Beaumont, Rosemary; Stirling, Jeannette; and Percy, Alisa J., 2009, Tutors' Forum: engaging distributed communities of practice, Open Learning, 24(2), 141-154.
The need to engage students studying at a distance in order to reduce isolation, foster a sense of belonging and enhance learning has received significant attention over the past few years. Conversely, very little research has focused on teachers working in this type of environment. In fact, we argue, they appear to be the forgotten dimension in ‘communities’ of distance learning. In this paper we identify some of the problems generated by teaching university subjects simultaneously across a network of campuses: a practice known as multi-location teaching. We examine strategies for engaging multi-location teachers as key contributors to a quality learning experience for students, and provide an analysis of how identified teaching needs and professional development are addressed within one particular teaching team by a small but powerful micro-practice called the ‘Tutors’ Forum’. Drawing on data collected through a survey and interviews conducted over 2006/07, we discuss the benefits and critical success factors of the Tutors’ Forum in facilitating engagement and professional development for teachers working at a distance from the subject coordinator and other members of the teaching team. These factors include a specific style of leadership that fosters an inclusive, dialogic space where the patterns of interaction are characterised by reciprocity, collegiality and professional care. We discuss the implications of this practice for the further engagement of university teachers in an increasingly casualised and fragmented higher education sector.