Making an Online Faculty Room Successful

DSC_0040-001 By Eric Hudson, Dean of Instruction Where and how faculty gather are critical factors in the life of a school. In an environment where time can be scarce and adult connection can be fleeting, a faculty room serves a variety of purposes: as a hub for information and communication, as a place to encourage adults to interact meaningfully, as a refuge from the fast pace of a school day. Any online space for faculty should achieve the same goals. At GOA, where our faculty members are spread across the world and interact solely through technology, we have found a few key elements that make for a vibrant online Faculty Lounge.

1. Make it inviting. What drives faculty to their communal space at school? Perhaps the comfortable furniture, the coffee and snacks, even the paint color and lighting make it an appealing place to go. In addition, it is a place where they can go to find the information they need, be it on bulletin boards or in mailboxes or in communal files.

The online space should be similarly inviting and useful. Below is an image of GOA’s Faculty Lounge Home Page, built in our Learning Management System, Canvas. By using color, imagery, and simple design, we tried to make this entry point welcoming. By clearly organizing and labeling the various sections of the lounge and making each button a link to the relevant material, we tried to make the space navigable and convenient. Our primary user is the teacher who just needs to “drop by” and get what he/she needs. Here, that information is only a couple of clicks away.

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2. Make it interactive. The Faculty Lounge should not be a purely utilitarian space, however. People may come to the lounge for information or material, but they stay for good conversation and connection with colleagues. Especially in an all-online environment, this communal element is critical to faculty engagement. In our lounge, we created a module with multiple ways for faculty to share ideas/questions and learn from each other. As a staff, we have made a commitment to keep these spaces alive through posting and responding as often as we can.

 

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3. Make it matter. It is not enough to publish a Faculty Lounge and then wait for people to use it. Encourage faculty presence in the online space by associating key action items with it. For instance, when our Faculty Lounge debuted, there were key forms for our teachers to complete and resources they had requested that we had built. We nested those items in the Faculty Lounge and made it the only place to find them. Over time, we will continue to leverage this space as the headquarters for important teacher resources and “to-do’s.”

 We have all been in faculty meetings and said to ourselves (or to colleagues), “Most of that meeting could have been done via email.” While the online space certainly functions well as a repository for important information, it can only survive as a vibrant environment if we also view it as a collaborative place where great ideas can happen. An online faculty lounge not only can make in-person meeting time more efficient and fruitful, but also presents an opportunity to keep those important conversations going.