Creating Communities Across Campus:
Faculty Learning Community in the College of Nursing and Health Professions
Teaching a course online can be a difficult transition for any faculty member whether they be a beginner/veteran or full time/part time. Online teaching is often thought of as a completely separate form of instruction when in reality you can use many of your current pedagogies from face to face, and then supplement with digital courseware. Just like any other technology, training and support are critical for the early and continued success of every instructor. If you have strong, defined resources, any faculty member can offer a quality course from the very start. But how do you ensure that the right resources are available? The College of Nursing and Health Professions has created a 3 week course called Online 101 that helps to answer many early questions and provide resources, but it only goes so far. Dana Kemery and Joanne Sermebus have developed a Faculty Learning Community to support Online 101 and make resources and discussion points available and accessible at any time.
Dana Kemery, an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Undergraduate Nursing, and a Drexel graduate is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Rowan University. “Before the Faculty Learning Community (FLC) was built, teaching an online course was difficult because not everyone had what they needed to be successful. There is not a comprehensive training currently offered by the University to support teaching online.” As a response to that void, Online 101 was created in CNHP by Fran Cornelius (Clinical Professor and Department Chair, Advanced Role Nursing) and Karen Holt (Associate Clinical Professor) to teach colleagues online strategies. What they discovered was even with this resource, it was not enough to support the specific needs of faculty members. There were many training sessions working with small groups, or individuals, primarily adjunct faculty in the fall and winter. The few people with the knowledge and the desire, were getting constant requests to assist other faculty members. “We needed a one stop shop because too much time was being spent teaching/training on the same topics over and over again.” Joanne Serembus, an Associate Clinical Professor in the Advanced Role MSN program has a BSN and an MSN and also an Ed.D. in Higher Education and Leadership. “What really happened was that we were both doing the same thing with two different groups at the same time. Dana was designing a resource repository for the RN to BSN program. I was creating the same thing for the Masters NURS 500 course.” Serembus stated. Resources were scattered making it difficult to find things in a timely manner. This lack of organizational structure caused anxiety and an unwillingness for some faculty to take their courses online. Moreover, this also created a problem for any function that are only accomplished on occasion or once a quarter. It became evident that there was a need for one destination to house everything instead of people hoarding them. “The FLC gives adjuncts the opportunity the chance to see things before they start. We move fast, so sometimes we have to onboard someone who is new to online within 48 hours.” Also, communication could be an issue especially with onboarding adjuncts. Serembus added, “adjunct faculty or others don’t always recieve the normal emails, so this gives you the peace of mind to know that everyone can access needed information.”
The focus is always on quality experiences for the student which stems from using the Quality Matters rubrics. The Quality Matters rubrics were developed by a collaboration of instructors who wanted to ensure quality online offerings by creating a process for course review that can be applied to any course. Quality Matters (https://www.qualitymatters.org/) describes themselves as “Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization comprised of a dedicated staff that works together virtually—from cities all over the United States—to support everyone’s quality assurance goals.” Instructors can be trained on what a quality online course looks like, and how to evaluate their own courses and others for consistency. Starting with this foundation of quality, a course shell was created in order to give the new faculty members all the tools and support needed to ensure quality offerings even in their first try. “Every effort that we take is about providing quality offerings so that the students receive the best education. We don’t want students struggling with the course shell, or any technical problems with online learning. You would never think to put a bus driver in a bus without teaching them how to drive, so why would you put an instructor into a system that they don’t know how to use,” Kemery stated. Online interactions need extra work from faculty and that means that they need to know what is available to them to provide a great experience for the student. “Some faculty think of this as a correspondence course. Interactivity is the key to making it a better experience,” Serembus said.
