FACULTY DEVELOPMENT FOR ONLINE INSTRUCTION: TWO MODELS FOR EFFECTIVE TRAINING
MODEL 1 -- TRAINING FACULTY FOR TEACHING ENTIRELY
Neither image resembles the role of college instructor as those of us who teach know it, and neither resembles the highly interactive online classroom environment that students prefer.
This paper focuses on courses in which there is a common online classroom, a forum where instructors and all the students meet such, as through asynchronous conferencing software and/or synchronous IRC, and which may or may not include online testing forms and the means to track student progress. The paper does not focus on quasi-independent study courses where the content is posted on the web and all communications are carried out via personal e-mail with an instructor. Although the latter approach may result in an effective learning experience, the teaching duties carried out are not significantly different from those required for traditional correspondence courses in which there is a printed course guide and assignments are sent to an instructor.
The online classroom environment described above requires substantial alterations in teaching methods, course management procedures, and instructor/student and student/student interactions. It necessitates that faculty be given development training needed for teaching in a new environment. Most people who have some exposure to online education realize that some sort of development training is necessary for instructors who wish to teach online. But what kind of faculty development training would best help shape a highly engaged instructor of the sort required in an online program?
An effective faculty development program really starts with administration and faculty commitment to online delivery. This means that guidelines should be established so that onerous permission hurdles are not set up for each individual instructor who wants to create a new course or adapt an old one to teach online. Right now, many institutions require any course, even the adaptation of one that has been approved and taught for years, to go through an entirely new process of proposal, committee consideration, and adoption before it can be taught online. If general guidelines about content, requirements, and assessment, as well as expectations for instructor duties, are made for all online courses, adaptations of existing courses need not encounter these lengthy processes.
Administration and faculty should emphasize interactive courses in which a direct faculty teaching role is essential. There is no reason to remake the correspondence course -- it is a model that has functioned very well and can now be enhanced by web-based materials and e-mail communication to replace the snail mail of old. But online delivery offers us the potential for greater student/instructor interaction, not less. Greater access for students and greater interaction are two good reasons for online delivery of courses.
The truth is, there is much ignorance among both faculty and administration about what online teaching and learning involves. The only solution for this ignorance is for both administrators and faculty decision-makers to experience online learning and teaching first hand through "guided tours" of online sites by experienced online instructors, and by actually taking online courses themselves. Not a single instructor or administrator had not experienced firsthand the lecture halls, seminar rooms, and labs of the live traditional campus before embarking on a career in education. Yet these same people feel no embarrassment whatsoever in pontificating about an online classroom that they have never experienced.
What kind of instructor should administrators think about recruiting for online instructor development training? They should encourage faculty of all ranks who are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by online teaching and are willing to invest the time in learning new technology and methods for the sake of personal and professional growth. "Techies" do not necessarily make the best online instructors -- there should be an interest in pedagogy first and technology second. Interdisciplinary background and experience in other forms of distance learning programs are an advantage -- those who are accustomed to viewing ideas from the diverse perspectives of other disciplines, and those who have already converted a course to another delivery format make good candidates for online teaching. Adjuncts and tenured faculty should be given equal opportunity for online teaching. In this area, the teaching expertise, habits of flexibility, and the versatility of long-term adjuncts are valuable assets and should be appropriately compensated.
Choosing software platforms and establishing technical and administrative support systems are necessary to establish a solid foundation for faculty development. Software that will form the basis of the online classroom delivery system must be chosen at the whole campus, school, or department level. Faculty development begins with training on the software that will be used to deliver courses. Technical support must be available from the beginning of faculty development right on through the process of the entire class. Technical support, including instructional designers or instructional technologists, must work with, consult with, and support faculty, but not do everything for them. In the end, design issues are issues that also affect curriculum. Thus, a good online instructor will seek to be involved in such decisions.
Technical support must also be available to guide each student taking an online course through an online orientation process -- even though this may seem to come under the heading of "student support," in truth, one cannot separate student preparedness from instructor support issues. The instructor should be able to refer the many problems and questions that crop up in the course to the appropriate support personnel. Online courses are even busier than live ones -- instructors must have the assistance of support personnel or risk losing crucial teaching time online.
What should be the characteristics of the actual training program? First, it is essential that the development program be conducted completely online. If faculty need preliminary computer skills training in a lab setting, this should be done before the faculty development program begins. Training should replicate as much as possible the actual online learning experience. This is the equivalent of the requirement that aspiring psychiatrists undergo therapy--every online instructor needs to get her/his "head examined" first.
