How colleges can leverage technology to promote faculty collaboration

Campus leaders need to create a culture of communication to improve teaching and learning
Instructional Technologist Tim Van Norman (left) and ESL Professor Brent Warner (right) of Irvine Valley College in California.

Instruction dramatically improves when higher ed leaders foster faculty collaboration, and technology plays a vital role in creating environments that make this possible. But ed tech is just one of many faculty development techniques that colleges can use to open up communication among educators, says Instructional Technologist Tim Van Norman and ESL Professor Brent Warner of Irvine Valley College in California. Face-to-face meetings and presentations help build a culture of inclusivity.

Case in point, Tim Van Norman, who helps professors understand ed tech best practices, briefly muted himself in the middle of his interview for this Q&A to walk across campus for his next appointment with a faculty member. Warner also regularly presents on ed tech integration and experiments with new technology in the classroom.

Together, the two discuss these topics as co-hosts of HigherEdTech Podcast—and they will bring their expertise from the airwaves to the stage at UB Tech® 2020. Visit for more on the event, to be held June 15-17 in Las Vegas.

How often are professors siloed when assigned classes and how does this affect student success and engagement?

Warner: I have had experience in other schools where professors don’t feel like they have support from their department chairs or administrators, or don’t have the opportunity to interact with their peers. So they get hired, they teach their class and then they leave campus, and nobody knows who they are. They are ghosts on campus. They haven’t had the opportunity to participate in committees, faculty governance discussions or academic clubs. Or maybe they aren’t even aware of those opportunities. In my department, we have cohort meetings with teachers and discuss what’s working and ways to improve the curriculum. And with Tim’s help, we have built systems in place to support communication and collaboration in higher education.

In terms of faculty development, what modern technologies can administrators provide professors to help increase their engagement?

Warner: Tim has been great with helping us build group Canvas modules for teachers to pull resources from. Meanwhile, I set up a Slack-type program we call River, where teachers come to discuss ideas, share resources and ask questions about pedagogy.

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It’s important to have some sort of central resource that all teachers can use. This act of sharing builds trust and faith in what you are doing as an educator in a nonjudgmental environment. Teachers need to understand that they can share their work and shouldn’t feel that their instructional methods are proprietary.

Van Norman: There are some tools that we don’t make available to teachers. Part of what we do is find alternatives for expensive tools that the school doesn’t have to buy. For example, providing solutions that teachers can use for free or at a reduced price.

How do you achieve administrator buy-in?

Van Norman: If I can get administrators to actually try a new technology that I’m interested in, a lot of the times they’ll understand its importance. When I walk up to an administrator who was a teacher and say, “This is what I can do for a teacher,” it takes them no time at all to get it. Our audience needs to include administrators because, in the end, it’s all about students learning. If students aren’t learning, then we’re in trouble.

How do you spread this culture of faculty collaboration campuswide?

Van Norman: It’s all about communication. I have the ability to hit our whole campus at one time by sending an email once every two weeks with tips and tricks. People tend to save these emails because they are used to getting marketing material five times a day. But they don’t get that many from me unless we are working on a specific issue. It’s an old marketing tactic. I also do presentations. In fact, between January 2 and 10, I did 10 different presentations here on campus. I do everything I can to get out there and be in front of people. This helps build a community among professors.

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