Building a Free Worldwide Community and Support Structure for
Faculty Involved in Online Education
Steve McCarty, Osaka Jogakuin College,
Michael Warner, Embry Riddle
Aeronautical University, Arizona,
Lynch, Portland State University, Oregon,
One of the primary uses of the Internet in education is for online learning. Whether it is in the development of hybrid traditional and online courses or the creation of 100% virtual courses, online learning is taking place in every country around the world. Yet, there are many countries that are still challenged by getting basic access and others that do not have sufficient teachers for any type of education. Even in financially stable countries, the diversity of course quality and online delivery expertise is vast. How can the ubiquity of the Internet be used effectively to provide better access, encourage best practices, and connect knowledgeable faculty mentors with those who need assistance?
The World Association for Online Education (WAOE) is a non-profit, free membership body devoted to providing a worldwide community and support structure for faculty involved in creating and delivering online education. Current membership includes representation from 68 countries. Members reflect a variety of cultures, languages, and levels of involvement in delivering online education—from graduate students to faculty and administrators, and including corporate and government skills trainers as well as elementary and secondary education.
This panel will explore the challenges and triumphs of creating, facilitating, and maintaining a free international organization that is completely virtual. Issues of organization, diverse cultural representation, access, language selection, motivation of volunteers, and support will be addressed in each of the presenter’s topics in terms of the ability to positively impact educational growth and access throughout the world.
Specifically, four areas will be examined that relate not only to WAOE’s efforts but to the efforts of many organizations attempting to provide some type of valuable outreach and sharing of knowledge and expertise. The four panelists will discuss:
1. How can we meet a worldwide need for community and faculty support for online education? What is the real need and can a virtual community really have an impact?
2. What specific roles do the technologies of webboards and listserves play in building communication and support avenues? What are the pros and cons of each technology and how effective have they been? Is there something better?
3. Faculty mentoring is frequently important in traditional education settings. What is a model for providing free, virtual mentoring to faculty in specific projects? What are the challenges and impacts for scalability and maintaining a long-term mentoring presence?
4. In spite of the ubiquity of the Internet, access and technology is not equal around the world. What are the realities of technical implementation and support for a worldwide online community? In a free membership organization, how can support be consistent and what software/hardware challenges exist for ongoing maintenance?
In addition to the presentation of the panel members’ experience and research in each of these areas, the facilitator will coordinate a discussion with panel members and audience participants around the above topics. Handouts will include any planning guides, rubrics, and formal research that has been done by the panel members around each topic.
Panel Presentation #1
Meeting a Worldwide Need for
Community and Faculty Support for Online Education
Steve McCarty, Professor,
and President of the World Association for Online Education
an expatriate in
To have a conduit to
the so-called real world, WAOE was registered as a non-profit public benefit
corporation (NPO) by Jenna Seehafer of
Unlike most other academic or development organizations, WAOE sought global balance in participation and governance, where Westerners could learn from the wisdom of non-Westerners as well as vice-versa. WAOE worked to be multicultural in outlook while providing organizational information and communication channels in many languages. The resulting participation and contested online elections have shown educators worldwide making the organization their own. Officers in about 12 countries represent a harmony among Moslems, Jews, Hindus, African Christians and others as academic standards and ethical values prevail among educators worldwide.
beyond WAOE as for example when members from six countries wrote two chapters
for the International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments (Kluwer Academic Publishers, forthcoming as of this writing
in 2004). Also in 2004, low-cost voice technologies augmenting a learning
management system have enabled colleagues in the
From 1996, entirely online
conferences opened the door to global participation in academic societies, and
by 1998 it was clear that online education was becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
The World Association for Online Education (WAOE: www.waoe.org)
was founded to meet the burgeoning need for online educators and to turn the
new field into an academic discipline. Mutually instructive Western and
non-Western participation has resulted in enjoyable cultural exchanges as well
as practical and philosophical exchanges. The presenter, who founded WAOE from
Panel Presentation #2
Building Communication and Support Avenues through Technologies
Mike Warner, Faculty, Embry Riddle
Any collection of individuals that come together to develop common goals or banners bring with them unique experiences, resources, and needs. To facilitate such an organization requires an understanding of these needs and the medium within which these individuals will work to make progress toward their goals. The sharing of voluntary efforts requires an accommodating atmosphere that is accessible and available for all those that wish to participate. In the broader context of the global society, the Internet has come to replace the local site and the gathering can take on an asynchronous modality as well as synchronous. Time and distance no longer hinders collaborative efforts as long as a mutually agreed upon venue of communication can be accessed.
In 1998 a group of some thirty globally dispersed
participants in an online conference sponsored by
Shortly after WAOE came into being, we were fortunate to obtain permission from a private university to utilize their server space and license for WebBoard, an online communication venue that provided a secure members-only “meeting place”. The WebBoard provided organizational structure for communication channels by way of threaded discussion folders for both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration, a feature lacking in listserve venues. This also provides a convenient location to hold formal meetings such as Board of Director meetings which are required by law for a membership corporation. The next challenge was to develop a methodology to conduct such formal meetings in a virtual, asynchronous venue that could accommodate the global nature of our structure and membership. A modified version of Robert’s Rules of Order has evolved through parliamentarian structure that facilitates a working order under asynchronous conditions.
The goal of any global online organization is to facilitate active participation of its membership in the pursuit of its mission. The technology that accommodates this participation must recognize the ubiquitous nature of the Internet while serving the needs of its potential members.
An online community or organization functions through its communications channels. To support the growth of any community of online users there must be a facilitating nature to the technology that will be used that meets the needs and resources of its membership. Through the judicious use of email listserves and WebBoard communication venues, a community of online educators of the WAOE are helping to facilitate the growth of professional development to a global membership.
