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Inspire Teaching Transformation: A Faculty Learning Community Approach for Quality Online Courses

Karen Skibba (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)
Jonathan B. Klein (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 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
Southern Hemisphere IV
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 5
Virtual Session

Hear how a faculty learning community applies experiential and adult learning strategies that inspire and motivate instructors to design and teach engaging online courses.

Extended Abstract

When instructors transition from teaching face-to-face to online, they experience many challenges. They may be uncomfortable learning new technologies, or need assistance aligning objectives to assessments and learning activities, managing workload, and engaging students. The instructor's ability to provide positive learning experiences is a major factor in student retention and degree completion (Flint, 2005).

Adding to these challenges, teaching online requires different pedagogical strategies than those typically associated with classroom-based courses. Helping instructors with these challenges can be even more difficult in a research university where there are little to no incentives or time to learn new teaching methods needed to be successful in the online environment, including attending faculty development programs.

Instructional designers, working with UW-Madison instructors to develop online courses, found they shared similar needs to help instructors with the above challenges and formed a cross-campus committee to share best practices. This committee piloted a year-long collaborative learning community called "TeachOnline@UW" to apply experiential learning strategies and group support models to help faculty plan and teach quality online courses.

This session will share an overview of the program, activities and strategies utilized to engage instructors, results based on participant feedback, and lessons learned from the year-long faculty learning community. For example, this committee realized that in order to transform teaching practices and help instructors move beyond online lectures, videos, quizzes, and discussions, it was important for instructors to be part of a learning community to work on their own courses and share ideas with colleagues while learning new strategies.

This is confirmed by the faculty development research. Chism et al. (2002) explained that using reflective practice methods has helped faculty development to "become more in harmony with the learner-centered education being promoted for students" (p. 34). This includes emphasizing the social aspect of learning for faculty members; therefore, "faculty development is no longer being envisioned as an individual and private activity" (p. 36). Faculty learning communities can be utilized to improve teaching practice. According to Cox (2004), a faculty learning community is a cross-disciplinary faculty-and-staff group "who engage in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development" and community building (p. 8).

From May 2014 to May 2015, 22 instructors participated in three workshops that were part of a pilot year-long faculty learning community called TeachOnline@UW that was developed and facilitated by the cross-campus committee. The goal was to create a learning community for online instructors where they can share experiences and transform their teaching practices.

Following are the workshops and key topics:

Getting Started: the online environment, transitioning to online, and understanding by design.

Plan & Design: online course design, learning objectives and alignment, assessment, instructional materials, and course activities.

Facilitation & Management: roles of an online instructor, supporting eLearners, facilitation and discussions, course management strategies.

In all three workshops, the instructors experienced being an online "student" while participating in online units. The committee developed high-quality online course experiences that showcased Quality Matters standards, various technologies, and research-based content that was practical and encouraged new ways of thinking about course design and teaching.

This included engaging discussions and activities that helped the participants begin their course design and build online learning communities. The online units were followed by face-to-face sessions where the participants collaborated with a team of colleagues to collaborate on their course planning and share experiences and strategies. In addition, these workshops will be used to help instructors through the course design process while working with instructional designers.

Teaching online provides a laboratory to experiment with many pedagogical possibilities to teach and design courses (Skibba, 2012). Faculty members who are learning to teach are also adult learners who learn through experience and by conducting experiments. These teaching experiments include observing the effect of student learning followed by reflection on whether this strategy should be used again.

During these session, we will show how we utilized adult learning principles to engage the learning community participants, including making content practical and relevant, tapping the participants' internal motivation, allowing choice in the activities chosen, including many reflective activities, and respecting the participants perspectives and experiences. Adult students, including instructors, learn by reflecting on experience individually and with peers. Providing opportunities, either formally or informally, for instructors to share best practices and seek new ways to teach can reinvigorate practice, lead to pedagogical transformations, and enhance student learning .

We will also share a few lessons learned and comments from the participants, including the following:

Instructors Want to Connect and Share with Other Instructors

"Lunch meetings were the highlight. I doubt we could carve out more time, but it always felt like we could talk and share for hours."

Instructors Have Difficulty Letting Go of Traditional Methods

"My eyes have been opened to the wide variety of assessment techniques that are applicable across disciplines. I was tunnel-vision in viewing secure quizzes and exams as the only sorts of assessments that were appropriate."

Experience Being an Online Student Can Transform Pedagogy

"I am so much more aware of the challenges of being an online learner and will design my course to meet those challenges the best I can."

Attendees of this session will gain a variety of experiential and adult learning strategies to engage and inspire instructors to teach quality online courses.


Chism, N. V. N., Lees, N. D., & Evenbeck, S. (2002). Faculty development for teaching innovation. Liberal Education, 88(3), 34-38.

Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. In Cox, M. D., & Richlin, L. (Eds.), New directions for teaching and learning (Vol. 97, pp. 5-23). New York, NY: Wiley.

Flint, T. A. (2005). How well are we serving our adult learners? Investigating the impact of institutions on success and retention. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Skibba, K. A. (2012). Adult learning influence on faculty learning cycle: Individual and shared reflections while learning to teach online lead to pedagogical transformations. In Virtual Mentoring for Teachers: Online Professional Development Practices.

Lead Presenter

Karen Skibba is a senior instructional designer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies where she consults with faculty on developing online and hybrid courses and using technology to enhance student learning. In August 2011, Karen received her Ph.D. in Adult and Continuing Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a focus on instructional design and online and blended teaching and learning. Her dissertation is about how faculty members learn to teach adult learners in a blended program. Karen received a Master's Degree in Communication Studies from Marquette University. She has taught college-level communication and online and blended course development courses and seminars. She co-authored a chapter on blended learning found in Blended Learning: Research Perspectives published by the Sloan-Consortium. Karen has presented her online and blended faculty development research at national conferences including EDUCAUSE, Sloan Consortium, Professional and Organizational Development, and the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison.