Building Faculty Skills and Confidence: The Faculty Fellows Program

Author Information
Author(s): 
Paige Wolf
Author(s): 
George Mason University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
George Mason University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Faculty Fellows Program at George Mason University was created to increase faculty skills and interest in on-line education. The program provided a forum for faculty to learn new skills and share their experiences with each other. The program provided both technical and social support for our faculty embarking in distance education.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

How this practice improves faculty satisfaction: At George Mason University (GMU) there was a need to adapt the traditional MBA program into a blended format that included both on-line asynchronous interaction as well as face-to-face synchronous interaction between students and faculty. This delivery format was named "ClassroomPlus" and has been very successful both in terms of faculty and student satisfaction. In order to motivate and interest faculty in teaching in this new format, it was necessary to create a community of practice comprised of faculty interested in learning and exploring advanced learning technologies (e.g., webcasts, web-based course management systems, threaded discussions). Research has shown that a positive attitude on the part of faculty of distance education is related to positive learning outcomes (Webster & Hackley, 1997). In addition, a widely held belief and well-documented finding is that the more student interaction a course affords, the better the learning and retention of knowledge (Webster & Hackley, 1997). Finally, articles on lessons learned when teaching distance courses abound and stress the importance of faculty preparedness for the course's success (Berger, 1999; Brower, 2003). Therefore, we strove to prepare our faculty by synthesizing information in the literature and providing guidance from successful, experienced faculty. Our faculty struggled with how to reproduce the learning moments they were accustomed to in the classroom in an online environment. Moreover, how would they cover the same material with this new format? How would group projects be managed and executed, if at all? How will students interact to create the same learning from class discussions when synchronous class meetings are limited? To address these and other important concerns, the faculty were invited to participate in a community of practice we named "The Faculty Fellows Program." This program began months before the first blended course was to be delivered to allow adequate time for faculty to learn and practice their new skills. In addition, faculty members were compensated to participate in the program. The objectives of this program were twofold: 1) To employ new advanced learning technologies into graduate and undergraduate education, and 2) To prepare faculty to teach the ClassroomPlus format of our MBA program. To establish the program, faculty were asked to sign an agreement stating their commitment to participate in the community of practice activities and to employ techniques learned in their traditional classes, where possible. Twenty out of 67 faculty members committed to the program. The program consisted of two intensive workshops and a series of brown-bag meetings. The first workshop was a half-day session specifically geared at building faculty skills in the use of technology (e.g., WebCT, creating web pages, synchronous web-casting). The second workshop was a full-day session dedicated to discussion of the pedagogical transformation of traditional courses into the blended format. Experts from inside and outside the university spoke to faculty about best practices and lessons learned. The second half of the session involved small groups of faculty working together to explore ways to convert their traditional course into the new format, while maintaining the quality of education and the achievement level of students. The brown-bag meetings began during the first semester that ClassroomPlus was employed for a cohort of MBA students. The purpose of these sessions was to continue to support faculty in their skill acquisition and provide them with a forum to share ideas, successes, and pitfalls they experienced using advanced learning technologies. Speakers were invited to meet with our faculty to share their related experiences. In addition, these sessions provided a forum for faculty to discuss concerns and successes experienced with the implementation of the blended format and resolve any issues related to the program. Finally, a Faculty Fellows web site accessible by all faculty members was created; it included useful links, workshop workbooks, presentations made at brown-bags, etc.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Upon the conclusion of the workshop series, the Faculty Fellows were asked to complete an anonymous on-line survey regarding their reactions to the workshops. A summary of the ratings of the faculty impressions of the two workshops are below. All responses were made on a 5-point scale (1= "None"; 5= "A lot." 1. To what extent did you feel you acquired useful knowledge? 5 - 37%; 4 - 31%; 3 - 31%; 2 - 0%; 1 - 0%. 2. To what extent will you be able to apply the knowledge you acquired to your future courses? 5 - 58%; 4 - 26%; 3 - 16%; 2 - 0%; 1 - 0%. 3. To what extent has your comfort with technology improved as a result of the faculty fellows workshops you attended? 5 - 37%; 4 - 5%; 3 - 42%; 2 - 16%; 1 - 0%. Following are other indicators of the success of the Faculty Fellows program: 1) Improvements are continuously made to the design of the blended format based on discussions at brown-bag meetings. 2) Faculty evaluations from students are equal to or better than those from students taking the courses in the traditional format. 3) Student learning as measured by grades on assignments and the course overall are comparable or better than those of students taking courses in the traditional format. 4) The success of the ClassroomPlus model with the MBA program has prompted another program to be delivered exclusively via ClassroomPlus (MS in Bioscience Management). 5) Faculty have employed the techniques they've learned in their traditional classes (e.g., threaded discussions). 6) Nearly 100% of the faculty who taught using ClassroomPlus have agreed to teach a second time in the program.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Faculty compensation was $5,000 per faculty member for one year of participation in the program. Twenty faculty participated resulting in a $100,000 investment in the skill-building of our faculty. Our Dean, Richard Klimoski, recognized the importance of "doing distance right" and was more than willing to make the investment in our faculty. Participation in the program after the first year was no longer compensated because it was hoped that faculty who participated in the program would mentor others interested in using web-based tools in their courses. In addition, one faculty member was given course release time to develop the workshops, organize the brown-bag sessions, and perform all coordination of the Faculty Fellows Program. The Director of the ClassroomPlus program dedicated significant time to energizing and initiating this program. Thus, costs of the program must include a percentage of the salaries of those administering the program and providing technical support - these costs are estimated to be $50,000. The costs of the program have been more than offset by the revenue gained from the programs using the ClassroomPlus format. Students who otherwise would not have pursued degrees at GMU now have that opportunity because of the blended delivery format.

References, supporting documents: 

Berger, N. S (1999). Pioneering experiences in distance learning: Lessons learned. Journal of Management Education, 23, 6, p. 684.

Other Comments: 

Please forward any questions or requests for more information to Paige Wolf, Assistant Professor of Management, George Mason University. Contact information is provided below.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Paige Wolf , 703.993.1758
Email this contact: 
pwolf1@gmu.edu