each other.  The web has evolved in the past decade to be one that is participatory – what danah boyd in It’s Complicated calls “networked publics.”  Through blogs, through Twitter, through LinkedIn … name your social media … we have an obligation to share … and to build community with our faculty colleagues.  My LinkedIn network map below shows five separate nodes … and I have an opportunity to add to our reputation by interacting across each of these nodes… and to enhance my institution’s reputation by learning from my network.  It is a two-way street!

LinkedIn network map

So, inspire, empower, impact student learning, enhance faculty satisfaction, and enhance institutional reputation.  Am I off base?  How would you add to or modify this for your role in faculty development?  If you have published your philosophy, link to it in the comments.  In this remix world of ours, I am looking for additional models from which to draw inspiration and learn.

{Graphic:  NMC, Natebailey, Louisa Goulimaki, BusinessOfDesign, ColumbiaTeachingCenter, LinkedIn Labs}



Our Fifth Online Course Development Initiative

Next Monday, our fifth OCDI starts, with (to date) 17 faculty enrolled.  This is a one-year investment towards developing quality courses for VCU with the mindset and practice associated with learning on the open web.  As a change this year, we are moving from our traditional LMS to a WordPress open site – http://rampages.us/ocdi/

OCDI web page

Check it out…and as our colleagues blog during the course of OCDI, help them out with comments!


30-Day Challenge – Day 25 – The Training Wheel Question

My colleague Jon Becker in our Office of Online Academic Programs here at VCU posted an interesting Twitter conversation in his blog post today.  He noted that it started with a live tweet by Jesse Stommel of Jim Groom’s presentation at #et4online. Derek Bruff responded with what he tagged an honest question, and Jon responded as shown below:


Jon went on to quote Steve Jobs that computers were like bicycles for the mind, and that as such, they allowed us the ability to soar.  Jon’s point was:

If computers are like bicycles for our mind (and I believe they are!), the Learning Management System (LMS) is perfectly analogous to the training wheels.  Riding a bicycle with training wheels on is relatively safe and it can get you from point A to point B, albeit slowly. But, one hasn’t *really* learned to ride a bike until the training wheels come off. Taking the training wheels off liberates the operator of the bike and affords her the freedom to really move and soar and do amazing tricks. Taking the training wheels off of the open web liberates the learning and affords the teachers and the learners to really move and soar and do amazing things.

In many ways, Jon’s point is similar to Lisa Lane’s point three days ago that classes within an LMS isolate students.  To mash up her tweet:

Lisa Lane tweet.
Both Jon and Lisa (and Jim Groom) are totally correct.  But my mind returns to Derek’s point…and questions of policy during a period of disruptive transition.  Very few faculty (at least at my institution) have the digital literacy to drop an LMS cold turkey and move to their own domain.  Our twelve schools and colleges, our IT personnel and  our HelpDesk are not staffed to support faculty in the absence of an LMS.

training wheelsSo weaving a path between Jon/Jim/Lisa’s ideal and the pragmatic realities of a faculty wedded to a decade of LMS use, how do we begin a campus wide conversation and develop a timeline to achieve this excellent goal?  To my mind, the training wheels will not come off until we have faculty buy-in and a clear timeline for transitioning, with a safety net for current faculty as they transition to the open web.  It is not a pipedream to visualize a more open (and amazing) educational landscape.  In GRAD-602, we already suggest that future faculty will teach and learn in an open web, making full use of the affordances of the web (and we model what we suggest with our fully open class website).  But we also suggest to these future faculty that they should approach digital opportunities in a mindful way.  LMS systems solve some problems (FERPA, grades) while creating others (stifled creativity).  Before we dump one, we should solve the problems it has already solved…and do it at scale, so that thousands of faculty are not left scrambling at a time they are already loaded down with research, teaching and service commitments.

Derek’s honest question inspired my 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 25 – How do we in faculty development support the digital presence of 3,000 faculty without something like an LMS?

Honest question, indeed.  Be interested in how your campuses are tackling this issue?

{Graphics: Becker, Lane, Motorbike}



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Call Me Hammerhand

I am still buzzing from all the ideas percolating from SLOAN International Conference on Online Learning, but today my buzz was from two totally unrelated (and yet totally related) blog posts from my PLN.

