Professional development in best practices for online teaching is essential to ensure the success of new online instructors. At Bay Path College, we have established a three-tiered, comprehensive faculty development initiative that incorporates a cohort-based orientation, peer-mentoring, and ongoing support. This program allows faculty to work together with their peers to learn about online learning pedagogy, experience what it’s like to be an online student, develop and/or personalize the course that they will be teaching, and receive the support they need to transition to teaching their course and through the course itself.
In order to prepare instructors for the challenges and rewards of teaching online, a comprehensive faculty development program is necessary to prepare new faculty for the experience of transitioning their skills to the online classroom. The first component of the Excellence in Online Education initiative is the requirement to successfully complete the Faculty Orientation to Online Education course, regardless of their previous online teaching experience. This allows us to ensure that all our instructors have an understanding of how online learning works at Bay Path. This facilitated, online course runs for eight weeks and begins with an introduction to online learning pedagogy and covers such topics as building community in an online course, how to assess online learners, and how to integrate web 2.0 tools into the virtual classroom. It takes faculty through the process of developing their course content and setting up their course site in the LMS. Upon the completion of the orientation, instructors have a fully developed and approved online course that they are prepared to teach. By requiring that the orientation be completed at least four weeks before the commencement of the instructor’s first course, we can easily identify any concerns or problems early in the process and work with the instructors to help them be better prepared, ultimately improving the quality of the students’ experience in the course.
The second component of the Excellence in Online Education Initiative involves mentorship. At the start of the orientation, participants are assigned a mentor who is currently teaching an online course. Participants are given guest access to their mentor’s course so they can benefit from seeing a live class, observing asynchronous discussions in progress, and having an additional resource available to them when they have questions. In working with the mentor and the orientation facilitator, participants are engaged in a supportive, interactive process designed to prepare them to teach their first online course successfully.
Once the course is developed, it is reviewed by our Center for Distributed Learning as well as by a content expert in the subject area. The course review process involves the use of checklists that we have developed to ensure that all essential parts of the syllabus and course are in place. Participants are presented with a copy of the checklists at the start of the orientation and the checklists are used throughout the course review process to assist in making modifications to the course prior to its approval. Providing feedback during course development, along with other technical and instructional support services available to faculty, make up the third tier of the Excellence in Online Education initiative. This three-tiered approach to faculty development allows our faculty to gain confidence in their ability to successfully teach online.
The Excellence in Online Education Initiative has allowed us to ensure that all faculty who will be teaching online courses have received instruction in online education and our expectations for how online learning works. The course development and approval process that occurs helps to ensure the quality of the courses that will be delivered, and helps the institution to guarantee that our students have the best opportunity possible to meet the prescribed learning outcomes for their online courses.
A recent survey we conducted shows that faculty satisfaction with the orientation is high. Participants responded with high ratings indicating that the orientation made them feel better prepared to teach online (4.67 on a 5 point scale) and that the experience was valuable to their professional growth (4.5 on a 5 point scale). One instructor who had taught online elsewhere before remarked that our orientation was “more thorough and substantive than the previous training that I received”. Another stated “I never received the amount of ‘Grade A’ support and feedback until I went through this training”.
The support and training that faculty members receive during the orientation helps them develop a solid working relationship with our Center for Distributed Learning. This relationship is important to faculty; they learn where they can go for assistance with the LMS and with online learning-related issues. This continuing support that is available to them helps reinforce their confidence in their online teaching abilities and helps ensure that students have a positive experience in their online course.
This initiative aligns with the faculty satisfaction pillar in that it helps faculty feel better prepared and more satisfied with their role as an online instructor. The orientation and support from the mentor and CDL help increase instructors’ confidence in their online teaching abilities and they know who they can turn to when they need additional assistance. It also helps with student satisfaction; students benefit when their courses are taught by well-trained instructors. When instructors are comfortable with the LMS and understand how to interact with learners in an online environment, students reap the benefits of having instructors who are focused on their academic success instead of struggling with the technology.
The only additional costs associated with administering this initiative beyond its initial development and implementation are the salaries of those who facilitate the Faculty Orientation to Online Education course and provide ongoing faculty support.