Community Building in a Virtual Teaching Environment


  • Sara Laura Schwartz University of Southern California
  • June L. Wiley
  • Charles D. Kaplan



Virtual education, virtual community, geographic diversity


In 2010, the University of Southern California School of Social Work launched its Virtual Academic Center (VAC) to deliver online MSW programming to students located around the country. USC’s platform is a significant innovation in offering online education and has transformed the traditional educational model for both students and faculty. This research explores the experiences of faculty teaching via the VAC. Twenty-five in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with USC faculty of different ranks. Inductive data collection using a grounded theory approach with thematic analysis examined experiences teaching in an online program, revealing the strengths and challenges associated with geographic diversity and community-building. Findings warrant the development of innovative practices to build community and to facilitate collaboration among geographically diverse faculty and students in a virtual education program.