Inspiring and Developing Evaluation Faculty

Working remotely is common for many universities in today’s higher education environment. Working from home offers faculty and staff flexibility; however, remote workers may also have feelings of isolation and disconnection from their teams and universities (Dolan, 2011). How can relationships and professional development be promoted when faculties work in different time zones?

Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) and Practice Communities (CoP)

Interactions with peers can promote faculty engagement and connectivity (McKenna, Johnson, Yoder, Guerra, & Pimmel, 2016). When we lead virtual teams, we want to ensure that our faculty feels connected to their teams, peers and university. We also want to include faculties in meaningful professional development opportunities and discourse around curriculum, teaching and learning. Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) and Practice Communities (CoP) have been widely used in education over the past few years. FLCs and CoPs can enhance teaching and learning practices through collaboration and shared knowledge building (Cox, 2001). Typically, FLCs and CoPs are conducted in a physical location with participants conducting face-to-face conversations on a specific date and time. While this experience may be beneficial for educators, those working remotely may find it challenging to engage in a traditional FLC or CoP. To provide the faculty with an opportunity to connect and learn together, we decided to implement a hybrid practice community.

A remote opportunity to work together

Our team recently met to discuss how we can engage our remote faculty, both part-time and full-time, in meaningful professional development. Our remote faculty has stated that they often feel disconnected because they work different hours of the day, different days of the week and in different time zones. In response, we decided to offer several hybrid CoP groups ranging in a variety of topics, such as Virtual Work, Technology Use, Path to Human Leadership, Social Emotional Learning, and Best Evaluation Practices. The first experience, which will be launched in the fall of 2022, will be open to all full-time and part-time evaluator faculties across four different teams and will use a hybrid model. This will include asynchronous components as well as monthly synchronous meetings. All asynchronous components will be completed within the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), where participants will be able to participate in discussions on the topic of their specific cohort, and the synchronous meetings will be held in Microsoft teams. Due to the nature of our work, it was decided that each hybrid CoP would last for 12 weeks, with the exception of the Pathway to People Leadership, which would extend over 24 weeks.

The aim of this project is to provide our remote faculty with opportunities to collaborate with faculties of other teams on topics in which they are interested and have a desire to grow. Discussions within the LMS as well as in the face-to-face monthly meetings will focus on topics of the chosen hybrid CoP cohort. Faculty will also discuss strategies for supporting our students, academic integrity and time management. While it is our hope that the discourse around learning and growth as a faculty will be energetic, we strive to provide our faculty with a space to build relationships with their peers. Although initially reluctant to deliver this experience, our team and our faculty have stated that they are looking forward to the opportunity to learn and grow with their colleagues.

Improving hybrid CoP cohorts

Because this is the first time we are implementing hybrid CoP cohorts within our team, we realize that there may be opportunities to improve the next iteration. For example, we may find that 12 weeks is not required for all CoP cohorts, as some topics may be covered in a shorter period of time. However, we are hopeful that even with a few adjustments, the benefits of cross-collaboration will be seen. The asynchronous component of our CoP allows faculties to work with their peers within the parameters of their schedules, while the synchronous portion will lead to deeper discussions and relationship building. CoPs can be used in a myriad of ways, including across teams, departments, and students. These collaborative groups provide participants with the opportunity to build knowledge, share experiences, and cultivate relationships.

Cristina Cottom is a manager of evaluation faculty at Western Governors University. She has an abundance of experience in higher education and has researched the benefits of implementing practice communities in a virtual environment. She has an EdD and EdS in curriculum and teaching and lives in sunny Ormond Beach, FL with her two daughters.


Cox, MD (2001). Faculty-learning communities: Change agents for the transformation of institutions into learning organizations. To Improve the Academy, 1969-93.

Dolan, VL (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculties and their impact on their performance. The International Review of Open and Distributed Learning Research, 12(2), 62-77.

McKenna, AF, Johnson, AM, Yoder, B., Guerra, RCC, & Pimmel, R. (2016). Evaluation of virtual practice communities for faculty development. The Journal of Faculty Development, 30(1), 31-39.

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