At the conference, there were many of us who cautioned people to not fixate on the latest digital tools, because the tools come and go, and what is important is teaching and learning.  After all, Jane Hart noted in her 2013 Top 100 Tools for Learning that the Number One tool of 2007 (Firefox) is now #97, and the Number One tool of 2008 (Delicious) has slid to #60 (and one I have abandoned for Diigo).  Things like WordPress or Pinterest or Poll Everywhere are “just a tool.”

How many of YOU have said similar words!?!

So, this morning I am reading a post from Gardner Campbell entitled “Doug Engelbart, transcontextualist.”  Gardner writes:


“There is no such thing as “just a tool.” McLuhan wisely notes that tools are not inert things to be used by human beings, but extensions of human capabilities that redefine both the tool and the user. A “tooler” results … The way I used to explain this is my new media classes was to ask students to imagine a hammer lying on the ground and a person standing above the hammer. The person picks up the hammer. What results? The usual answers are something like “a person with a hammer in his or her hand.” I don’t hold much with the elicit-a-wrong-answer-then-spring-the-right-one-on-them school of “Socratic” instruction, but in this case it was irresistible and I tried to make a game of it so folks would feel excited, not tricked. “No!” I would cry. “The result is a HammerHand!” …

So no “just a tool,” since a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand. It’s one of those small but powerful points that can make one see the designed built world, a world full of builders and designers (i.e., human beings), as something much less inert and “external” than it might otherwise appear. It can also make one feel slightly deranged, perhaps usefully so, when one proceeds through the quotidian details (so-called) of a life full of tasks and taskings…”

Let me repeat, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

Which brings me to the second post I read this morning, from Jane Hart entitled “The Social Learning Revolution and What It Means for Higher Education.”  Jane provides the Slideshare below which she used for her closing keynote at the WCET Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado last week.

Jane discusses her latest findings for the Top 100 Tools for Learning, where free online social tools dominate the top of the list.  She also notes that  learning, working and personal tools are merging, and that personal and professional learning is under the control of the individual.  She suggests that in the workplace learning revolution, individuals now have the tools to solve their own learning and performance problems.  The connected workplace with its wired workers – what Harold Jarche and Jon Husband call a “wirearchy” – increasingly demands new skills and practices.

Jane then suggests that what this means for higher education is that it is not enough to just add social tools to instructional practices.  Our students need to build social competence within a Personal Knowledge Management framework to prepare them for the new world of work.  They need to learn how to leverage social tools to solve their own learning and performance problems, as they will be expected to do when they enter the world of work.  Their “school work” should not be done in isolation, but integrated with a professional external network.  Working with this external network, our role as faculty is to help students make sense of what they find in the confusing world of the web – learning how to filter, synthesize and analyze, then encouraging them to share their learning back with their network.  In other words, our role as educators is to help students develop their digital identity.

She asks “How are you preparing your students for this new world of work and learning?”  Which begs the question, how are we in Centers preparing faculty to help them prepare these students?

Gardner’s post has me considering that whether working with faculty or students, when we begin to use a digital tool in our instruction, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

How does our use of a digital tool change us, our students, and the teaching moments?

As I said, my brain is buzzing.  Would love to hear your thoughts….

Graphics: {Recon Construction}




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Rethinking Fundamentals

These are exciting times at our Center for Teaching Excellence at VCUGardner Campbell is reporting next week as our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success.  Jon Becker started yesterday as our interim Director of Online Education.  We are saying goodbye to Phillip Edwards as he leaves for the Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, but we will be welcoming a new member to our Center next month.  With Jeffrey Nugent continuing to lead our Center and our eLearning Team, we have a dream team positioned for …

Disruption seems an appropriate word…as online education has been both a disruptive force in the past decade…and has itself been disrupted in the past year with the rise of MOOCS.  As we gear up for the start of our new academic year, particularly with such thought leaders in place, it seems a good time to revisit some of the fundamentals that have shaped my work for the past few years.

cover_thumbIn May 2009, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I published a White Paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  Only four years ago, and yet it seems somewhat dated now.  So I wanted to review it and see what still resonates with me and what needs rethinking.

We noted in the introduction:

“In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning.”

