Inspiring Faculty Community at George Mason University

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Cameron Carter is the Communications & Marketing Specialist for the Office of Distance Education at George Mason University. She earned her MA in English (Professional Writing & Rhetoric) from Mason in 2013, and she is currently a graduate student in the Higher Education Administration certificate program. You can reach her at ccarte17@gmu.edu.

Over the past five years, Mason’s Office of Distance Education (DE) has supported a number of faculty and programs transitioning their courses from face-to-face to fully online. From partnering each faculty member with an Instructional Designer in Learning Support Services (LSS) to connecting them to the accessibility experts with the Assistive Technology Initiative, highlighting the research and copyright expertise of the University Librarians to emphasizing the resources available through the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence (CTFE), our role has focused largely on how best to connect Mason’s online faculty with the services and resources available across our campus.

As the DE Office, along with online education at Mason, continues to grow and take shape, we’ve asked ourselves – is this enough? This question has sparked a new effort for faculty support from the DE Office, mainly via an upsurge of faculty development opportunities. We don’t only want to support online program development and link to specific resources. We want to promote a sense of faculty community and a culture of shared knowledge and practice. Through a string of faculty development events hosted in collaboration with CTFE and LSS, we are making a push to inspire this shared place for faculty at Mason. Here’s the kicker – we aren’t focusing on online faculty alone. 

Rather, we wanted to explore ways to engage all Mason faculty – be they tenure-track, non-tenure track, adjuncts, or TAs – and to have the roles of faculty on this campus come alive. Quite simply, we want to make a space where Mason faculty can tackle challenges, share successes, and brainstorm new teaching and learning techniques and ideas. Together. The question is, if we build it, will they come?

We’ve made some discoveries in our pilot semester. We found that streamed webinars really aren’t all that enticing of a faculty development event – who really wants to sit in a room, watch a video for an hour, take a few notes, and maybe network a bit before getting back to whatever else is going on that day? As a result, we switched gears and seem to have found our stride with faculty forums, or what we’ve dubbed “Lunch & Learns.”

Perhaps the best part of these events is that they feature presentations from fellow faculty members. No, this isn’t a chance for the ‘rockstar’ faculty members out there to take the stage and show us what they’re doing right and what the rest of us are doing wrong – though I would argue that all of our presenters thus far have indeed been rockstars! – rather, this is an opportunity for faculty to talk to faculty, to meet faculty, to learn with and inspire other faculty.

Regardless of modality, regardless of faculty status, regardless of discipline – we wanted our inaugural Lunch & Learn on Providing Effective Feedback to emphasize an area that many faculty often struggle with. Featuring presentations by Dr. Becky Ericson (School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences) and Dr. Caitlin Holmes (Composition; Assistant Director, Writing Across the Curriculum), this first event led to truly engaging conversation and incorporated a wealth of faculty experiences and feedback approaches that spanned disciplines and modalities.

With the room packed to the brim – over 50 people attended, most likely for the lunch we provided, but we’ll just tell ourselves it was for the promising discussion – Becky shared her experiences with think-pair-share and concept-mapping exercises, and Caitlin explored effective written feedback and “feedforward” techniques. There was lively conversation after the presentations, and many attendees approached the speakers for more discussion afterward.  Needless to say, we think we’ve found something that works.

Our second Lunch & Learn on assessment strategies also drew a more than decent crowd with 35 attendees. Considering there was no food, we thought that was still a great sign! Once again, we traversed the connections between the worlds of disciplines, with presentations by Dr. Ioulia Rytikova (Volgenau School of Engineering) and Dr. Rob Ericson (School for Conflict Analysis & Resolution).

As we approach our final event for the spring semester, we hope to end on another energizing and positive note with a reflective practices “teaching hack” led by Dr. Constance Harris (Manager of Instructional Design, LSS) and Dr. Kim Eby (Associate Provost, Faculty Development; Director, CTFE; Associate Professor, New Century College and Women & Gender Studies).

Someone might wonder why the Office of Distance Education is concerned with faculty who don’t teach online. The quick and easy answer is that good teaching styles and strategies are applicable across all formats of delivery. Moreover, 21st-century teaching and learning involves technology. But really, this is about breaking free of the isolation that tends to occur in higher education. There is so much that we can learn about teaching face-to-face, online, and every modality in between. When Mason faculty come together and explore the many aspects of teaching and learning, we flourish together. 

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