Developing a supportive, energized faculty can be challenging at any time; creating an energized, productive faculty across universities requires a carefully thought-out plan. In this article, we report on the creation of new online faculty cobbled from six universities in different states. This project began with some preliminary meetings among interested faculty to determine the feasibility of developing an interinstitutional, transdisciplinary master's degree in community development. These meetings led to a successful grant application for a U.S. Department of Agriculture higher education challenge grant and the launching of new degree program.
Since 2004, the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) has provided leadership for the Community Development On-line Master's Program. This interinstitutional, asynchronous online degree program offered through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA) includes faculty from six universities: Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, Kansas State University, South Dakota State University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Nebraska. Additionally, these faculty members represent a range of disciplines: sociology, architecture, planning, Native American studies, economics, and natural resource management. When the program began, some of the faculty knew each other personally or by professional reputation, but many were not acquainted with one another. Because our program development design included faculty teams assigned to the development of specific courses, we needed to help them learn to know each other and develop successful teamwork strategies. In order to create these teams and get commitment to the overall program plan, we had to overcome both the geographical distance from one another and the different disciplinary foundations with which each faculty person approached this work. While we did have funding for yearly face-to-face meetings, most of the course development took place by e-mail and conference call. Thus, our first task was to consider strategies to begin to build a community within the faculty. In addition to the challenges wrought by distance and discipline, the faculty also included some people with many years of experience in distance education and some who were somewhat skeptical of the technology and the program. Some faculty participated as an overload, adding lack of time to the potential barriers. Finally, everyone came from different institutional environments, as all universities vary in their policies and procedures. We knew that building an atmosphere of confidence and collaboration was vital. We also had to facilitate discussion and agreement on the core competencies around which curriculum would be developed, address faculty governance, ensure faculty had access to the technical assistance and training they needed to be successful, and address assessment issues.
Facilitating Agreement on Core Competencies and Governance
In deciding how to go about creating an effective new faculty across distance and discipline, we choose to use an approach informed by Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry (AI), developed by David Cooperrider (1990), began as an approach to helping corporations develop their competitive edge, increase productivity, and enhance their bottom line. Since that specialized beginning, the use of the approach has grown into a worldwide movement. The emphasis on "appreciative" focuses attention on those things in the environment that are working well; for example, the positives in your teaching of community development knowledge and skills. "Inquiry" refers to the quest for new knowledge and understanding. In the inquiry, we rely on the stories people tell about the positive things that are occurring in their lives and their institutions to understand how things work. In AI, participants search for understanding of what is currently working well and dig deep to broaden that understanding by identifying the factors or conditions that lead to success. This discovery of the positive core of what is working is the first D in the 4D AI process. Their wishes for the future provide both the content and inspiration in the quest for new knowledge and positive social change leading to the second D, dream, where people consider how things could work even better. The third D, design, focuses on identifying the strategies and conditions that can lead to the dream. The last D, delivery or destiny, is the actual work toward a more positive future. This approach guided us as we designed the first and subsequent meetings. AI can be used in an iterative process; thus, we have used that same process to learn from the first year's successes leading to many program enhancements. Many resources for AI are available at http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/
While some of the faculty had met during the feasibility stage of our work and others had joined us on conference calls, our first step in building a virtual faculty was having them meet face to face. The center staff worked with the staff at Great Plains IDEA to set up a 2-day meeting in Kansas City for October 2004. All of the faculty members involved also teach on campus at their respective universities, so we worked with them to find dates they could easily be away from campus. Despite these efforts, some faculty were unable to attend the whole time and others had to find people to cover their classes, or develop alternative assignments for students. None of the faculty members mentioned that this was a problem because we gave them ample notice. The grant paid travel costs for the faculty and staff to travel to this organizational meeting, making it easier for everyone to attend, as some of their institutions were not ready to invest in this seemingly high-risk venture.
In preparation for this first meeting, we worked specifically on team-building and overall program design using an Appreciative Inquiry approach. Thus, we created activities around discovering what worked in distance education and community development education, dreaming about what an ideal community development program would look like, designing that program, and planning for action to implement the program. We also provided many opportunities for small group dialogue, so people could get to know each other. In addition, course development teams worked on the curricula during the meeting, and then shared the results of their deliberations with the entire faculty.
