Much like online learning, teaching at a distance can be a lonely existence. Fortunately, the ways in which we can communicate with each other online are growing.
While many online programs do a terrific job with faculty development – providing new instructors with orientations, initial training, and continued learning opportunities, such as workshops and in-house conferences – this isn't always the case. And there are times when even instructors who are well-connected with their departmental colleagues want to ask questions of a broader audience of peers – one that includes different perspectives and is perhaps located outside their official chain of command.
Communities of online educators are forming to address employment concerns and exchange teaching tips, and are springing up around niche topics as well. The formats may vary, but the potential for their use is emerging as educators seek to connect and network at a distance.
A Short List
Whether you are looking for a sounding board or professional development, these learning communities and social networks offer a range of opportunities:
- EDUCAUSE: Connect and contribute to this group of "higher education professionals who manage or use information technology." You may already be aware of the resources EDUCAUSE provides through conferences, journals, job postings, and online guides. Take it a step further and become part of their network.
- GETideas.org: Sponsored by Cisco, this community features discussion forums, a resource library, and virtual roundtables that encourage Global Education Transformation. The international focus of this site makes it a standout.
- HASTAC: The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory is a consortium of interdisciplinary critical thinkers who are "committed to new forms of collaboration â¦ fostered by creative uses of technology." The format is highly interactive with lots of options for participation, as well as use of social media. You'll also find research and grant information, job opportunities, and competitions (e.g., Badges for Lifelong Learning).
- LinkedIn: If you aren't already using LinkedIn as an online instructor, or haven't checked your profile in a while, you're missing out on an ever-growing community of professional educators using this platform to share information, expertise, and position announcements. This site also has the benefit of cross-pollination – you'll likely find helpful conversations in the groups with ties to industry, as well as those more specifically targeted to academia.
Which group is right for you?
There are many communities available, and new groups are forming all the time. It's not practical to join them all, so set your priorities and make careful selections with the intent to engage in those you do decide to join. As you explore the communities listed above and others like them, here are a few tips for identifying where and how you might participate.
- Decide what your goals are. What do you want to get out of the experience? Are you looking for casual conversations or more formal opportunities to collaborate on research projects? Different groups have different strengths, so find one that fosters the kind of experience you are looking for.
- Join conversations outside your area. Areas other than higher education that is. There are innovations and relevant debates taking place throughout K-12 and corporate training environments, and we all stand to learn a little from each other as learning professionals on a broader scale.
- Choose how you'll interact. Some platforms offer private conversations while others are completely open to the public. Understand the terms of each community you join before you participate. You may also have preferences related to features and functions (e.g., asynchronous discussion boards, synchronous webinars), so look for communities that match your needs.
- Consider the costs of time and money. Joining could be as simple as subscribing to a newsletter or setting up a profile, and participation can range from discussion boards to contributing blog posts and beyond. Look for free sites (there are so many), though some may have fee-based options (e.g., report access) and budget your time wisely.
- Share your expertise. The culture of academia is beginning to embrace a more open approach than was experienced in the past, and these online communities are just one example. It's great to learn from others, but when you share your experience with someone who needs help, the reward is often much, much greater.
Online communities and professional groups offer you, as a professional educator, a place to go for information and support. Share your favorite ways to connect with your peers. Which groups do you recommend?
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