Academic journal article Peer Review

Intentional Collaborations: Building a Virtual Community of Mentoring and Practice

Academic journal article Peer Review

Intentional Collaborations: Building a Virtual Community of Mentoring and Practice

Article excerpt

In Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action, Vincent Tinto (2012) writes that to reach the goal of student success and retention, institutions must "invest in faculty development" for both full- and part-time personnel. He recommends faculty development activities to foster the use of "classroom assessment techniques and pedagogies of engagement." Tinto goes on to explain, "The classroom is the building block upon which student retention must be organized. ... If we hope to make significant gains in retention and graduation, institutions must focus on the classroom experience and student success in the classroom" (124).

In order for faculty members to change the classroom environment, they must be well versed in effective pedagogies that support student engagement and promote student success-in other words, faculty development is the key to student success. Yet at many colleges and universities, faculty development is thinly staffed by an individual, a small office, or a committee. In this context, how can those involved in this work benefit from the shared wisdom and operational knowledge of their colleagues in the professional development field? In this case study, we will discuss how the authors-a group of three faculty developers-responded to this challenge by creating a virtual community of mentoring and practice composed of teaching and learning center directors, who met regularly to share experiences and resources across institutional and geographic divides.

THE BEGINNINGS

What happens when you combine three passionate faculty development professionals from geographically distant colleges, thrown together by attending the same national meeting? Often, a good conversation is the outcome, or perhaps e-mail addresses are exchanged. Our initial meetings developed into a virtual community of mentoring and practice that has sustained and encouraged each of us in our professional lives. It has also magnified the resources we each bring and has resulted in benefits to each of us personally and professionally, as well as to our respective institutions.

Our community of practice began with our participation in a national grant program, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Roadmap project. Two of us,

Alary Carney from the University of North Georgia (UNG), and Dallas Dolan from the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), met in summer 2013 at the AAC&U summer institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success. At the 2014 AAC&U Annual Meeting, we met the third member of our group, Donna Seagle from Chattanooga State Community College (ChSCC). Over lunch the three of us talked about the joys and challenges of being faculty developers in settings with no peers. These brief face-to-face conversations and shared workshop experiences were critical in creating a rapport that allowed us to begin to talk in depth about our institutions and the work of fostering student success through faculty development. After such a rich exchange of ideas, we imagined what we might do if we worked together.

Over the next eighteen months, we met more than thirty times and built a strong supportive alliance that led to measurable improvements in faculty development at each of our institutions. We presented our work at the AAC&U annual meeting in January 2015, almost one year to the day from when our trio first met, and since that time we've continued to build a strong working group that has sparked new collaborative projects.

THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS

Early in our collaboration, Dallas Dolan shared Etienne Wenger's conception of communities of practice, and as our group began meeting we reviewed the literature to see what it had to offer in the way of guidance. In Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, with colleagues Richard McDermott and William Snyder (2002), describes communities of practice as "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" (2). …

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