The Benefits of Community Building and Participatory Leadership in an Interdisciplinary Virtual Professional Learning Community in Higher Education during COVID-19 and Post-Pandemic Times
Keywords:interdisciplinary virtual professional learning community, higher education, knowledge-sharing, professional development, participatory leadership, COVID-19 emergency, emotional engagement
The transition of educational institutions to remote learning during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic breathed new life into Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). For full-time and adjunct faculty who were struggling with unexpected technology issues and social isolation, PLCs became platforms for building social and professional ties, further learning, and problem-solving. An extensive number of specialized studies have outlined the definition of PLCs as an umbrella term encompassing an array of collaborative efforts in education united by the distinctive features that include (1) engaging in ongoing collaborative activities to identify and work towards common goals, (2) co-constructing, sharing, and disseminating knowledge, and (3) sharing and reflecting on individual practices. Despite an impressive history of research on PLCs, certain fields remained understudied, in particular, opportunities of fostering university’s goals and major relevant concepts via PLC, inclusive participatory leadership, emotional interaction, and collaboration in interdisciplinary PLCs. This exploratory qualitative study demonstrates the benefits of an interdisciplinary virtual PLC, as exemplified by the PLCs implemented at Westcliff University in Irvine, California, USA, based on case study, self-reflection, observation, unstructured interviews, and analyzing university statistics. The study has uncovered numerous benefits of an interdisciplinary virtual PLC in a higher educational institution, applicable both to an emergency (COVID) situation and to a regular mode of work after the pandemic, including knowledge-sharing, disseminating, and constructing new knowledge; building skills and educational practices through the sharing of instructional strategies and dissemination of the new technologies; enhanced professional growth, especially for the less experienced instructors; relation-building and creating a trusting and positive emotional atmosphere, as well as a platform for participatory inclusive leadership. Analysis of the university statistics confirms the improvement of students’ learning outcomes after their respective professors had participated in the PLC. The recommendations based on the discussed experiences and driven conclusions are provided to help educators and universities benefit fully from the implementation of a PLC in their institutions.
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