Technology and Learning - 7 Gifts of Working with Virtual Academic Colleagues

Do you work with someone who works remotely? Do you have someone on your team who telecommutes full-time, or a significant part of each month? Are you working at a distance?

August 31, 2011

Do you work with someone who works remotely? Do you have someone on your team who telecommutes full-time, or a significant part of each month? Are you working at a distance?

I bet that if you work outside of a nonprofit higher education institution that your answer is much more likely to be "yes" then people within traditional academia. Virtual teams are becoming, or have become, the norm in ed tech, publishing, and consulting companies. Even nonprofits outside of academia tend to have a large share of virtual team members. But if my informal surveys and chats with colleagues is correct, it seems like the higher ed workforce is lagging somewhat the trend of distributed work. (This is an empirical question, does anyone have good data?).

7 Gifts of Working with Virtual Academic Colleagues:

1. Living Virtually: Having a colleague work at a distance has forced us to use the same online collaboration tools in our team work together that we utilize for teaching and learning. In the blended learning program of which I'm a part, we use Adobe Connect for synchronous class sessions and student group work. With our virtual colleague, we now use Adobe Connect to run most of our meetings - either having the system run while the rest of the team gathers in one place or with all of us at our computers. This practice with Connect has made us all much more skilled and confident in this synchronous learning / communications tool - and this expertise carries over to our courses.

2. Mirroring Students: A virtual team member is probably a "must have" if you run any blended or at-a-distance learning. But even if all your courses are local and face-to-face, our digital tools means that we are increasingly time-shifting and place-shifting the teaching and learning engagements. A virtual colleague needs to live in this digital tools at all times, and does not have an easy fall back of walking down the hall to chat. If the digital tools are not working, a virtual colleague will be the first to notice and the most invested in getting things fixed.

3. Attention to Communication: The social aspect of work is enormously important. Information sharing and collaboration happens more outside of meetings than within them. E-mail is a poor substitute for true communication. Working with a virtual colleague means thinking hard about communication and collaboration. A distributed team requires mindful practices around communication, some thought about "how" we work together.

4. Experimentation: Working with a distributed team is not always easy, and we sometimes get sub-optimal results. This challenge, however, forces us to experiment with new and better ways to collaborate. These new methods and tools help everyone, not just the remote team members.

5. Time: I'm convinced that a team member who works off campus can be more productive because she or he goes to fewer meetings. Working from home can facilitate longer stretches of uninterrupted time for projects, writing, and thinking.

6. Perspective: Sometimes being a little apart from the day-to-day craziness of our work allows for a more long range perspective, an ability to keep an eye on strategic goals.

7. The World: The world is moving towards globalized and virtual work teams. We should not be left behind.

Do you see the world of higher ed becoming more accepting of working at a distance? What will it take to make this change? Are you virtual?


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