Panel Presentation #3
A Worldwide Faculty Mentoring Project for Creating Online Curriculum
Committee Chair, WAOE Mentoring Initiative
Global connectedness makes learning a lifetime need as knowledge is rendered obsolete, situated or irrelevant all too quickly. Within such a context, learner autonomy and self-managed learning become more important. There are however many positions across a range of total dependency to being completely independent in professional development terms. These positions also differ in different settings and situations. A person might be highly independent in one setting and simultaneously dependent in another. With this in mind, how can greater self-management be supported within a collaborative online context that is voluntary, informal, and cross-cultural? How can difference (of culture, perspective, experience and technical knowledge, for example) be accommodated in an online professional development community so that activities might offer some benefit to all involved?
Online communities can offer more focussed help for members than they do already. One initiative the WAOE has launched is to invite members to construct project proposals and submit them to the community. In response the WAOE has assembled temporary mentoring teams to help address and support projects informally and on a voluntary basis.
This structure has benefits for the person proposing the project in that they have a rare opportunity to receive personalised guidance. In addition, they also have a flexible means of support for their project. The experience also offers them a rolling dialogue around the issues that concern them most.
For the collaborating voluntary mentors they also have a number of benefits. Chief amongst these is that they hear other perspectives on the issues raised in the project. The experience of supporting an individual in such a highly distributed context is also authentic professional development for online tutors seeking to act within a global cross-cultural learning framework. This is a rare opportunity not easily constructed or acquired.
The community as a virtual organisation also has benefits in learning more about the needs of the members and in being able to respond to local as well as global needs and interests. The projects yield a number of documents and a great deal of learning that informs the identity of the community as it starts to better understand its members, their needs and the nature of the knowledge that resides and is created within.
At the time of this writing there are 7 projects created within the initiative. Each project is different in the profile of those involved and the nature of the inquiry that results. The panel session provides an opportunity to share in the issues arising from the initiative as well as offering a reflective moment to review some of the details of the collection of projects.
Many questions arise from this initiative not least how transferable the model might be and questions around what the role(s) of an online community should be. Other questions include the motivation for involvement in a project and who it is that would want to bring a project to a voluntary community. The panel will offer some early thoughts about these questions and no doubt raise others.
The construction of voluntary collaborative mentoring for informal learning projects is a new role for online communities. What kind of projects might arise? Who might get involved in either constructing a project or volunteering to support an informal project in such circumstances? With seven projects involving representatives from around the world, what have we learned that might be of value for others? How can research be conducted in an informal online community environment and what does that research tell us to date? A model of lifelong professional development is described for those interested or involved in globally connected learning systems.
Panel Presentation #4
The Realities of Technical Implementation and Support for a
Worldwide Online Community of Faculty
Maggie McVay-Lynch, Manager of Distributed Education,
Creating, scaling, and maintaining a worldwide virtual organization is a challenge to any technical support structure. It becomes even more so when that technical support structure consists of geographically dispersed volunteers with varying levels of technical knowledge and abilities, and the goodwill of an institution providing free server space and access. This presentation details the technical needs and support structures that are behind the innovations discussed in the previous presentations on this panel.
Beyond the need for an obvious presence on the Web, WAOE’s greatest need is to provide a means for several people to work cooperatively on common projects. These projects range from the day-to-day management of the organization such as annual elections and general decision-making to information dissemination in a variety of forms to intense small group or one-on-one mentoring that may take place over a few days or several months.
A great deal of research has been done on virtual collaborations for specific projects such as software development or planning sessions. However, little research has been done on the specific difficulties of maintaining an entirely virtual organization that does more than disseminate information. The experience of this writer found that when collaborating on WAOE projects in geographically distributed environments, four primary areas became critical requirements:
1. Coordination of working groups—providing a means for relationship development, team development, capacity building, and decision-making
2. Coordination of the activities—workflow control, identifying concurrent activities, ensuring each activity had sufficient technical support
3. Artifact control—addressing the problems of component integration, distributed authoring, and results visibility
4. Communication support—enhancing information exchange not only within the individual project teams but also dissemination to the wider body of membership and eventually to the world of people who may benefit from findings
In this presentation, the technical implementation of tools and resources that address the above difficulties will be demonstrated via the WAOE website and a description of what is behind the interface. Specific requirements discussed and demonstrated are:
· Support of concurrent and collaborative activities
· Voting capabilities for annual elections and decision-making
· Networked resource dissemination of documents and findings
· Membership information—gathering and providing a means for others to find members and share expertise
· Recording and dissemination mechanisms for capturing project activity outcomes
· Means for supporting differing levels of technical ability in all members
As the organizational needs grow, so will the technical requirements. Future technical support plans that are in development include:
· learning object sharing, management, and dissemination
· membership database interface that allows for more specific searching
· devising mechanisms for wider membership participation and sharing through automated systems
Along with these future plans and needs come many questions still to be addressed such as: How can we insure continuing institutional support of server needs? Is it possible to continue to deal with the growing complexity of technical needs without paid staff? How can we develop a larger cadre of active members that can backup current leaders and insure ongoing access and development?
How does an all-volunteer, virtual organization serving a worldwide community provide full-scale technical support to ensure projects can be rich and meaningful and their creation, development, and dissemination is effective? This presentation identifies critical requirements for technical implementation such as coordination of working groups and activities, artifact control, and communication support. The panelist then demonstrates how WAOE has met those requirements to date. Future plans for learning object management and means for wider membership participation are discussed, as well as ongoing questions of how to deal with the growing complexity of technical needs as the organization matures.