Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

The Virtual Professor and Online Teaching, Administration and Research: Issues for Globally Dispersed Business Faculty

Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

The Virtual Professor and Online Teaching, Administration and Research: Issues for Globally Dispersed Business Faculty

Article excerpt

Introduction

The use of online educational delivery in universities has increased dramatically. Changes in the learning needs of students, increased competition, economic circumstances and advances in technology have forced universities to re-strategize their operations in order to maintain educational and economic value (Flyvbjerg, 2011). In the United States, for example, it is estimated that 60 per cent of post-secondary institutions have online offerings and that the proportion of higher education students currently taking at least one online course is at an alltime high of 34 per cent (Babson, 2014).

Business schools embraced online learning early (Hawawini, 2005) and use this technology to bring together networks of learners and academic staff from around the world. Business schools can offer their lectures online, hire very talented instructors, and situate the learning by integrating it with extra-curricular work-related experiences (Murphy, 2013). The technology can also enable business schools to respond to the globalization of business education, as well as deal with the growing shortage of qualified faculty by using instructors in different locations from the parent university.

All of these changes in higher education have led to academic staff having to change the way they teach and design courses in multi-media environments. For example, in a review of the literature it is noted that much of the research to date on online instructors has focused on attitudes, practices, barriers, motivations and requirements for teaching online (Stewart, Goodson, & Miertschin, 2010b). However, very little research is available on what it is like to work in a virtual capacity as an online faculty member - geographically separated from the employing university.

Dialogue about e-working in universities has received little formal attention in the literature (Beadle, 2015). The mere possibility of being a full-time virtual faculty member in a foreign university flows from changes in learning spaces and the advances in educational technology over the past decade. Modern learning spaces enable students and faculty to interact beyond the campus through what Calhoun called then, a distributed cognitive network (Calhoun, 2006; Thomas, 2010). The drivers of technology and an economic structure pushing globalisation is also creating labour displacement and an emerging landscape for remote work (Dawson, 2013). Virtual learning spaces need to be viewed in the same light as physical learning spaces (Graetz, 2006) with strategies put in to place to support work in both of these environments (Calhoun, 2006; Thomas, 2010). University administrators need to create policies that enable the virtual educational ecosystem to evolve (Calhoun, 2006).

Strategies such as virtual academic staffing, based around the world, is one possibility to support this shift in teaching, student engagement, learning spaces and globalization. Yet this type of innovation is not anchored in the administration, management and leadership regulations of the organization (Flyvbjerg, 2011). For example, in the author's own university, its digital teaching strategy notes that it needs to have more flexible international employment arrangements as this would enable it to operate in different global time zones. To do this, however, requires streamlining its human resource processes and overcoming many complex regulations.

The changes that are taking place in e-learning are likely to have a profound impact on staffing and hiring practices in institutes of higher learning. These changes are disruptive to the ways in which universities traditionally have conducted their business (McIntyre, 2014; Nicoll, 2013) and require different ways of managing how academics work (Bexley, James, & Arkoudis, 2011).

Given the changing landscape for academic staff and the implications for educational management, administration and leadership in universities, the aim of this research was to explore the impact of working as a virtual professor in a business faculty (in a different country than that of the parent campus). …

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