This still resonates with me, yet I have to recognize that much of the “new” and emerging elearning products seem geared towards designing and sequencing content.  In many ways, that describes many MOOCs, though Lisa Lane makes a good point that lumping all MOOCs into one pile is no better than lumping all online education into one pile.  There is also a move by some institutions to shift to self-paced compentency-based programs.  There are positives and negatives to this approach, but it does illustrate a use of digital technology that is worth exploring.  At some level, one could argue that self-paced compentency-based courses are about “learning” rather than teaching.

MOOCs aside, the state of elearning in higher education has continued to grow.  When we published the White Paper, four million students nationally were enrolled in online courses – 20% of all higher education students.  In the latest Babson Survey from 2012, the number had passed 6.7 million, or 32% of students.  Few other education processes (other than maybe the adoption of iPhones and tablets) could boast a 70% increase in four years.  With a 70% growth, there are obviously more faculty than ever involved in teaching online.

We stated in our White Paper that :

“…content alone does not make a course, nor an education…Everyone has access to high quality learning content.  Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content.  Faculty are critical, in that they are the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.”

I continue to believe that faculty are critical…and not just to design, curate, and sequence content.

Our White Paper suggested three central themes to rethinking instructional practices for online teaching.

  • First, it requires effort to build a learning community in an online class, but that effort is critical.
  • Second, the virtual medium in which engagement occurs can happen across multiple websites, from learning management systems to microblogging sites to blogs and wikis.  The engagement requires true interaction rather than the more passive action/reaction of “read this and then take a quiz.”  Yet, this engagement is critical.
  • Finally, the social presence of both students and faculty is an important component of online learning.

booksIn the ensuing four years since we published this white paper, we have had nearly 80 faculty members participate in our Online Course Development Initiative, and another 60 faculty members complete our online Preparing to Teach Online course.  Another 24 faculty members have attended our three-session Learning Path on online teaching.  One commonality in these three programs is that each faculty member was given a copy of Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s 2007 book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  Each of these programs has additionally been influenced by Randy Garrison’s 2011 update of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (Second Edition).  Community (and the Community of Inquiry model) have therefore been positioned front and center in our development of faculty for online teaching.

Given the changes emerging in online learning, my question becomes – Is “community” still a core fundamental principle for online teaching and learning?

For me, it is…but I would love for others to weigh in.

My colleague Joyce Kincannon used a great word yesterday as we discussed this – discourse.  Discourse is more than conversation, it is meaningful debate.  It is “meaning making” spread across multiple individuals.  To be quite honest, it is the discourse occurring in my online classes that keeps my juices flowing and excites me as I teach my courses.  I would suggest that it is the discourse that helps form and grow the community aspects of online classes.  So, building community is critical from my perspective.  I still think that “community” can exist across multiple digital websites or paths…and it can continue long after a course completes.  This past week, I have received several tweets from former students who are continuing our discourse.

All of which suggests that the social presence of both faculty members and students continues to be important.

Is “online teaching” evolving?  Definitely!  Are the fundamentals still core?  For me, the answer is yes.  This does not suggest that we should not explore self-paced digital processes that enhance learning. Just as the web is becoming ubiquitous in our lives, it should (in my opinion) be equally ubiquitous in our teaching and learning.  While some of the “tools” listed in our white paper have morphed or died – to be replaced my new tools – the fundamentals embedded in our white paper still resonate with me, as does our use of Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles as a lens for exploring the use of these digital tools.  While we may welcome MOOCs and self-paced instruction into the repertoire of online offerings, it seems to me that with 32% of college students taking online courses, the “traditional” instructor-led online course will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and the fundamentals we suggested in our white paper will continue to shape those courses – and our development of faculty.

Last spring, MGen Will Grimsley suggested that technology-enabled leadership should take a lesson from .38 Special – “Hold On Loosely, But Don’t Let Go.”  Seems like good advice for the fundamentals of community, networked learning, and social presence in online teaching and learning.

So maybe I am not as disruptive as I think…. 🙂

I would be interested in your thoughts…and any aspects of our white paper that you see as needing updating.


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A Summit and Academy

May is always a crazy time here in the Center, and this has been a busy week leading up to two more busy weeks.  On Monday, our Center of Teaching Excellence hosted our first Online Learning Summit.  Yesterday, several of us did a road trip to Fredericksburg for University of Mary Washington‘s 17th Faculty Academy.  Next week, we start our third Online Course Development Initiative, and the week after, we conduct our EdTech Collaboratory. As I said, crazy…

I have not blogged in a while, so let me try and at least capture some of what we did at the summit and academy.

