How to Create an Effective Interinstitutional, Transdisciplinary Online Faculty
Fey, Susan, Emery, Mary, Flora, Cornelia, Distance Learning
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. …