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As online programmes in higher education continue to grow in number, the literature identifies emerging areas of concern. Whilst appreciating the flexibility and accessibility of online learning, learners often experience challenges in balancing their professional and personal lives whilst studying. In addition, such students have complained that their online educational experiences may be irrelevant and inappropriate, with tutors having limited presence or interest.
Online learners’ experiences are contingent upon the skills and characteristics of the tutors, who face the challenges of changing and developing practices, such as taking a more student-centred approach in order to provide opportunities that foster deep learning. Current, familiar practices may no longer be appropriate. There is a need to support tutors as they develop and expand their practices, facilitating familiarity and confidence with the opportunities afforded by a range of technologies. Research indicates that communities of practice as a form of staff development may assist tutors in this transition.
This paper shares the early experiences of a recently formed Network for online tutors at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Scotland. This community of practice was based upon an adapted Community of Inquiry Framework (Peacock & Cowan, 2016). The Network, endorsed by management, was launched in 2017, with two co-leads, one from an educational development unit and one from the School of Health Science. Sub groups, all led by members of the Network, were subsequently developed to look at specific aspects of online delivery and development within the University.
The purpose of the Network and the successes achieved in the first academic year are outlined. The challenges arising in the early stages of implementing the Network are reported, and proposals for progress in the next academic year are discussed. Finally, suggestions are offered to those embarking on a similar endeavour.
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