6 steps to gain faculty support for online learning

A former faculty member and college dean shares lessons for making online learning great

I have the unique privilege of viewing the development of online learning through three different lenses: as former chaired and tenured faculty and program head at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, as former dean at Babson College in Mass., and now, as principal learning strategist at ExtensionEngine. I’ve had many conversations with institutional leaders, and too often they are complaining about how their faculty get in the way of plans for online programs.

Recently, a case at Eastern Michigan University came to light in which the administration and faculty had very different experiences with online efforts. Unfortunately, most situations that I’ve encountered are more similar to this than they are different.

Faculty are often seen as barriers to change, the “opposition” of administration in leading a school to greatness. This doesn’t have to be the case. Let me point out a few changes that would make the process more successful.

1. Start with the faculty’s vision of the program.
Faculty are the core resource of any school; their very presence defines the areas of expertise of the school. It is only faculty who can gain lifetime employment security. Given both of these facts, it is counterproductive to start anywhere other than with the faculty’s vision for what a program might become and should be. Certainly, the administration is a vital part of the process, but they need to think of themselves as enablers of, and partners of, the faculty rather than something that is burdened by them.

A faculty team’s vision might entail several dimensions. First, the faculty will have some notion of how much they are willing to be involved in the creation and delivery of a course. You will need to have conversations and presentations about different models and the level to which the school is willing to support various models. Doing this early in the planning phase is vital to keeping these issues from overwhelming the process later.

Also, the faculty will have some insight into typical pedagogies that they might want to employ in the program. Again, you will need to have conversations about different modern online pedagogies and conduct research into learner engagement. Final decisions don’t yet need to be made, but preparing faculty to think about pedagogies appropriate for online learning (and differing from traditional face-to-face learning) is a useful step to take early in the process.

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