The first question we asked the faculty was "What excites you?" and they talked openly about their passions, ranging from teaching to a commitment to bettering rural America. This opportunity to share ideas created an open atmosphere where people developed trust and learned from one another. Later on that same day, one of the questions we asked them to consider was, "If you could envision the best faculty ever, what would it look like?" This question led them to list the following: interdisciplinary, civility, mutually supportive, openness and respect and difference, purposeful relationship building, common place to share ideas, social interaction with a wise person in the mix to direct the discussion, common goals, sense of mission, collaborative, win-win situation for funding, enthusiastic, party virtually, sense of community, and scholarship of integration with rewards and mutual support.
As the faculty crafted this list, they were also crafting the way they wanted to interact with one another as a faculty. Together they formed this list of goals and standards for their virtual faculty, and they did so in an extremely positive, productive way using the AI approach. Other questions they discussed included, "What are the exciting elements of student learning in this program?" and "What competencies will students have after taking our classes?" These small-group discussions offered the faculty time to really think about what a graduate of this program would look like in terms of what they learned from the program. Some of the things that came out of these discussions included:
* Make sure students learn the role of economy in community;
* Focus on process as well as product;
* Community developers make things happen!;
* Students get enlightenment about what they are doing;
* Students develop skills to lead communities;
* Students learn about government roles in community development;
* Students learn new approaches to community development for the purpose of putting them into practice-Action!;
* Build leaders; and
* Create a vehicle for a message of hope for rural America.
These ideas were also posted in the room for faculty members to look at and reflect upon throughout the meeting.
At this first meeting, faculty members also voted on the ways things would work in the program. How would new faculty enter? How would new classes be added? Who is the faculty chair? All of these discussions were closely guided by the staff from the Great Plains IDEA, as they had experience in these governance issues with these areas from other existing programs. These discussions led to the completion of the faculty guide and business plan for the program. These first discussions have been revisited in later meetings, but the core of these initial discussions has guided our efforts.
Toward the end of the meeting, course teams met and made decisions about curriculum. Some teams were more productive than others, but all came away with goals for the future. The program would be comprised of five core courses and six tracks of électives; later, these were reduced to three tracks for the program start up. After the meeting, team conference calls were set up by the staff at NCRCRD, and curriculum planning continued; by fall of 2005, we offered the first courses through the Community Development Master's Program. As the courses came together, so did the faculty. It was obvious in subsequent phone calls and face-to-face meetings that there is a deep appreciation for one another and that people believed in the program. Faculty members ask one another to guest lecture in their classrooms. These things did not happen quickly or even easily, but because we began the program by identifying strengths and developing strategies that built on them, the program is now up and running successfully. By making sure that the faculty was meeting and talking regularly, we saw them come together as a faculty with new relationships that have a life of their own. Our leadership and the assetbased approach were key to getting things going. As time progressed, it was obvious that they felt comfortable enough to visit one another's virtual offices and classrooms and ask for ideas or share solutions to issues in the classroom.
Since the first meeting, we have greatly improved communication with the faculty and we have created a newsletter for the program that has a faculty spotlight in every other issue. This newsletter is targeted to the students and faculty in the master's program, and it has created more excitement around the great things that faculty members are doing. The newsletter is available at http://www.ncrcrd.iastate.edu/distancedegree/index.htm
Faculty members routinely offer positive feedback about the program in these articles:
This degree program makes it possible for us to offer a top-notch program, due to our collaboration with other universities. It also makes it possible to reach non-traditional students. The program allows us to build on the multiple strengths of faculty and students from all over the nation. And isn't that what every university seeks to do? - Meredith Redlin, Professor, South Dakota State University
ENSURING ACCESS TO TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND TRAINING
Parker, Lyne, Tierney, and Barrett (2005) discuss the importance of faculty having the skills necessary for successfully teaching online courses and access to the technology used to teach. In their work with a virtual nursing program, they had face-to-face meetings and met via email to promote collaboration and outline roles and responsibilities. We used a similar method, relying, however, on more virtual meetings. We also included opportunities for faculty to share successful strategies for teaching online, and we provided support for online classes in teaching with technology. Faculty members who had never taught a distance education course were mentored by those who had taught distance education, and they sought these relationships at meetings.
This relationship building created a community, or as Wenger (1999) puts it, a "competent membership" within the faculty. Wenger points out that this memberships includes:
* Mutual engagement: the ability to establish relationships in which mutuality is the basis for an identity of participation.
