Friday, January 18, 2013

Establishing Blended Learning Communities as an Effective Approach to Faculty Development

This semester, I'm conducting a small scale research study to determine the impact of participation in a blended learning community on online instructors' course design and delivery. Through this study, I have the privilege of working with two fantastic online instructors over the course of the semester in a blended learning community. We'll be meeting each week, alternating face-to-face and online meetings. One major premise behind our work this semester is that online instructors benefit from having experience as online learners. Another is the notion that a learning community can be a valuable resource for online instructors who are often left with no support or training regarding effective online instruction.

The beauty of a true learning community is that it's guided by the needs, interests, and goals of the participants. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks collecting data to determine the strengths, interests, and goals of the online instructors in this learning community. At our first meeting, which will be face-to-face, we'll establish norms and expectations for our work together and determine topics, tools, and pacing for the semester. After spending time with both participants in this study, I know that I have a great deal to learn from them. They have a wealth of teaching experience and expertise in a wide range of areas, and although one instructor is a novice online instructor, she is extremely knowledgeable about effective instructional and assessment practices and how these can be transferred to an online environment.

Hopefully you can see that this learning community approach to faculty development is quite different from typical faculty development opportunities, which tend to be sit-and-get sessions led by an "expert". Although I'm facilitating the process of creating this blended learning community, I am by no means the expert among this group. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and the experience of working in a blended learning environment will be a teaching tool for each of us as well.

I encourage you to consider whether a blended learning community approach might work for the professional learning needs in your setting. If so, don't wait for someone else to get the ball rolling. Take the lead, find out who's interested, determine what their learning needs are, and get started! I would love to hear from you if you're part of a blended learning community or are interested in initiating one where you are. If you are interested in being part of a blended learning community, here are just a few of my favorite tools that can facilitate this process:

  • Google+ Hangouts for synchronous online meetings
  • Wikispaces for collaborative work and resource sharing
  • Google Drive for collaborative document creation and editing
  • Twitter for connecting with others who may be outside of your learning community
  • Edmodo for asynchronous learning and resource sharing

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