Faculty development must be mandatory for all those wishing to teach online. However, it must be flexibly scheduled, emphasizing asynchronous, not real-time communication. Lessons and activities should be arranged on a weekly or biweekly basis, not daily. Faculty should participate three to five times a week, for short intervals, in the discussion forums, rather than once a week for longer periods. This schedule replicates the ideal online teaching experience. Instructors who are not "present" at frequent intervals in the online classroom are perceived by students as not being responsive.
The length of a program of faculty development should be no less than six weeks. Six weeks is really the minimum to assure that instructors have adequate time to get up to speed with the software, interact in the online environment, and begin to think about the issues associated with their own courses. Short-term workshops cannot begin to cover the range of topics and activities needed. In a longer term program, depending on the software platform to be used, development might include academic web page design and the creation of course web pages, online quizzing tools, or other features of that particular software platform.
The person leading the training should be someone who has experience in both teaching and learning online, has taught in a live classroom, and has a working knowledge of curriculum design. This person may work with an instructional technologist as a team, but it is preferable that in introducing faculty to a completely online teaching mode, at least one of the trainers is a person who can share the perspective of those who have taught in a live classroom. Such a person is better able to comprehend the sensitive nature of transferring years of experience in the live classroom to an online classroom and better able to find the appropriate parallels and translations for live classroom methods and situations. Again, design decisions often involve decisions about curriculum as well.
What should the content of faculty development include? First, faculty development begins with software training. A series of self-paced lessons delivered online allow instructors to practice all basic functions for the software. In addition, trainers should be present to offer feedback and encouragement to instructors. In designing the software lessons, input should be elicited from those with experience using the software in actual teaching situations. A trainer who has taught online will be aware of how software capabilities and limitations will affect how and what instructors may do in the class.
The first topics to be explored should include the obvious: the differences and similarities between live and online classrooms. Another issue of concern to neophytes is that of the instructor's "voice" and style in the classroom. In large part, this sense of one's own online voice is something that develops as the instructor engages in online communication with others. The trainer as well as other colleagues can help the individual instructor achieve this vision of herself through interaction and positive reinforcement. Again, it is difficult to achieve this sense of ease about oneself in a one or two week training program.
Course management issues are another important area to include. Course management issues online really do present different problems than those even experienced instructors are used to on a live campus or even in televised distance courses. Organization of materials in the online classroom and the actual procedures for communication are critical issues. The procedures for communication in online forums, which vary based on the software used, require uniformity or else risk causing complete confusion. Placement of materials and directions for assignments must not only be clear, but even redundant. Weekly updates and summaries are necessary to keep all students up to speed. Tracking of student progress needs to be closely watched -- personal e-mail communication functions in place of telephone and office hours. Instructors must learn to set up e-mail filing and folder systems that will permit them to "see" and differentiate student assignments and student communications among the glut of e-mail that arrives each day.
Course preparation is more intensive than in a live course and this is an essential topic in any online instructor development program. All materials are readied for online delivery, the organization and design of classroom "space" must also be planned out in advance, and the modes and conventions of communications for that particular class must be decided. How will the webpage or course space be divided up? Will the instructor require any real-time chat sessions? How will group projects and collaborative exercises be arranged? Will the course be arranged by topics, by weeks, or by simultaneously presented modules? All these are examples of questions that necessitate careful forethought and preparation.
Another area for training involves learning techniques for encouraging student participation and facilitating smooth interactions between student and instructor as well as student to student communications. What is a "problem" student like in the online classroom? Are there any types of behavior, positive or negative, that are stimulated by the awkwardness as well as the freedom of the online classroom? How can one encourage cooperative ventures? How can one encourage participation in online discussions?
A natural topic for online instructors to pursue is that of web resources available for enhancement of or integration into their own courses. Evaluation and searching for appropriate web resources should certainly be a part of the program. Emphasis should be on integration of web resources into a course, not on assembling a list of links. Faculty development should expose instructors to the range of resources available in different disciplines, and this should be followed by personalized consultation with instructors about what might be appropriate resources to enhance their own courses.
A substantial portion of the training should be made over to analysis of case studies in online teaching and learning. Real courses on the web should be observed both through auditing of those already launched at the same institution or through examination of those courses open to view on the web. Instructors take part in guided discussions of the diverse teaching methods and styles present in online courses, consider the impact of software tools and functions on the presentation of material and the nature of classroom communications, and note the ways in which web resources may be integrated into the course curriculum. Observation of real courses can provide models for constructing assignments that involve collaborative methods or that use web resources and tools as a basis for student projects. I believe that in a short-term program, analysis of teaching models as they are actually used in a real course is more valuable than spending precious training time on instructional design theory in the abstract.
