Intercampus Teaching, Networked Teaching

June 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

As small colleges face limited resources that in turn limit student opportunities, we hear constant calls for collaboration.  For example, at the April 2012 conference, “The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World” Gene Tobin, a program officer of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation argued that:

Collaboration among liberal-arts colleges . . . must become commonplace to meet various challenges, including faculty development, globalization, civic engagement, and staffing less commonly taught languages. (“A President Surveys the Future of Liberal Arts”)

While it is easy to see the potential benefits of collaboration in these cases, in practice there are many challenges to those at liberal arts colleges trying to collaborate in such mission-centered areas as undergraduate instruction.

On Tuesday, June 4, three faculty members engaged in such collaboration shared their experiences in the NITLE Shared Academics™ seminar, “Intercampus Teaching, Networked Teaching.” In this post, I will share insights from the seminar in terms of the benefits, challenges, and best practices of such collaborations, as well as the questions that arose in the ensuing seminar discussion.

Models: Collaborations Come in All Sizes

I organized this seminar to demonstrate the range of possibilities from small- to large-scale for intercampus academic collaboration. The first two presenters, Dr. Amanda Hagood, Mellon/Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) Fellow in Literature and the Environment, Hendrix College, and Dr. Carmel E. Price, ACS Postdoctoral Fellow of Sustainability, Furman University, connected their Fall 2012 courses, “Writing the Natural State” and “Population and the Environment,” across disciplines and institutions to explore place-based learning in a networked context. Students in these sister classes shared blog posts with each other in advance of 30-minute live videoconferences. Reports and evaluation of this collaboration are available online:

The third speaker, Dr. Hal Haskell, Professor of Classics, Southwestern University, has team-taught courses in advanced Greek and Latin and archaeology with faculty from other campuses for fourteen years as part of Sunoikisis, a national consortium of classics programs. A report is available for the three-year longitudinal study of Sunoikisis completed in 2005. A more recent explanation of this model of intercampus teaching is available in an interview with Dr. Ryan Fowler, Sunoikisis Fellow for Curricular Development. Slides for all three speakers are available via slideshare:

While Sunoikisis presents a compelling model, at times when I have presented on it in the past, I have found that audiences find its well-developed model overwhelming or not relevant to their situation.  The sisters classroom model demonstrated how it only takes two instructors to implement intercampus academic collaboration. At the same time, Prof. Haskell’s presentation shared best practices developed through Sunoikisis that answered many of the challenges faced by Drs. Hagood and Price.

Positive Outcomes

All three speakers agreed that intercampus teaching had positive outcomes for their students.  Benefits included:

  • Greater and more diverse faculty expertise on the material taught, e.g., Sunoikisis students have a different faculty expert leading each week of class.
  • Diverse feedback on student work; Sunoikisis practices double-blind grading of student work to compensate for the effect of small departments where students and instructors grow too familiar with each other’s work.
  • Interdisciplinary perspectives from both students and faculty, e.g., Dr. Hagood contributed Literary knowledge of Thoreau for sociology students in the other class. Both sister classes got to explore what environmental studies means in the literary vs. sociological classroom.
  • Faculty modeling of academic discourse and collaboration.
  • Students had to apply methodologies learned on the specific material they were sharing with their sister class so this was a true applied learning experience.
  • Students share local, place-based knowledge and perspectives with each other.

Challenges and Strategies

All three presenters shared challenges faced when practicing intercampus collaboration.  Although I often field questions and hear concerns about collaborative technologies, in reality it is the practice and pedagogy that is the real stumbling block.  Sunoikisis has used multiple technologies ranging from conference calls, to streaming media, to desktop videoconferencing, and now uses Google Hangouts.  With the ubiquity of skype, video chat, face time, and other video-based communication technologies synchronous virtual meetings are easy to arrange.

The challenge comes in trying to get students to connect over these technologies.  In face-to-face and virtual classrooms it can be difficult to get students engaged in a productive discussion. Some of the same strategies work in both spaces. Hagood and Price’s students suggested icebreakers and more time spent in live meetings to get more comfortable with each other. In both models, students did asynchronous work (via blogs or discussion boards) to prepare for the live meetings. Sunoikisis students also enriched live meetings with chat (including input from faculty not leading the session) as a back channel and supplemented group interaction with structured pauses to question, discuss, and engage in inter/intra campus small group work. Hagood and Price found that the elements of their courses which they invested with more structure prompted better student attitudes, and the structure developed by Sunoikisis for their intercampus courses bears out that claim.

