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Does Online Faculty Development Really Matter?

Laurence Boggess (Penn State University & World Campus, USA)
Additional Authors
Elizabeth Shakespeare (Penn State University & World Campus Faculty Development, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 10:15am
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Southern Hemisphere IV
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 6
Virtual Session

Faculty reflections on their training to teach online help build a case statement for funding online faculty development.

Extended Abstract

For those of us who support online faculty with training courses, modules, webinars, convocations, onboarding, virtual faculty learning communities, and other face-to-face and virtual experiences, one core assumption grounds our work: what we do matters. But, how do we really know? Do our curricula and training experiences translate into effective online instruction? By what metrics are we measuring? And how can we use those metrics to make the case to faculty and administration that our work matters and is worthy of continued and expanding investment?

Increasingly, universities are suggesting or requiring some credential--a course or a series of a courses or modules--to "prepare" or "qualify" faculty to teach online. However, there is a tenuous research thread, at best, associating faculty training and student learning. Given the inability of educational research to establish credible measures of causality, faculty developers and faculty development researchers commonly look to proxy measures of effectiveness focusing on self-reports of student engagement, student self-management, self-direction, and self-efficacy, instructor engagement and presence, a sense of learning community, and student and instructor satisfaction. This session uses one empirical study as an example of effective case-making with home-grown, faculty data.

Session goals:

Through whole group and small group discussions, this session intends to:
* Discuss a study of self-reports and course evaluations from faculty completers of our five-course online teaching certificate;
* Examine key findings related to faculty learning, student success, and faculty development effectiveness;
* Crowdsource from participants similar experiences of faculty training as credible measures of online faculty development effectiveness; and
* Enlist participants to create a "case statement" of credible measures of online faculty development effectiveness in order to increase buy-in and support from faculty and university administration.

Background. Our online teaching certificate is a series of five courses, including self-directed/self-paced courses as well as multi-week, cohort-based courses. Created in 2010, the online teaching certificate takes about 30 hours over eight weeks to complete and includes the following courses: Introduction to Online Teaching, Accessibility in Online Teaching, Using the LMS, Effective Online Instruction, and Instructor Presence. The certificate courses address approximately 30 research-based competencies in the area of online pedagogy, course administration, and use of technology. To date, over 160 faculty have completed the online teaching certificate.

The first three courses are self-paced and self-directed and take between one and three hours to complete. Comprehension checks throughout and completion of a course evaluation result in a notice of completion for these courses. While the courses contain content about online teaching competencies, those competencies are not directly assessed in real time and actual or simulated teaching. The fourth and fifth courses are cohort-based and instructor-led over three and four weeks. These courses give faculty the experience of being an online student, requiring them to contribute to discussions and produce examples of welcome letters, communications with students gone missing, scenarios of student accessibility issues and student conflicts, and personalized messages to increase instructor presence. Many of the assignments are competency based within the artificial space of the digital classroom, akin to demonstrating competencies in a flight simulator instead of a real aircraft aloft.

This study follows up, in a survey and interviews, with faculty certificate completers by determining, from their point of view, the extent to which they applied learning from the training courses to their online teaching and to what extent their teaching effectiveness has been improved by their certificate experiences. The study was also interested in answering:

* Do our certificate courses matter to the faculty completing them?
* To what extent does the application of training persist over time?
* Do faculty perceive themselves developing competencies in the areas of pedagogy, course administration, and use of technology?
* To what extent has their experience with the certificate and subsequent online teaching impacted their residential teaching?
* What influence, if any, does certificate completion have on faculty taking our online training elective courses? and
* To what extent is the credential an incentive for faculty?

Session outcomes:

Participants will:
* Identify key theories of action with respect to faculty training and student success;
* Consider how faculty self-reports on application of learning to online teaching can become credible measures of online faculty development effectiveness;
* Learn in detail about our five-course online teaching certificate and see examples of courses;
* Contribute, through whole group and small group work, the most important elements of a compelling "case statement" for online faculty development intended to improve faculty buy-in and university administrative support.

The work of online faculty development units and centers is crucial to the success of a university's online teaching and learning initiative. Funding and political support for online faculty development can be impermanent or, in some cases, currently non-existent. Yet, online teaching requires a very different set of skills and understandings than teaching face-to-face. Online students succeed when taught by quality instructors. The case needs to be continually made, and in the case of this session, by using faculty data, that online faculty development matters.