Personal consultation with instructors is a necessary component of the final portion of the training. Trainers should work with faculty on a one-to-one basis to arrive at an organizational conversion model that will satisfy an instructor's particular goals and objectives for the course. Finding a good fit for the instructor's own preferred teaching methods and style is paramount here. While we may want instructors to be daring and innovative, the process of developing a basic level of comfort and an effective online teaching persona should be a top priority. Creativity and innovation will more naturally evolve from experience teaching online and reflection on that experience than on demands for clever packaging or the demands of program heads.
Finally, the last stage of faculty development should involve a supervised start up of the actual course. Faculty must have their initial course materials mounted, offer a greeting and explanation of the course layout, as well as post procedures and clarify modes of communication before the course actually starts. Trainers and technical support should work with faculty to make sure the course is set up in a timely way for the arriving students.
Faculty development, in informal ways as well as periodic refresher sessions, should continue after the course has started. Instructional designers, trainers and support personnel must work with faculty to analyze course effectiveness and, if desired, help faculty revise online course procedures and organization. This is a delicate process because the greater scrutiny afforded by the technology of an online course can make it much too easy to trespass on what is legitimately faculty territory. Online classroom design and software tools do have an impact on student performance and satisfaction, but in the end, it is faculty vision and creativity that matter most and that will ultimately determine whether students want to take an online course from one institution as opposed to another. Although there will always be room for inexpensive independent study courses, whether online or through conventional means, it is the level and quality of interaction with an instructor that online students will seek out and reward with their tuition.
MODEL 2: TRAINING FACULTY TO AUGMENT FACE-TO-FACE INSTRUCTION
BY USING THE WEB
Generally, at the end of the semester or term, faculty designers of such optional sites complain that the work required to construct them did not appear worth the effort. They note that their students rarely use the bulletin boards, preferring instead to visit the instructor during regular office hours, or to besiege her with e-mail addressed specifically to her. In evaluations, students rarely mentioned the utility of the linked sites, while some students actively complained that their access to the web was limited or impaired. Many suggested a return to paper handouts in class.
This points out the signal difference between augmented, in-class instruction and instruction situated entirely on the web: both faculty and students are less motivated to make use of the web, and thus require more encouragement than do committed distance learners.
This difference suggests that the first step towards inducing faculty to integrate the web into their F-2-F instruction requires persuading them to make its use mandatory. Often, this entails a reevaluation of their syllabi to pinpoint where the web might be a better medium and/or tool for instruction.
Such a reevaluation need not be traumatic, since small, incremental changes in the syllabi or in the way the course is managed can often lead to major improvements. For example, if an instructor makes clear that she will NOT reply to each and every inquiry sent by e-mail, posted to the bulletin board, or left on her voicemail, but will instead post her answers once or twice a week to a Frequently-Asked-Questions page on her website, it is usually readily apparent that integrating the web in this way can save her a vast amount of time. At the same time, she can see that responding publicly to such queries becomes in itself a learning experience for her class, relieving her of the burden of having to answer numerous inquiries in private during office hours or via private e-mail communication.
Having demonstrated how the mandatory use of the web can be of practical utility to the instructor, another incremental step in this reevaluation might be to examine how the bulletin board is managed and maintained. By demonstrating how to set up conferences by class sessions, topics, course groups, or TA's, it can quickly be shown how a properly utilized and threaded message board is far easier to use and comprehend than a totally unstructured cascade of messages and queries. In addition, it gives the instructor a way to conduct an on-line discussion in the same way she might in a seminar or class. To the web initiate, the fact that she can effect this change with a minimum of effort, and yet derive a maximum of effect, is a telling argument for curricular change.
In addition, instructors usually discover, much to their surprise, that shifting the communication burden to the bulletin board humanizes, rather than de-humanizes, the typical university learning experience. Most undergraduate courses, particularly the general education courses taken in the first years, take place in large lecture halls. The face-to-face contact between instructor and student or between student and student in such environments is usually constrained to a brief glimpse of a distant figure lecturing on a stage and/or the back of the student's head in the row just in front. Breaking up a class into on-line study groups led by a TA can thus create a sense intimacy and/or community otherwise lacking. The students get a chance to speak their minds, both to the TA and to each other, interacting in a way that is often not possible, in mandated F-T-F study groups. Furthermore, the asynchronous nature of this communication means that students are not tied down to the exigencies of time and place. Requiring participation in such on-line study groups often results in a satisfactory and productive learning experience.
Having shepherded the instructor to this point, the trainer must beware of two significant pitfalls: the first is pushing instructors further than they might like to go; the second is permitting the overly enthusiastic to go further than they ought to go.
In the first case, that of pushing instructors too far, it is usually the trainer who must contain his enthusiasm. He may envision a number of "improvements" to the online quotient of a given class, may indeed be so in love with the course material itself, and so seized with a passion to enrich it (with a script, for example, written in Perl or Java, or perhaps a with Shock-waved quiz), that he either overlooks, or disregards, the instructor's doubts or misgivings. Indeed, such a trainer may be prone to offer his services as course programmer or designer, thus preying on the instructor's natural inclination to cede creative responsibility for the course to someone else.
