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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

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One Professor, Two TAs, and an Online Course: A Teaching Team Shares Their Experiences

Davin Carr-Chellman (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Michelle Covert (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Additional Authors
Jinhee Choi (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 1:45pm
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 1

An online Teaching Team provides insight into their team dynamics, interactions with students, observed student interactions, and concerns as online educators.

Extended Abstract

This presentation shares the experiences of one teaching team working together in an online course. The team taught one graduate level Adult Education course during spring of 2015. The team consisted of an Assistant Professor and a doctoral student and doctoral candidate, who functioned as paid and unpaid teaching assistants, respectively. The teaching assistants (TAs) were assigned to work primarily with specific teams of students in the students' discussion forums and via email while the Professor monitored their interactions, participated with all groups, and was solely responsible for creating, disseminating, and grading assignments. They met weekly via Skype for approximately one hour to discuss the class and their teaching experiences.

A plethora of extant literature exists about the experiences of TAs in traditional classrooms as well as the experiences of instructors teaching online individually. Additionally, literature currently exists depicting the positive effects of students' team learning environments in online distance education. However, there are gaps in the literature, thus in our understanding, of the online teaching experiences of TAs as well as in our understanding of the experiences of TAs and faculty members engaged in team teaching in online distance education.

In this presentation, we will utilize a framework developed by Berge (1995) and expanded on by Ashton, Roberts, and Teles (1999), Bonk, Kirkley, Hara, and Dennen (2001), and Liu, Bonk, Magjuka, Lee, and Su (2005) to explain our shared pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical roles as online instructors and how they were manifested in our division of labor. Particular attention will be paid to our pedagogical and social roles. We contend that the products of our reflections on our team teaching experiences, presented via the framework, will contribute to the understanding of online teaching teams and may provide data that could lead to improvements in the field.

The presentation will focus on four particularly salient areas of our shared experience and how they fit within the pedagogical, managerial, social, and technical roles: Teaching Team dynamics, instructor/TA and student dynamics, group dynamics among students (based on the Teaching Team's observations), and the TAs general concerns.

The teaching team found that the TAs' roles, the instructor's role, TAs' necessary skills, and team communication were the four most examined areas when discussing the team's dynamics. For instance, all team members performed aspects of each of the four roles, but there were aspects of roles (i.e. grading papers, course and media design) that the TAs did not perform while the instructor performed all aspects of all of the four roles.

Communication and role concerns were consistently at the forefront of team communication regarding the dynamics between the instructor/TAs and students. Within each role, there were aspects that proved to be more challenging for the TAs. For example, the TAs were often concerned about the quality and effectiveness of their feedback to students and worked diligently with the course instructor to overcome these obstacles in their teaching.

The group dynamics among students as observed by the Teaching Team were impacted primarily by student participation and team chemistry. The team discussed issues, as wells as areas of success, that they saw in the student groups at length throughout the thirteen week course. There were vast differences in participation between each student group that contributed to the team's insight into reasons behind varying student participation and methods the team could use to facilitate interaction in the discussion forums.

Finally, the team focused intently each week on the TAs' general concerns. As issues arose, many of which were shared by the TAs, the professor mentored the TAs and the TAs, in turn, supported each other professionally and emotionally. The concerns were varied and included the TAs feeling intimidated by highly accomplished students, concerns about how to deal with excellent posts that appear at the end of the week and go unnoticed or unexplored, concerns about effectively facilitating students' persistence in the course, concerns about appropriate communication with students, and concerns regarding best practices for supporting participation in the student groups.

Each of the four key roles (pedagogical, managerial, social, and technical) will be represented on one slide each with examples from each of the corresponding key areas (Teaching Team dynamics, instructor/TA and student dynamics, group dynamics among students, and the TAs' general concerns) listed under the appropriate role. Details regarding the team's process and how they worked through issues and concerns will be discussed. The presentation will also consist of an introduction and findings/recommendations slides for a total of six slides. The presenters will engage participants in discussions of effective online pedagogy, effective mentoring techniques, and the transformative potential of group dynamics in the online environment.