Virtual Teaming: Transforming Team Members
For us as instructors, the Virtual Teams project not only presented the challenge of managing seven groups of people from three diverse classes, stretched over three time zones and with varying expertise, interests, and goals, but also required us to experiment with the ways we typically manage our classes. For example, for Sergey, the latter materialized in an active and difficult pursuit of appropriate authority functions/roles that would allow him to guide the students, both those in his class and not, but to also let him preserve the delicate structure that was being built through a virtual team for a project he was assigning for the first time. He did his utmost not to turn this experience into a micro-managed one for himself, his colleagues, and our students. He found his own identity shift not only in regards to traditional power relationships between teacher and student, but also in relation to his fellow faculty.
For all of us, being part of a teaching team required a reorientation of classroom authority from individual teacher to team. Like Paretti, McNair, and Holloway-Attaway's (2007) students, we balanced "the need to construct both meaningful professional identities and functional social partnerships in distributed work environments" (p. 344). The sharing of teacher responsibilities among the three instructors who had collectively envisioned the project but were firmly dedicated to letting students learn to take initiative taught us all the value of performing and negotiating community (rather than enjoying it as tool for administering a project) and underscored the malleability of power roles and expertise types.
We came to this project as friends and graduate school buddies, as scholars interested in similar things, but we ended it as co-equal designers of a project that both celebrated and challenged the multiple ways of knowing and being we all bring to a class. The Virtual Teams project allowed crossing of academic backgrounds and fields that interlaced in the planning and administering of this project. The mix of students from multiple institutions and majors resulted in a powerful mix of abilities and transdisciplinary literacies that all had to be assessed and negotiated in order to address an assignment not directly or exclusively related to the expertise of any one of the teaching team members involved. Additionally, the diverse backgrounds of the three teachers added to the complexity of this experience and pushed all of us further into border crossing—pedagogically, scholastically, epistemologically, and personally.
For anyone considering taking up this sort of work, we recommend a few things.
- Foster faculty collaboration and teaming by working it into all areas of a project: planning, assignment design, grading, and commenting. A wiki space like the one we used provides a ready-made format for transparent negotiations of team goals and identity. Because the mode automatically erases hierarchies—at least within the space itself in that no one originates or owns an email, but instead everyone is an equal administrator on a collaboratively produced document—it seems an ideal space to craft a teaching-team identity. And trust not only the mode and your colleagues to reveal strategies for the team project, but also rely on the rhetorical situation of the virtual team class project that emerges as a group of individuals allow themselves to find project- and team-specific means for reaching goals.
- While new media spaces like wikis hold much promise for collaborative teaching, be prepared for inevitable delays in response times as not everyone will be online the same time as you are. In addition, plan for things to go unnoticed, as some wikis do not have built-in functions to alert users to new information or requests for information in the same way that an email marked urgent might.
- Prepare for frustration; teaching with technology is always challenging and team teaching with technology only increases some of common challenges like differences in access and unequal skill and comfort levels.
Reaching across curricular and institutional borders via multimodal communication to form virtual teams allowed all of those in our three dispersed classrooms to actively engage in learning to write and work with one another in virtual spaces. The project also allowed exploration of different modes of writing and the multiple literacies required to engage in such writings. We hope virtual teaming challenged our students to stretch and to move into areas of writing, thinking, and connection to others that may seem uncomfortable but are ultimately worthwhile. For those leading the project, it was at times uncomfortable, but in the end we learned to move beyond our personal and professional locations to discover new teaching strategies in a virtual teaming environment. Creating the Virtual Teams project modeled for us ways multimodal writing and teaming can expand our ways of knowing our classrooms and our faculty selves.