The disadvantage of this pitfall ought to be self-evident. By "taking the wheel" from the instructor (leaving the driving to "us"), the trainer is, at the same time, taking control of her class. It is not necessary, or even desirable, for an instructor to do everything for herself. But she must have sufficient knowledge of what can or cannot be done to make informed choices. Having reached that level of understanding, she can delegate the design and implementation of her web site to someone else. But the first step, that of making the creative choice for herself, is crucial both to its success, and that of the development of the instructor who is making it.
This pitfall, that of benevolently wresting control of a class from an instructor, is characteristic of on-campus trainers and textbook publishers alike. Textbook publishers often make the mistake of relegating the instructor of a given course to that of the "content provider," as if providing instruction were the same as a technology transfer arrangement between two corporations or countries. The products thus produced, the CD-ROMs or instructional web sites, seem curiously devoid of personality, the very quality that differentiates one instructor, or one course, from another.
Instructors, like students, require some sort of feedback before moving on to the next level. When an instructor feels positive, and successful, with a few changes in her curriculum, she will be that much more motivated to make further changes down the line.
The second pitfall mentioned above is that of the instructor biting off more than she can chew. She may produce courseware far too complex to warrant the effort involved in producing it, or she may create assignments which overly burden the student with homework that might be more efficiently completed by simpler means.
Here the question of access is a key determinant in ascertaining how much is too much. The average public university usually contains a mix of residential and commuting students. Residential students can generally make use of on-campus computing facilities. Off-campus students are limited to whatever machines they have at home. Often, such machines are two or three computer-generations behind what is available on campus. A crucial factor, then, in redesigning a course for the web is to avoid overtaxing the students' home computer with multimedia-intensive materials or assignments.
On the other hand, when a web-based assignment would seem to bring distinct benefits to instruction, the instructor must be prepared to evaluate complaints about access with a skeptical eye. Students' complaints that a dial-up connection with a campus backbone is often busy are not in itself a reason for abandoning the web. One has to ask a few questions of the students before giving up: did they, for example, try logging on at a different time (much as one would return to a library's reference shelf if one found the required books were checked out)? Were they fully aware of the computer resources available to them on campus? If the answers to these questions reveal that a given institution's infrastructure is too spotty to be relied on, then the instructor would do well to heed the students' complaints. Otherwise, she should carry on.
Larding a web site, however, with a profusion of graphics, or seeding it with purloined java applets, or CGI scripts, may satisfy an instructor's needs to provide a richly endowed web site but may also present real problems to the students required to use it. In this case, the trainer must persuade the instructor to exercise discretion. Mounting an old mid-term, for example, so that it provides feedback to the student taking the test (scores, right answers, etc.) provides a learning-rich experience well worth the time and effort in creating and or using it. But mounting a series of graphic-rich flash cards, say a web-ized Powerpoint presentation or a complex weave of web pages, may be far less effective and accessible than simply directing students to the library to view a book. In the same vein, providing a number of links for students to explore may prove far too time-consuming for students to be worthwhile.
Having satisfied herself that student access to the web is adequate, an instructor must then confront the problem of balancing in-class work with on-line assignments. In some situations, achieving balance requires an instructor to reevaluate what she has been doing heretofore in class. For example, an instructor who typically uses class time to present information in lecture form may find that by using the web for pre-class activities, time spent in class can be significantly improved. Thus, a Spanish 1 instructor might direct her class to visit the website of a Spanish-language newspaper and be prepared to discuss the issue in Spanish during class. Similarly, an English instructor might require a visit to the Shakespeare Authorship Web site to evaluate its reliability and authenticity in preparation for an in-class debate. The value of both exercises is that it puts students in contact with information in the public domain that might otherwise not be available to them through traditional means of inquiry. It also inexpensively and effortlessly provides the material to be examined to all the students without requiring copious photocopying or the purchase of additional materials.
Some assignments may make use of the web exclusively. Inviting an expert to host an on-line conference, and requiring students to participate in the exercise, can add a dimension to instruction often not possible in class. Having students collaborate on web-based presentations based on original research and then published on a class website either as a final project or as an interim assignment is another example of using the web as both a publishing and a broadcasting medium, since it permits students to learn from each other as well as from the instructor. Indeed, requiring students to participate in web-based study groups examining and discussing specific course-related topics may very well prove to be the most valuable contribution to learning the web can provide.
The challenge to the trainer is to help instructors understand that integrating the web with in-class instruction provides tangible benefits to student and instructor alike and to wean instructors from the practice of using the web as an optional add-on to traditional instruction.
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