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When 'One Size Fits All' Really Doesn't Fit All: The Experience of Teaching Online

Elizabeth Gazza (University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 2:45pm
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 5
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 3
Virtual Session

Attendees will learn about the experience of teaching online and identify faculty development needs, variations in pedagogy, and how online teaching can enhance work life.

Extended Abstract

Faculty members who teach online most likely began their careers facilitating learning in traditional classroom settings. A common assumption is that the knowledge and skills needed to teach in traditional settings translate to online education and the only difference between the two is the instructional delivery method. The same is true of the documents that govern faculty teaching in higher education. In many cases, the policies, practices, and guidelines used for online teaching were originally written for traditional classroom teaching. Is this 'one size fits all' approach appropriate for a rapidly growing sector of higher education?

Nursing faculty members at one Southeastern university were to transition a hybrid registered nurse-to-bachelor of science in nursing (RN-BSN) program to an accelerated fully-online program. Dramatic enrollment increases were projected for the new program. This prompted discussions about class size and workload, as well as faculty development needs specific to teaching online and effectively managing and facilitating learning in online courses with high enrollments. If 'one size fits all' is appropriate, governing documents would have been in place and faculty who previously taught in the classroom would have the knowledge and skills needed to teach online. Rather than accepting this common assumption, a study was completed to uncover the lived experience of nursing faculty teaching online courses in a nursing education program.

Hermeneutic phenomenology was used for the Institutional Review Board-approved study. Full-time nursing faculty who completed at least 50% of their teaching workload assignment by teaching fully online courses in an BSN, RN-BSN, MSN, DNP, and/or PhD in nursing program were eligible to participate. Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit participants who had the experience of interest. Fourteen nursing faculty from ten different institutions located in nine different states in the United States including four Northeastern, two Northern, and three Southern states participated in the study. Data were collected through use of a demographic questionnaire and a personal interview with each participant. Interviews were conducted by phone or web conferencing, audio recorded, and transcribed.

Descriptive statistics were calculated for each item on the demographic questionnaire. Twelve females and 2 males participated in the study. A majority of the participants were doctorally-prepared (n=12) and 51 years of age or older (n=12). Participants taught between 3-60 credits hours during the contract term of the previous academic year (M = 20.6; Mdn-21.5; Mode = 24). Teaching workload specific to online teaching also ranged from 3-60 credit hours (M = 18.9; Mode = 3 and 24). Eleven taught class sections with 30 or fewer students, while three taught sections with 31 or more (Mode = 16-30 students/section).

Transcribed interview data were analyzed using a 5-step process. Four themes emerged from the interview data including: 1.) Looking at a lot of moving parts, 2.) Always learning new things, 3.) Going back and forth, and 4.) Time is a blessing and a curse. Nursing faculty who complete at least 50% of their teaching workload through online teaching described being attentive to and manage multiple variables that can influence teaching in online courses. They are always learning new tools and approaches to teaching, including new technology, software, and/or teaching strategies. Teaching online in nursing education involves interaction between teacher and student. This requires time and occurs during undefined hours and within undefined spaces. The faculty members feel they must be accessible and available to their students and like the flexibility of teaching online.

Study findings indicate that online differs from traditional classroom teaching in ways that extend beyond delivery method and that faculty development is an integral part of teaching online. This seems to indicate that 'one size does not fit all.' During this interactive session attendees will learn about the experience of teaching online for the purpose of identifying faculty development needs, exploring variations in pedagogy between online and classroom teaching, and determining how online teaching could be used for faculty recruitment and retention. They will also have the opportunity to share best practices from their own experiences. The goal of the session is to help attendees identify strategies for enhancing the online teaching experience and specifically the support need to effectively teach online. Faculty who teach online or have an interest in doing so, administrators who oversee online programs and faculty, and those in teaching excellence centers and E-Learning departments responsible for faculty development would benefit from participating in this session. Slides of the presentation will be available on the conference website.

Lead Presenter

Dr. Elizabeth Gazza is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She earned a BSN and MSN from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD in Nursing from Duquesne University where she had her first experience with online education. She has been in nursing education for nearly 20 years and has taught in all levels of nursing education. She has held positions of faculty, program director, dean, and interim vice-president of academic affairs. She has over 6 years of online teaching experience and has published on topics related to online nursing education.