VCU Online SummitThe online learning summit Monday was a first for the faculty of VCU and our CTE.  In some ways, it started as a trip down memory lane.  Bill Pelz of Herkimer County Community College and the SUNY Learning Network was our keynote presenter.  I had the pleasure of working with Bill at HCCC, and was there as he started Herkimer on its online journey.  In fact, we were recalling that he, I and Ron Carvin gave a presentation to SUNY chairs back in 1998 on this new thing called online learning!  Bill gave the keynote, and he was followed by seven VCU faculty presenting papers.  I have linked to the papers below.

Bill Pelz

The summit was conducted in a room with multiple round tables, and following each set of presentations, the presenters moderated the table discussions to capture faculty perceptions about shifts in teaching practice.  Bill set the stage with his discussion of “technoheutagogy” – a term most had not heard (since Bill created the term) but a term that captured in part the evolution of learning online.  Bill took us on a historical look at first pedagogy (how children learn), then andragogy (how adults learn), followed by heutagogy (self-determined learning).  Bill added the “techno” prefix to move self-determined learning online.

Our first panel presented the following papers:

We really wanted this summit to be a chance for dialogue rather than passive reception of talks.  Following these presentations, we discussed the talks at our tables and collected ideas on what shifts in practice seem most important, how are instructor roles changing, and how does teaching online shape expectations about faculty load.  We also brainstormed support that faculty felt they needed in order to more effectively teach online.

In the afternoon, three more faculty presented their papers:

We again did small group discussions around effective teaching practices as demonstrated by these papers.

Our plan is to collect these table discussions with the papers and publish a conference proceedings from the day.  All the papers contained valuable and relevant information, and I would recommend your review of them.

We spent Tuesday completing our plans for next week, and then hit the road Wednesday morning for UMW and Faculty Academy.


We could only attend one day, but as always, Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy inspires us.  Martha Burtis was unfortunately out sick, but Jim Groom,  Steve Greenlaw, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and others welcomed those of us from off campus and provided a rich selection of presentations to move our thinking.

Giulia Forsythe let us use multiple markers as we played with visual notetaking.  While she had each of note “I can draw!” on our charts, Joyce’s looked a lot better than mine!

Jason Davidson, Mike McCarthy and former student Shannon Hauser showed different uses of the UMW WordPress blogs in their teaching and learning.  I was particularly blown away by Shannon’s rich uses of blogs both personally and professionally.

Grant Potter gave a great plenary on “Tinkering, Learning, and the Adjacent Possible”.  His main point was that creativity and innovation do not often happen in structured spaces (physical or virtual), but rather need open, transparent, and chaotic processes that allow recombinations / remixing of ideas.

Lots to think about from these past few days…and lots to look forward to in the next two weeks!

{Photos shot on iPads by Britt Watwood and Bud Deihl, the FA12 Banner from UMW FA12 website}



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Hello 2012 and a New Community for Learning

I have to admit – 2011 seemed like a long year, and I am glad to see it go.  2012 seems more promising, even with a presidential election looming. 🙂

I did not blog much in 2011, but I also did little teaching in 2011 (and none online), and so did not feel that I had much to share (beyond occasional tweets).  I see 2012 as different.  Next week, we launch our first fully 0nline faculty development course – “Preparing to Teach Online”.  PTTO has 18 faculty signed up for the inaugural pilot of this course.  I have been working with my colleagues here at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence for the past five months to map out and build this course. I will also be co-teaching grad students in our Preparing Future Faculty course and hopefully will be teaching a summer course on Theory and Practice of eLearning. The combination should definitely give me some rich opportunity for reflection, which I hope to capture here.

(…and I like the banner designed by my good friend Bud Deihl…)

Co-designing the PTTO course with Bud Deihl, Joyce Kincannon and Jeff Nugent has been a blast.  For some of our thought process, check out out philosophy statement in the course syllabus, which reads as follows:

“We are living in an amazing time – where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible – quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices from laptops to mobile phones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us.  In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.