* Joint enterprise: the ability to understand ongoing enterprises deeply enough to contribute to their pursuit.
* Shared repertoire: the ability to make use of routines, words, ways of doing things, stories, concepts, and so forth, produced by the community.
Building a faculty community was an important element to this program because of the content and mission of the program.
ADDRESSING ASSESSMENT ISSUES
A third challenge for us was working with faculty to address the identification of competencies and our strategies for assessment. Many of the faculty teaching in this program have taught a long time, and the current focus on creating a coherent set of competencies and identifying how students will develop them and how we can assess student ability was new to them. To address this issue, we hired a consultant to provide training by conference call to faculty and designed a strategy for creating a competency grid. As faculty worked on their courses, they were able to fill in most of the squares on the grid.
Our collective journey toward creating and sustaining a successful and energetic faculty engaged in the masters' program offers lessons we wish to share with others. While there are yet few interinstitutional degree programs, we know that planning is underway to expand these types of programs. Continued budget pressure with institutions and increases in both the demand for advanced degrees and the costs of on-site programs will lead to a stronger trend toward interinstitutional cooperation. Thus, we offer the following list of practical strategies to those planning to initiate such an effort:
1. Start the program off with a face-to-face meeting that is facilitated by a trained professional who is competent in generating dialogue and asset-based approaches.
2. Before the program can evolve, people need to build trust within the group and be able to put faces to names when they see them online in e-mail.
3. Create a faculty listserv where ideas can be shared and notifications and information can be posted.
4. When the program begins, make sure that curriculum teams for courses are meeting on the phone at least once a month and perhaps a few times in person.
5. Offer mini-grants for course development with travel included, so teams can meet and discuss their courses.
6. Elect institutional representatives who can make decisions when they are needed, and hold virtual meetings twice a semester with this group.
7. Elect a faculty chair.
8. Have at least one face-to-face faculty meeting each year and at least three faculty teleconferences each year to alleviate confusion and promote communication.
9. After courses finish, make sure that summaries are sent out to all faculty from the instructor of the class. This sharing of experiences is a great way for everyone to learn from one another when it is their time to teach.
10. Offer faculty ways to learn online too! Joseph Levine from the University of Michigan offers outstanding online courses that are reasonably priced. Many of our faculty members took the class to learn more about teaching distance education and hone their skills.
11. Create a faculty guide and a business guide that you can refer to for decisions. When someone is asking about bringing in new faculty or courses, these references remind all about previous agreements.
Building excitement for the program and creating a collaborative environment where faculty members appreciated and respect each other is the most important part of building a virtual faculty. Building relationships takes time, and issues always arise that require some troubleshooting, but when people know one another well through getting enthused about each other's work, community building is much easier. As courses are taught and relationships are developed with students, the faculty is more apt to call on one another for advice. Interestingly, a great deal of the discussion revolves around pedagogy and building a learning community among the students, who provide the faculty with ongoing motivation and inspiration.
There have been excellent opportunities to learn from others in the program-from the basics of effectiveness in distance delivery to the current, substantive issues in curriculum development for CD.-Bruce Johnson, Professor, University of Nebraska
Comments like this show that it is possible for a virtual faculty to collaborate with one another on a program, just as they would on campus. Taking time to make sure they meet and talk on a regular basis, as well as approaching the team building process positively, helped to create a strong, dedicated faculty for the Community Development On-line Master's Program.
Cooperrider, D. (1990). Appreciative management and leadership: The power of positive thought and action in organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Parker, E. B., Lyne R., Tierney, S., & Barrett, A. 2005. Interdisciplinary collaboration: An effective approach for developing web-based courses. Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 23(6), 308-313.
Wenger, E., 1999. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Susan Fey, Program Coordinator, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Iowa State University, 107 Curtiss Hall, Ames, Iowa 50011. Telephone: M, T (515) 294-6250; W, T (515) 238-5128. E-mail: email@example.com
Mary Emery, Associate Director, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Iowa State University, 107 Curtiss Hall, Ames, Iowa 50011. Telephone: (515)294-2878. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cornelia Flora, Director, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Iowa State University, 107 Curtiss Hall, Ames, Iowa 50011. Telephone: (515)294-8321. E-mail: email@example.com