The Pivot to Leading a Remote Academic Team

The great-advice-on-moving-online-due-to-Covid-19 market is pretty saturated by now with great contributions on Twitter from the likes of @tonybates @slamteacher @eam0 @karencosta @Jessifer @jonbecker @ProfSallyBrown @neilmosley5 @tjoosten @LTHEchat and many, many more. I am particularly proud of the contribution coming from @DCU’s @NIDL_DCU (National Institute for Digital Learning) and our ‘Keep Teaching‘ and ‘Keep Learning‘ web pages, which I think set the right tone. It is also a good time to have a project running on how to teach online, as the Openteach project (led by @orna_farrell) gets into full swing with lots of useful resources. As the Irish Government is shutting all schools and HE Institutions from tomorrow (13-03-20) some of us here with online learning experience are helping colleagues to gear up to teach and support their students without their usual on-campus setup. But anway, I’m not here to add more to that conversation. I thought I would write about something I haven’t seen discussed already, and give some advice about how to pivot to leading remote academic teams.

Since 2010 I have led a (fantastic) remote academic team in my role as a Chair of open education, online programmes (this T&L model is described in Brunton et al. 2018). Having previously led on-campus academic programme teams I can say that these require different approaches but there are lots of transferable skills from one to the other. For all those Progrmme Chair/Directors who are about to pivot to leading an academic team whose members are now remote and distributed, my advice would be (note – I am going to talk about the technology we have here in DCU, you will have to translate to what is available in your institution):

  1. Be gentle with the team as they transition to working remotely: as new remote workers some will be dealing with a sense of disconnection while others are dealing with the chaos of a house where they don’t have a preexisting area to work and children kicked out of school are swinging from the ceiling. It will take time for team members to find their feet in this new mode of working (remote working is a whole thing in its own right).
  2. Provide some infrastructure to pull the team together: having a shared folder or set of folders with shared documents e.g. agenda for team meetings or shared spreadsheets used as tracking files can help give the team have a single point of focus.
  3. You can use tools that allow for real-time, synchronous meetings, for example Zoom, to allow for team meetings or one to one meetings. Try to make sure your team have working mics and headsets so they can participate well.
  4. You can also use asynchronous means of working with your team. I have held asynchronous team meetings where team members added comments to a Google Doc (we have Google Apps for Education) that had a detailed Agenda+brief over a specified day or two.
  5. Be creative in how you use the tools available to you. For example, in a recent meeting where a sub-group was working on a curriculum redesign project we had a workshop detailed in a shared Google Doc and then we worked on that together (with me taking notes in the Doc) while that document was shared through Zoom.

I hope these help!

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