This availability of knowledge does not necessarily lead to learning online. Students already have access to high quality learning content. Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content. Your critical tasks are to be the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.  By skilled facilitation of learning, we mean understanding how to interact with and engage students in this new learning landscape.

In this online course, you will do many of the things you routinely do to prepare to teach a class.  You already set goals for your courses, describe the specific learning objectives, define the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then create applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same.  The practice of facilitating learner interaction is quite different.  What is different in our view flows from our observation that the web has become social. Online courses require the social presence of the faculty in order for the course to be effective.  Students need to form a learning community as well, and active engaged learning activities are required for the course to be effective.

We designed this course with these philosophies in mind.  Through our work together in the coming weeks, we all – each of you and each of the course consultants – will be actively present in this course, will build our own learning community, and will collaboratively engage each other in the best ways to facilitate learning online.  We look forward to this!”

The textbook for PTTO is Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  We designed this course with the belief that community is a core component of a quality online learning experience. and we look forward to modelling this in our course.

Community has been on my mind for quite awhile, so I focused on something Stephen Downes said in yesterday’s oldaily about two posts that align nicely with this core focus of community.  Downes noted:

“Clarence Fisher writes a post titled ‘Learn it Yourself (LIY)‘ in which he argues “the Open Source revolution is rooted not in technology itself, but in learning. It’s the ease of observing how languages function and how programs are made – coupled with the ability to seek and openly share that information with others.” Meanwhile, Brian Lamb writes a post titled ‘DIO: Do It Ourselves‘ in which he argues “the slight shift to ‘DIO’ from ‘DIY’ is obvious enough, and if I think about all the fun and all I learned this past year through, say, DS106, it’s equally obvious I didn’t do any of it myself.” Which leads me to suggest the next logical step: LIO – Learn It Ourselves.”


There was a lightbulb that came on for me that brought full circle all the reading this past year on the DIY U movement and networked learning.  We are launching PTTO precisely because it is NOT a DIY world where individuals can in isolation learn new practice.  Rather, it is a richly nuanced networked world where “we” learn together, and through PTTO, we hope to build in ourselves and others the skills in networked learning that can then be applied by our colleagues who participate in their own courses.  I would also suggest that this will spill over into my other courses.  I have always told my students up front that I will learn as much from them as they will from me…this just puts a new spin on that concept.  In the summer course in particular, I hope to experiment more with Facebook groups, Google+ Hangouts, and the like, co-opting my students into a two-way learning community.

I would be interested in tips from any of you on what works with adults in creating and sustaining engaging learning communities.  And look for more in the coming months as we “learn it ourselves” in my courses.

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Pretty Good Looking Camel

I have not blogged in three months…partly from not having the muse to do so, and partly because I have been so darn busy. But given the interesting things I have been involved in lately, I have been meaning to do some reflection … and now is as good a time as any…and of course, I have questions that I hope you can help answer.  🙂

During the last three months, I and my colleagues in the CTE have been focused on exploring how to take our year-long 20-faculty cohort model for developing online teachers, that we have done for the past two years, and scale it to a process that can be delivered to more faculty online in a more frequent manner.  While not a committee in the strict sense, developing a product within a team can resemble the old English proverb:

“A camel is a horse developed by a committee.”

Well, this team is putting together a pretty good looking camel!  And for context, we need to go back a few years.

Two years ago with my colleagues at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence, we published a white paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.

At that time, the strategic plan for Virginia Commonwealth University – VCU 2020 – did not even contain the word “online.” My colleagues and I understood that the academic world was increasingly being impacted by the internet, and we wished to draw a line in the sand and go on record stating that online teaching was much more than simply positioning content online. Rather, we strongly believed that online teaching required a shift in teaching practice. We have been influenced by Terry Anderson’s 2004 work The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. In fact, the word cloud here was built using the words from his Chapter 11, Teaching in an Online Learning Context.  I love how serendipitously “online learning’ and “teachers presence” lined up in this Wordle, and that equal emphasis is given to students, teaching, and content, mirroring our use of Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model.

Much has changed in the past two years, including a new president and a new provost with a vision for positioning VCU as the nation’s top public urban research university. The new strategic plan – Quest for Distinction – includes a new emphasis in online teaching and learning. Online@VCU has been launched as a move to coordinate, support, and grow online learning initiatives at all academic levels. In the past two years, we at the CTE have facilitated two online initiatives, helping 39 faculty make that transition online. We used a very intensive process involving a full week face-to-face institute, followed by an online course experience from the student’s perspective, and then consultation and peer review as their online courses were built and taught. With the increased emphasis and resultant interest campus-wide, we are moving to the next phase of developing online courses to help more of our faculty colleagues prepare to teach online.

