Welcome to the Community of Interest! The COI was set up in 2012 as a way to bring focus to online teaching, learning and research here at the University of Newcastle. It’s voluntary – folks join in or not as they wish ;-). Below I’ve included our working ‘founding principles’, i.e., the purpose of the COI and how we intend it to function, as discussed at our very first catch up at Mamadukes (the café in the Shortland Building, here on the Callaghan campus).
Teaching and learning in the online (and blended or hybrid) mode offers up to us an opportunity disguised as a paradox. On the one hand, good teaching is good teaching irrespective of the mode of learning. On the other, online education entails both constraints and opportunities that are particular to that learning mode. That’s the apparent paradox. Perhaps we have the chance to ‘resolve’ the paradox by treating online education as an opportunity to bring new focus to teaching practices and the way education systems are organised.
The COI is based on a community of practice model. We called it a community of interest because folks don’t even have to be practicing to join in – an interest is sufficient ;-). Communities of practice work three ways, providing those who choose to get involved the opportunity to:
- Share good practices
- Generate new knowledge and understanding together, and
- Simply spend some time together.
The opportunity to share good practices is great for folks engaged in teaching, including online teaching. We take a strengths-based approach at the COI, recognising and building on the good things we’ve got going on already. Here at the University of Newcastle we have lots of folks across all five faculties, the Wollotuka Institute and the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre who are exceptional online teachers, and who are making all sorts of innovations in their teaching practices. The COI provides the opportunity to begin to connect with each other, across faculties, schools and disciplines, and share some of those practices. Importantly, and beyond disciplinary boundaries, it provides the opportunity for academic and professional staff to connect with each other.
The COI provides the opportunity for generating new knowledge and understanding about online teaching and learning too. It can be pretty common hearing people talk about want to ‘bust out’ of disciplinary silos; teaching and learning provides a tangible opportunity to begin to do just that.
The third point above is the one that’s most important for building new and productive working relationships, and in the short time the COI has been functioning, we’ve seen that happen, for example, in the form of new research collaborations.
That’s probably about enough by way of introduction. I’ll close below with the working principles for the COI and how it works. If you’re interested to be in touch, please do, at Liam.Phelan@newcastle.edu.au.
UoN's Community of Interest in Online Teaching, Learning & Research (or, the COI for short)
A draft set of working principles for the COI came out of the first COI catch up last year, as follows:
A. Things were interested in:
1. BIG PICTURE: Including open access to materials, open education resources (OER) and creative commons (CC).
2. ONLINE TEACHING PEDAGOGY & PRACTICES: Comparatively we've got some good things going on here at Newcastle. There is also (always!?) scope for improvement in online pedagogy.
3. INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT, POLICIES & PRACTICES: Digitised (and mobile) resources and online/ blended education may serve as an invitation and tangible/ practical opportunity for academics to work with colleagues across disciplines; there is work to do towards greater internal acceptance of the benefits (& joys?) of online teaching & learning.
B. The merits of putting energy into a community of interest:
1. There are benefits in sharing, i.e. rather than always making new wheels.
2. There are benefits in communications and networks across and outside disciplines, and amongst academic and professional staff, in relation to practices and interdisciplinary knowledge creation.
3. Getting together this way will likely create opportunities for engaging in collaborative online T&L research, and we anticipate exploring grant opportunities.
C. What this community of interest may look like:
1. We are interested in being inclusive and expansive in our approach, i.e. practically accessible to anyone in the UoN community with an interest in online T&L.
2. Our community of interest is an opportunity to bring focus to things that work well, to share practices, insights and ideas, and over time, draw in others who may be more tentative about online T&L.
3. There is interest in getting together face-to-face (at Callaghan and Ourimbah) and online, i.e. it's good to get together in person sometimes, it's also good to walk the talk and do it online too.
4. We’re experimenting with this as it evolves, and were interested to see a mix of informal catch ups, resource sharing, practice workshops, seminar-style presentations by leaders in this field from UoN and elsewhere, etc.
5. Well set up and use a standard Blackboard course site for learning as we go; well look at UoN's Yammer network too.
6. We anticipate getting together monthly or so, and mixing up meeting days and times given that there won’t (can't?) be a time that will always suit everybody.