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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Behind the Scenes with the "online 4": Rethinking Faculty Development for Online Learning in the Liberal Arts

Lora Taub-Pervizpour (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Brett Fadem (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Susan Kahlenberg (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Lanethea Mathews-Schultz (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Additional Authors
Erika Bagley (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Tian Luo (Muhlenberg College, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 9:15am
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Europe 3
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 6

We present a highly participatory and collaborative approach to building faculty capacities for blended and online teaching in a small liberal arts college environment.

Extended Abstract

For many liberal arts students and faculty alike, the idea of online learning at first suggests an incompatibility, or at the very least a tension: liberal arts teaching and learning is traditionally marked by active, learner-centered pedagogies, intense and close faculty-student interactions, and robust project-driven collaboration within a residential setting, while online learning is by design individualized, conducted at a distance and unhinged from any specific place or time. At some liberal arts colleges, administrators have declared online modalities "off the table." Others recognize opportunity in blended and online modalities for achieving effectiveness in the very forms of learning valued within the liberal arts. In winter 2015, Muhlenberg College began a process of supporting a cohort of four highly experimental and technologically agile full-time faculty -- the "Online 4" -- eager to explore the affordances of online learning within the liberal arts. In this presentation, five speakers from Muhlenberg outline and share from distinct perspectives their collaborative, community-based effort to develop pedagogically rich opportunities for digital learning that advance the goals and values of a residential liberal arts college. The presentation takes participants behind the scenes of the collaborative learning, discovery and development that gave shape to four online courses launched in Summer 2015.

In 2012, Muhlenberg's president appointed a Task Force for Online Learning to research and make recommendations on the future of online learning at the College. The Task Force recommended the development a "small group of high quality online courses for the benefit of current Muhlenberg students." To catalyze and support this initiative, the president allocated significant financial resources, created a new Associate Dean for Digital Learning position, and important changes were made to situate decision-making regarding digital learning within the College's shared governance structure.

Effective faculty development is critical to developing high quality online courses. While new to online learning, Muhlenberg has a rich history of faculty development rooted in a strong Faculty Center for Teaching which has informed our approach to expanding faculty development into online learning. According to Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States (2011), while there is no single model for online faculty development, most public and private universities offer faculty development through in-house training and informal mentoring (Ginsberg and Ciabocchi, 2013). Research on faculty development in online learning is still in its infancy and primarily captures experiences within large institutions. Less is known about online faculty development at smaller liberal arts colleges. We document Muhlenberg's efforts to foster an open, shared culture for online learning at Muhlenberg College through a community-based process of faculty development.

Goals of Session:

Demonstrate connections between Institutional Philosophy and Mission and the approach to developing online learning at Muhlenberg;

Describe steps to create institutional support for online course development at Muhlenberg College through the formation of a Digital Learning Team;

Share the open process implemented to identify and incentivize faculty interest in online teaching;

Document and reflect upon the value of a Faculty Learning Community Model to support faculty redesigning face-to-face courses with blended and online pedagogies.

Participants will be introduced to an approach that foregrounds three elements: 1) creating space for faculty to build connections with colleagues who can support their pedagogical innovations; 2) designing opportunities for faculty to connect with peers who are working on similar innovations and sharing the same issues; and 3) connecting faculty to a wider network of professionals (online and in person) with expertise in online course design and pedagogy.

The Digital Learning Team was established in Fall 2015 to network together the information technology, library, assessment, and pedagogical expertise necessary to provide high quality, effective support for faculty developing online courses. The Digital Learning Team played a key role in supporting and implementing a semester-long faculty development initiative to prepare faculty with the basics in online course development and instruction. Faculty trust in this team, and the team's openness to letting individual faculty guide various points in the effort, was essential to the program's overall success.

Four highly motivated faculty were selected through an open call for proposals to engage in a six-month faculty learning community (FLC) for online course development. The FLC model has been widely adopted at Muhlenberg for faculty development and is recognized internationally as an ideal model for inspiring faculty interest in innovating their teaching and learning practices (Lave and Wenger 1990). It is not surprising that the FLC framework is at the center of many online faculty development efforts (Brooks 2010; Sherer, Shea, & Kristensen, 2013). Of particular importance, given the newness of online learning at Muhlenberg, is the framework's effectiveness in creating a safe and supportive environment for faculty to investigate, attempt, and adopt new online approaches. The FLC model gives faculty a voice in shaping the faculty development environment and generating knowledge about resources necessary for promoting online learning at the institution (Herman 2013).

Muhlenberg's FLC leveraged the blended and online tools and approaches we sought to promote among the Online 4. We will outline the interplay of online and face-to-face interactions that shaped the FLC experience, including completion of OLC's "New to Online: Essentials" workshop, an on-campus workshop with OLC's Institute Director, monthly on-campus cohort meetings for technology training and pedagogical discussion, hands-on instruction, close interactions and one-on-one trainings with digital learning team members.

We will share ongoing assessment efforts of the online courses, as well as qualitative data from a semi-structured group interview process with the "Online 4," conducted after the end of Summer 2015--to present a fuller picture of the faculty development process, its impacts and areas for future improvement.

Benefits to Participants

Participants can expect lively and informative discussion to foster awareness of the challenges and opportunities for developing online courses in a small liberal arts college context. The presentation will be of benefit not only to those at liberal arts institutions but also those at institutions where highly customized faculty development programming are especially valued.

Lead Presenter

Lora Taub-Pervizpour is Professor of Media & Communication and Associate Dean for Digital Learning at Muhlenberg College.