I am blessed to be working with a great tech team.  Jeff Nugent continues to provide both leadership and vision to our process.  Bud Deihl brings a strong sense of storytelling to our team.  And during the last three months, we hired a new online instructional designer in the person of Joyce Kincannon.

We have collectively spent some productive hours mapping out strategies on whiteboards before moving into production inside Blackboard.  What we wish to do is develop a process that will prepare faculty members to teach online, and that involves pedagogy, course design, and experiences within an online community.  Faculty members by nature come to this virtual table with content knowledge and knowledge about teaching face-to-face in their discipline, but in many cases, they find the online environment unfamiliar.  They are walking into their online room and not recognizing the layout.  Where are the chairs?  Where is the podium?  How do they circle the chairs if that is their desire?

We hope through our “Preparing to Teach Online” course to make the layout and the processes more familiar.  We hope to raise faculty awareness of processes, best practices, and tools that have worked for others without inundating them with so many choices that option paralysis occurs.  Finally, we hope to support faculty as they both gain experience working in an online environment and construct their own course.  All of us have design models that we have used in the past, but this is the first time we have collectively worked to build a single course together.

There are good models out there already, such as SLOAN-C’s certification process and the development courses run by Penn State University‘s World Campus and University of Central Florida.  We just do not believe it is cost effective to outsource the training for  all of our online teaching faculty.  Developing it in-house remains an engaging process where our assumptions are continually pushed by each other…resulting I believe in an improved product…a good looking camel … that we know will be even more improved after our first class is piloted.  We do not see this as a drop-in, drop-out model.  We still believe that the best approach involves developing learning communities that can work together through the process.

We still have a ton of work to do to fully flesh out the course, but our initial thoughts for the flow are:

  • A pre-assessment of both motivation and technology skills
  • A face-to-face orientation
  • Online modules
    • Introduction to the Online Environment
    • Development of Learning Goals and Outcomes
    • Selection / Development of Course Content
    • Online Collaboration, Interaction, and Engagement
    • Assessment of Learning and Evaluation of the Course
  • Interspersed consultations with the instructional designers
  • Peer Review of developed courses

For those of you moving in the same direction, any thoughts?  I would be particularly interested in the following

1.  Your ideas about pre-assessment instruments that have worked for you.

2. Time commitment expectations for full time faculty moving through a process like this.

3.  Cohort size.  What is too big?  What is too small?

4.  Compensation or enticements used at your institutions.

We are in the early stages, so your assistance as always would be most appreciated!


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A New Crop of Bloggers

bumper cropThis spring, I am co-teaching a graduate course in the VCU Preparing Future Faculty Program called Teaching, Learning and Technology with my colleague Jeff Nugent.  One of the requirements of the course is for our 24 doctoral students and post-docs to keep a learning  journal via a personal blog.  We have aggregated their posts onto our class portal.

In the first three weeks, we have discussed the changing landscape of higher education, the impact of the web on learning, the potentials and challenges associated with blogging, and the use of the Seven Principles of Good Practice as a lens through which to assess the fit of any particular technology to teaching.  The photo above reminds me of the excitement of their exploration, and they are definitely buzzing!

Jeff has a thoughtful post on their initial exploration of blogging in Scholarship of Teaching, Say Hello to the Web…. I thought that I would take a different tack.  I went back and grabbed the text of all 24 blogs where they were discussing their initial uses of blogs (as it appeared that only one had previously blogged).  I then dumped the resulting 17 pages of text into Wordle to see what emerged.


Very unscientific (which may turn some of them off), but here is what I see.

Besides blog and blogging, the most used words were “students”, “think”, “time”, “teaching”, “like” and “class”.

As our class is on teaching, it makes sense that students, class, and teaching popped out as key words in their blogs.  The word “think” was used multiple ways, as in “I need to think about this more…”, “I think that…” or “think outside the box.” What is evident to me is that we have disturbed their comfort zones, and this has resulted in quite a bit of thinking…which I see as a good thing.  It is working both ways.  The questions they raise both in their blogs and in class have me thinking quite a bit.