As the two faculty members started to work together, the shell started to gain appeal for more than just specific faculty. “The shell was very course specific at first. Then we shared information with Karen Goldschmidt and found out that they were working on similar things, so we started to work together. At first the main purpose was to develop a resource for adjuncts, as it turns out, it was great for full time faculty as well,” Kemery explained. The learning community was set up as a course shell which lets faculty see things as a student. This design grants them easy ability to have fast access to developed resources especially given short timeframes with which to work. “We grabbed a bunch of different instructions and tips from different areas. We didn’t create a lot of things at first, because we didn’t need to. It was all there. Then we started to reach out to other faculty members to gather some things that they were using,“ Kemery stated. All of this didn’t happen overnight. Everything started 1 ½ years ago with a large team of people working together on areas like analytics, professional development and also bringing in resources from Instructional Technology. The development process happened through multiple rounds of outreach and review as the shell is always evolving.
“The most important thing that we did was to involve the faculty with the creation of this community. We had ideas and resources but we needed to know what was missing,” Serembus added. “Dana started with the idea that we needed to have support in some form. Then we surveyed the faculty for areas in which they were struggling. We took that feedback, and started to gather and create resources that we didn’t already have. We combined things like Turnitin, Collaborate, and pieces of modules for practices into the faculty corner.” Once everything was set up online, there was a soft launch for the faculty to review. This feedback was used to make some tweaks and add/remove things prior to the real launch taking place. What they created was an online space for resource collection, discussion and also support. Any faculty member with access, can find the most current and tested strategies and information which helps to lower anxiety about teaching online. What they found was if you build it right from the beginning, then you don’t have to spend as much time later. The shell itself is constantly changing with different experiences, but the foundation remains the same. ”If you build it right, get the faculty on board, and make them understand how it works and then it is easier to roll with the changes.”
The benefits of this project have been many. First, the number of smaller conversations have been greatly reduced by this one resource. Second, the roll-out to support quality is more streamlined and thorough as everyone receives the same training instead of trainings being dependent on who your mentor is. Also, what started as a resource for adjunct and strictly online professionals has suddenly become an attractive knowledge bank for any full time or face to face faculty who are interested in digital courseware. “The questions that we receive now are not as technical, because now they have these resources to review. Now the focus is on pedagogy and on teaching strategies which is where we want to be.” Kemery offered. The anxiety about trying something new has been reduced because of the existence of the learning community. Also, sometimes a faculty member will only complete an online process once a quarter which makes it difficult to remember or to locate directions. That is now a thing of the past. Lastly, faculty members have become more accepting of technological changes, because they know that there will be resources and conversation surrounding every topic. Now some of the F2F faculty are asking for the resources to activate live classes, in case of weather.
So what happens next? “Well, we are light years ahead of where I was as an online student. But, everyone needs to get better at delivery and the only way to do that is to share.” Kemery explained. “We need to have broader conversations with people all over campus including adjuncts. We want to make sure that everyone is getting the message.” In this way the bar can be raised for everyone on campus in an attempt to mirror what Quality Matters has done on a national scale. Dana and Joanne are willing to work with everyone to set this up for individual colleges. Serembus added, “If another program or college wanted to set up their own learning community, the process would be the same, though their template may be different. An interested party would need to go out and speak to their faculty and find out where they are struggling in order to populate the shell. We can help, but you need to find your own information to answer the needs of your specific program.”
This is the perfect time for this type of learning community to spread across campus with the development an Online 101 for the entire University from the Online Learning Council and specifically the Online Fellows. CNHP can put forth their model as a supplement to this effort as a resource for other colleges. “Our vision is to create a homegrown resource that is an exemplar for the other colleges in Drexel. They can mirror our efforts for their own faculty.”
This effort is one that Kemery and Sermebos would like to take beyond the virtual walls of Drexel University. As the world gets more interconnected, an opportunity is created to educate more and more people. If you are going to reach everyone why not make sure that what you are offering is of the highest quality by supporting faculty about digital coursework and how to be effective online? This work is important as evidenced by a recent poster presentation at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing 2017 MSN Education Conference, February 23-25 in Atlanta, Georgia. The poster was so well received, that the duo has been asked to submit an article for Nursing Education Perspectives (the journal of the National League for Nursing). This Faculty Learning Community can be a model for other universities as well according to Kemery. ”Step two for this project is to tackle this struggle in all of higher education. I was reading recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education that faculty don’t feel as if they can teach online, but I don’t think that that is true. With the proper training, resources and support anyone can teach online.“