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Faculty Learning Communities: A progress report from the first generation

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“The biggest pro is that you’re not in it by yourself; you're not creating it from nothing.” — FLC facilitator and Master Instructor Penny Powell

 

 

The Office of Distance Learning Instructional Support Team is continuously looking for ways to make learning at any distance work better for teachers and students. In Fall 2021, this guiding principle led to the launch of four Faculty Learning Communities

In this first generation of FLCs, instructors with experience in online and hybrid courses facilitated small groups of faculty to help each other gain new skills and expertise on a central topic with “the potential to enhance the design and delivery of hybrid and online courses.”

With one-on-one support from Instructional Support team members, each small group meets on a regular basis to focus on their group directive and in so doing, they discuss teaching practices, instructional needs, and beneficial ways they have been able to use available resources. 

So far, facilitators have found their roles have given them access to a supportive environment and a unique opportunity to build connections with other instructors across departments and disciplines.

Connecting and Collaborating: Open Educational Resources

Dr. Manyu Li, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, leads an FLC she titled “Improving Accessibility, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through Open Educational Resources (OER).” 

Li has been working with Open Educational Resources for some time in her undergraduate and graduate courses and jumped at the opportunity to share her passion for OER with her colleagues.

“Open Educational Resources is a movement to lower students’ costs and make education more affordable,” says Li. “And in the process, faculty can take charge of class materials, they can enhance it: Enhance the diversity, the equity, the inclusion aspect of it, and the accessibility of materials.”

Li says facilitating the FLC has helped her make important connections as a junior faculty member. 

“I see it as an opportunity to learn how to communicate, and how to organize a learning, sharing culture among faculty,” says Li. “I think other perks will be collaboration. This could create an opportunity for future collaboration on papers or grants.”

Early meetings of Li’s group were mostly focused exploring how OER could be applied across UL Lafayette. Li feels like the development of the group has given her a chance to see how teaching and research can differ discipline to discipline.

Working on Comprehensive Solutions: Effective Video Demonstrations

In the School of Architecture and Design, Associate Professor Thomas Cline wanted his FLC — “Lights, Camera, Action!: Best Practices for Producing Effective Demonstration Videos” — to combine their efforts and solve an issue he had noticed more over the last couple of years.

“I realized that with the pandemic and other things, we have a void of demonstration videos,” he says.

Video demonstrations set in a class, shop or lab have room to improve, Cline says. A key issue is the student can’t see the action from the demonstrator’s point of view, so no matter how closely they pay attention to the explanation, they are still not seeing what the instructor sees. 

Also, while demonstrators may need to perform an action several times a day for different class groups, the quality of the demonstration, the details included in each explanation, and the questions students ask may vary drastically from class to class. 

Creating engaging videos of technical demonstrations could fill in some of those gaps. 

“We thought demonstration videos that were first-person [point of view] would really help students understand the techniques for using that equipment,” says Cline. 

As a resource, not only would all the students be able to see the technique from the same hands-on point of view, they could also replay any part of the narration or instruction if they’re struggling with something. 

Cline hopes this project will help instructors in different hands-on fields, such as nursing and engineering, make comprehensive libraries of demonstrations that students can access as needed.

In addition to determining the best practices for video production, Cline’s group is also researching which equipment and techniques will be most user-friendly for faculty to work with.

“We want people to do it, so we don't want them to have a really steep learning curve before they can create engaging demonstration videos,” says Cline.

"None of us are as smart as all of us": Exploring Office 365

As a lifelong educator, investigating and discussing effective teaching practices became core to Dr. Amanda Shuford Mayeaux, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Leadership. 

"I facilitated professional learning for a long time in my other life [in K-12 education], so when I came to the University, the thing I missed was having a consistent community for learning," she says. 

When the chance to facilitate an FLC came along, Mayeaux was overjoyed.

Mayeaux’s FLC — “Mission Possible: Exploring Microsoft Office 365 Apps for Engaging Learners” — relies on support and collaboration. Participants are taking turns being students and speakers by sharing what they’ve mastered in Office 365 and learning from others. 

Mayeaux says the atmosphere of support and community makes stepping up as a facilitator much less daunting. 

“The facilitator isn't expected to know everything, which is my favorite part,” she says. “And then everybody learns together and you're sharing the knowledge. None of us are as smart as all of us.”

Sharing the Work of Learning: “Developing H5P Activities for Formative and Summative Assessments”

Master Instructor Penny Powell, Department of Biology, saw exciting potential in Moodle 3.9’s H5P feature, and she wanted to learn to use it, but she knew she would need some external pressure and structure to make her follow through.

"In real life, there's lots of cool things that you never get around to doing until you have a deadline and it has to be done," she says.

H5P allows instructors to turn course content into interactive materials, such as videos, puzzles, and quizzes. 

Powell hopes she and other professors can use these features to make it easier for students to engage with crucial material in a fun way, bridge a practical learning gap between lectures and labs, and function as an assessment tool.

"With [Microbiology], there's so much information, but once you get all the information and the pieces come together, it makes a really cool picture,” says Powell. “What I'm hoping to do is take the things that are super important for students to learn and remember and make everything so they can play with it and learn without knowing they're learning.”

Instructional Technologist Renee Fiser works with this FLC for technical and organizational assistance. She is effusive about how well the group members collaborate and share their progress.

“This group is great!” she says. “During the meetings, the participants share the content they created, what they have learned, pros and cons about using this new tool.”

Powell says the next generation of FLCs likely will benefit from the best practices this first generation helps develop. Nonetheless, she feels she was set up for success as a facilitator with the support from Distance Learning.

“The biggest pro [of being a facilitator] is that you're not in it by yourself; you're not creating it from nothing. I mean I have Renee Fiser as my point person from the Office Distance Learning and she helps make sure we are on the same page, on track.”


Make plans to attend our virtual FLC Showcase 12-5 p.m. April 27. Facilitators and FLC members will present their work, and the Instructional Support Team will hold an information session for those interested in facilitating a Faculty Learning Community in the coming year. Register at SignUpGenius.

The call for FLC proposals will open April 5. Proposals should be submitted by 5 p.m., May 2.

 

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