Many are both excited by the possibilities blogging affords (new information, new connections) but they are very concerned about time constraints and time commitments reading, writing, and commenting place on new Ph.D.’s.  One stated that blogging may be a luxury one does after they have established their research, But others saw possibilities that made the time constraint worthwhile,  For instance, one saw possibilities of using blogging to network in order to find a position.  Given that time constraints has emerged as a huge concern in class, it does not surprise me that it was a key word in their collected posts.

As for “like”, there were some that appear to like blogging, some that were not sure if they like blogging, and some that appear to not like blogging.  So I am not reading too much into that word.

crop5What is definitely coming through their blogs is both wonder at how technology is changing teaching and concerns as to the fit of social media to their lives as future researchers.  Our discussions in class raise equal measures of excitement and skepticism, with some frustration at the current state of higher education.  They are a focused group who fly right to the point, and in doing so, keep Jeff and I engaged and enjoying the course.  I encourage those in academia who read this blog to connect with these students through our portal and add your voices in response to their questions and concerns.  I am enjoying the experience and I suspect that you will as well.

{Photo Credits: dsevilla}

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Bridging the Chasm

In 10 days, we start our summer institute on online teaching and learning.  This is an experiment of sorts for my institution.  For the first time, our institute this year will be the start of an upcoming year-long process to help a cohort of faculty develop and teach online classes.  Following the institute, each member will attend the Quality Matters “Build Your Online Course” and continue to work as a cohort as they develop and refine their course, then teach it the first time.  They will also meet physically three times in the fall and stay connected virtually through a Ning site.

It sounds good on paper (or whiteboard)…but I am pondering this real world of faculty development as I considered a couple of interesting blog posts that crossed my Google Reader this week.

The first was Harold Jarche‘s “Once More, Across That Chasm.”

As Jarche’s graphic above illustrates, there is a chasm that must be crossed before the majority adopt new technologies or new practices.  He suggests that the growth of informal learning and integration of learning into work could bridge this chasm.  That is precisely what our intentions are with our Ning site.

For faculty who have never taught online, transitioning from classroom instruction to online instruction in many ways involves a similar chasm that needs to be bridged.  Our summer institute gives us an opportunity to lay a foundation and build momentum, but I worry that this momentum could be lost if we do not work to sustain the community.  In many ways, our efforts will be focused on developing an online learning community with this cohort through the next year that models the learning communities we hope they will build in their online courses.

Jarche also pointed me to another post by Charles Jennings, “ID – Instructional Design or Interactivity Design in an interconnected world?”  Jennings noted:

“The vast majority of structured learning is content-rich and interaction-poor. That’s understandable in the context of a 20th century mindset and how learning professionals have been taught to develop ‘learning’ events. But it simply isn’t appropriate for today’s world.”

He goes on to state that learning is about action and behaviors, not how much information one retains. He cites the exponential curve of forgetting first postulated by Ebbinghaus where 50% of context-information is lost in the first hour after acquisition if there is no opportunity to reinforce it with practice.

I am not too worried about this during the week of the institute, as we have loaded our institute with a fair balance of information and actions.  We hope to establish some practices with the cohort through the week regarding informal learning through the use of Twitter and our Ning site.  What I am pondering now are the actions we need to provide to continue the momentum beyond the week in June when our cohort is physically present.  They will be interacting in the QM online course 6 weeks after the institute, and will meet together again 6 weeks after that.  That is an eternity in the online world – and is another chasm that needs to be bridged.

For the past two years, we have talked a lot about networked learning.  This will be a real opportunity to put actions to these concepts and work through the Ning site to create a network with faculty members developing both the courses and the practices online that will support these courses.  In many ways, what we are attempting with this cohort mirrors what we would like to see them model in the online courses that they develop.

As Jenning’s noted:

“We need designers who understand that learning comes from experience, practice, conversations and reflection, and are prepared to move away from massaging content into what they see as good instructional design. Designers need to get off the content bus and start thinking about, using, designing and exploiting learning environments full of experiences and interactivity.”

Good advice as we consider how to use the Ning to build community and engagement over the summer and into the fall.

{Graphics linked from Jache blog and Wikipedia}

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