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Moving a Series of Faculty Development Workshops Online in the School of Medicine

While finding new strategies for moving our courses online has been critical throughout the pandemic, it’s also important to share how we as faculty and staff educators have moved our opportunities for development into these same online formats. How have we been able to recreate our communities of practice and discussions of shared experiences in online formats? In this article, we reflect on the successes and challenges of moving the long-established Clinical Teaching Seminar Series into the virtual space.

In this article you will find:

  • A description of a successful experience moving a faculty development program online
  • An exploration of that experience through the lens of the Community of Inquiry model 

About the Clinical Teaching Seminar Series

At the School of Medicine, we have diverse programs for developing teaching skills sponsored by departments with varied missions. For the past seven years, one example  the Clinical Teaching Seminar Series and its associated Honors Scholars Certificate. The Clinical Teaching Seminar Series (CTSS) is a year-long faculty development program in medical education, designed to introduce clinical educators to fundamental concepts in education. The seminars are interactive, providing practical tips for bedside teaching, curriculum development, and education research, among other topics. They are open to all, and typically include a mixture of faculty, residents, fellows, and MD/PA students.  The certificate is offered to those who apply, attend a specific number of sessions, and complete a presentation of capstone research at the yearly Stanford Innovations In Medical Education (SIMEC) conference. This conference is usually part of the Teaching and Mentoring Academy’s EdDay Conference.

CTSS is structured with monthly seminars, usually on the first Wednesday of the month. It is an interprofessional and interdisciplinary community of educators that draws upon community and mentorship to create, integrate, and evaluate participant teaching or educational research projects. Aside from seminars, the program hosts group mentorship sessions for participants in the certificate program.  

This program as a whole has been popular, with around 40 attendees each month and approximately 30 graduates of the certificate program each year. In previous years, all seminars were in-person. While all sessions were recorded for later viewing, the primary modality was face-to-face.  

Moving CTSS online

As with most of the world, the program switched to synchronous Zoom sessions for AY 2020-21. Traditional active learning exercises were retooled using newly common affordances like breakout rooms, Google Jamboards, and quick polls.  

There were three elements of the seminar series moved online, all synchronous: seminar sessions, mentorship small group sessions, and SIMEC conference presentations. Our goal was to maintain the sense of community we had built over the years, with participants collaborating both in and outside of the program.  

A framework for evaluating the online version of CTSS 

One framework for thinking about the nature of online teaching and learning is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework from Anderson and Garrison (1999, 2010). In this framework, three domains, or presences, are described. Social Presence allows participants to connect with the online community; Cognitive Presence is how learners integrate new knowledge through content, discussion and reflection; Teaching Presence is the experience created by the instructor orchestrating the learning environment, along with social and cognitive presences.   

While we have not conducted formal research using the CoI framework in this faculty development context, we can share our perception of how these presences were supported. We were accustomed to the program being very interactive in each of the three synchronous modalities. While we were able to preserve the format of these sessions in many of the same ways we had done previously, there were also challenges to working inside of Zoom. The SIMEC conference was especially difficult to replicate online. After having conducted this conference twice online, we are hoping to finally be able to switch this event back to in-person this coming year.  

Cognitive presence

We found that the monthly seminars functioned just as well in the online environment from the standpoint of cognitive presence. Online attendance increased by one-third since our busy clinical faculty could now attend from any remote location. We were also able to make the sessions (and certificate) available to our affiliated faculty who work all around the greater Bay Area. Participation was as robust as ever, with dual conversations happening in the chat and verbally. This has been so effective that we have decided to keep our monthly seminars online going into the future.

Teaching presence

From the standpoint of Teaching Presence, our experience has been mixed. Delivering a workshop online, alone in a home office over Zoom, can be challenging in its isolation. It seems the more on the continuum toward a lecture modality, the more isolating it feels. Teaching Presence seems to occur most easily in a mixture of didactics, small group discussion and large group interactivity.  

While it can be more work—planning, practicing, and delivering interactive workshops for faculty—we have found that speakers who engage more with the audience in active learning gain more from the experience as well. However, in order for the teacher to play that crucial role of connector of these social and cognitive presences, that instructor must be comfortable moving fluidly between these formats.

Social Presence

As we move forward, we hope to continue to work directly with our speakers to establish a robust system for bringing rich interactivity to each of our sessions, encouraging the advantages of small group discussions and activities that create true human connection between the teacher and learner. Our first step will be to measure the baseline of our programming in the context of these presences (as well as longitudinal outcomes). We have previously focused evaluation on individual sessions, but hope to explore soon how the shift to online synchronous high interaction formats supports faculty development in the health professions and beyond.

CTSS is a joint collaboration between multiple clinical departments at the School of Medicine, the Stanford Teaching and Mentoring Academy, and administered by the Evaluation and Instructional Development Department


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. Internet and Higher Education.

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