Questions and Answers

The Q&A period of the seminar brought out further challenges and strategies to meet them. Many questions revolved around how to get started.  I share questions and answers from the presenters and audience members below.

How do you identify participants, partners, or collaborators?

  • If you’re looking for collaborators in digital humanities, try. http://dhcommons.org
  • Macalester has a collaboration site for liberal arts colleges specifically: http://macademia.macalester.edu/Macademia/
  • Sunoikisis recruits faculty through presentations and open calls for their summer curriculum development seminars.
  • Hagood and Price met because they were both post docs in the ACS-sponsored environmental studies program.
  • Previous face-to-face interaction helped all faculty members connect better virtually, and Hagood and Price advise finding someone with whom you mesh well.
  • One good source of partners is existing collaborations, e.g., finding an international partner through an existing study abroad relationship.
  • SUNY-COIL publishes a faculty guide for faculty who will be teaching collaborative courses with international partners; this guide includes all the questions you should ask your teaching partner up front: http://coil.suny.edu/

What kind of start-up investment of time and shared resources is needed to coordinate sister classes sufficiently?

  • All three speakers noted more time up front in class preparation, but they saw a pay off later.
  • All three also noted the advantages of teaching with back-up.  For example, with complementary expertise they could cover material better. In Sunoikisis live sessions, faculty members not leading the session monitor the chat back channel.

How do you manage academic calendar differences?

  • Sunoikisis courses meet in the fall when calendars have more overlap.  In effect they have 10-11 weeks in common.  Local classes must supplement when they are not meeting in common.
  • Time was more of a challenge than calendar.  Sunoikisis courses meet in the evening. Hagood and Price limited their live meetings to the 30 minute overlap between their course meeting times but that seemed to short a time to the students.

Do you think an in-person gathering would set the stage for better online discussions or is a follow-up meeting better?

  • Sunoikisis students meet in an undergraduate research symposium and have a better face-to-face experience after interacting virtually.
  • Sunoikisis faculty interact well virtually because they have already had an intense face-to-face experience.

Did faculty see differences in students’ writing and/or presentation skills when audience was outside of their own classroom?

  • Sister classroom students showed some improvement in writing for the other class.
  • Sunoikisis students develop quality spurred by competition with other campuses, but also develop a comfort level with their peers as if they were in the same physical classroom with no differences.

How does your teaching in Sunoikisis factor in your campus teaching load?

  • Sunoikisis courses are taught as full courses on the home campus and are part of the regular teaching load.  The work is the same, although distributed differently and the courses have greater quality than what an individual faculty member would produce.

In Sunoikisis courses, have you ever been able to bring in faculty and/or students in overseas settings (the obvious places) into the course as resources or participants?

  • Yes.
  • Southwestern University reports bringing international guests into the classroom via Google+ Hangouts.
  • One participant suggested involving students participating in an overseas program in the local course.

Conclusion

In a globally networked world, we do our students a disservice if we don’t teach them how to network and interact virtually over digital networks. Distributed teams are a norm in the modern workplace, and students can likewise expect globally-networked social, political, and economic interaction. As communication across digital networks becomes increasingly easier, more faculty are exploring networked classes through shared assignments and blogs, videoconferencing, and team-taught courses. Challenges come with developing pedagogical practices to collaborate effectively between campuses. Although students are familiar and even comfortable with social networking technologies, that does not mean they are adept at collaborating. At the same time, liberal arts colleges can take advantage of and highlight their unique locations and perspectives by networking classes.

A variety of models exist for those faculty interested in intercampus academic collaboration. The ones shared in this seminar brought added value to existing local courses which faculty on each campus would already be teaching. Other models, such as the Texas Language Consortium in which one instructor teaches students on multiple campuses bring additional hurdles of managing intercampus registration and ensuring fairness of credit and cost between partner campuses.

Find out more:

For NITLE members interested in hearing the full seminar, request a recording via this form: NITLE Seminar Recording Request Form. For more on intercampus teaching see this upcoming seminar, Teaching in High Definition, June 19, 2-3 pm in which language faculty from two liberal arts institutions share why they believe employing high-definition videoconferencing is consistent with the pedagogy of liberal education.

Other blog posts I’ve written on intercampus teaching:

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