How To Encourage Online Collaboration Among Online Faculty  

The benefits of collaborating and sharing among students in the online classroom have been well documented by practice and research. Students report feeling a greater sense of community, increased understanding of the material and more opportunities for feedback. The drive for online collaboration and information sharing among virtual faculty is not as well recognized and is often difficult due to a sense of isolation from peers. Some online adjunct instructors may not participate in knowledge sharing due to lack of time, concerns about job security, lack of support from administration, or fear of losing status.

In this competitive landscape of online education, the winners will be those colleges that can stand out in cost, delivery, and quality in the eyes of students. One important aspect to achieving quality education is through investing in faculty. Many colleges are recognizing this need and striving to retain quality faculty in hopes of achieving greater student engagement and retention. Faculty that participate in knowledge sharing and best practices also benefit in similar ways as students, which ultimately carries over to improved student outcomes. Some faculty will simply engage in knowledge sharing due to a:

  • Willingness to help others. 
  • A desire to exchange information as part of a mutual relationship. 
  • Simply for recognition and reward if this is part of their university culture.

How can colleges encourage more online collaboration among their virtual faculty? In order for virtual faculty (especially busy online adjuncts) to feel motivated to engage in knowledge sharing, it is important to involve them in activities that encourage collaboration such as: mentoring relationships, virtual communities, opportunities for scholarship, and the potential for future career growth.

  1. Develop A Mentorship Program.
    Faculty benefit from the exchange of topics and ideas with other instructors, especially those within their own discipline. Newer faculty will especially need additional support on policies and procedures and will benefit from access to a more senior faculty member for questions and advice. Studies such as this one indicate the quality of this mentoring relationship is critical for its ultimate success.
  2. Have A Dedicated Faculty Area.
    Faculty also benefit from interacting with instructors from other disciplines in order to exchange ideas that are more general in nature. An online faculty lounge encourages sharing, especially if it is monitored by a senior faculty member willing to solicit examples of best practices from others as well as keep the discussions ongoing and active. In this article by Puzziferro and Shelton, the importance of engaging faculty by giving them multiple ways to communicate is cited as one of the most important factors to their motivation.
  3. Provide Opportunities For Scholarship.
    One of the most effective ways to encourage online faculty to engage in knowledge sharing is to provide a supportive environment for scholarship. When incentives are available to collaborate on projects or publish work, online faculty are provided with the rare opportunity to share their knowledge beyond the classroom. Research indicates the quality of education increases when full-time faculty engage in scholarship just as it should with part-time instructors as well.
  4. Provide Opportunities For Career Growth.
    Opportunities for career growth also encourage the online adjunct instructor to engage in knowledge sharing. These opportunities might include the chance to participate in course design, mentorship roles or even leadership positions. To find out what your online faculty desires the most, it is best to ask them first. Needs and interests often differ by university. At my institution, we discovered most of our adjunct population desired opportunities for continuing education, but few were interested in serving on university committees. This might be different for your institution, so try polling your instructors to discover how best to meet their needs.

For a comprehensive look at training and retaining online faculty, see the article Best Practices for Training and Retaining Online Adjunct Faculty by Faculty Focus.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

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