UMUC's instructor-facilitated, cohort-based, online teacher training course provides faculty with models for online teaching and learning. The asynchronous nature of the course delivery provides ample flexibility and time for reflection while an emphasis on practical application informs much of the content. A sense of faculty community is developed through discussion and interaction with worldwide peers.
Each training section is evaluated by its participants on a Likert scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most positive. The evaluation questions cover course content, design, specific exercises and assignments, and there are five questions related to performance of the trainer. Average evaluation scores are rarely below 4.4 on the 5-point scale. Perhaps the true test of an online teaching training course is how participants feel about it after they have actually accrued some online teaching experience. A question on CTL's recent faculty development survey asked those who had been certified since August 2004 how well the CTLA 201 course had prepared them for teaching online. An impressive proportion, 58.8% of those responding to the question, reported that the training course had prepared them "exceptionally well," with 37.1% rating their preparation as "adequate." By requiring all faculty who teach online to be certified by this training course, UMUC has been able to support our growing online enrollments, totaling 144,000 in fiscal year 2005.
All faculty who teach online for University of Maryland University College (UMUC) must successfully complete a five-week, online, asynchronous training course entitled, CTLA 201, Teaching with WebTycho, offered through the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). This training course, conducted completely online, is delivered via UMUC's proprietary course management software, WebTycho. Both the pedagogy of teaching online as well as software training lessons are combined in this comprehensive course. The course is led by an experienced faculty member who models effective methods of facilitation for a cohort of approximately 20 faculty for each section. Participants in the training course represent UMUC's global faculty and are drawn from every division and discipline. The course has a practical emphasis, and teaching topics covered by the training include differences between online and traditional face-to-face teaching; best practices in design, implementation, interaction and assessment in an online course; creating appropriate assignments and activities for online classes; integrating web and library resources; classroom management and time management in online teaching; using guest speakers; effective faculty-student and student-student interaction; organization of small group activities; and integrating multimedia. Application of a topic to one's own course is emphasized. For example, in learning about the use of rubrics for assessment, faculty are asked to create a rubric for one of their own course assignments. In order to gain a better appreciation for the challenges of working in small groups online, faculty take part in a small group exercise involving a case study. Faculty are expected to make substantive postings in each weekly discussion forum (called conferences). Discussion questions typically ask faculty to reflect on the relevance and application of the course material to their own teaching situations. Exercises related to software mastery and classroom design are completed each week by faculty in the training classroom or their own practice classroom shells. These exercises not only enable faculty to learn the WebTycho course management software but also help faculty experiment with appropriate instructional design concepts. By the end of the course, faculty often have the basic building blocks in place for their actual courses within their practice classroom shells. Exercises related to software mastery and classroom design are completed each week by faculty in the training classroom or their own practice classroom shells. These exercises enable faculty to learn the WebTycho course management software but also help faculty experiment with appropriate instructional design concepts. By the end of the course, faculty often have the basic building blocks in place for their actual courses within their practice classroom shells. To gain a better understanding of the possibilities in design and implementation of online courses, faculty are given an archived classroom of an actual completed online course in their broad discipline area to observe during the period of the training course. They are asked to complete an assignment by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the observation classroom. (Faculty also have the option of viewing courses in their own discipline or those they are scheduled to teach by requesting these from their academic administrator.) UMUC is fortunate to have outstanding electronic library resources available to its faculty and their students. During one week of the training course, a librarian visits the virtual classroom to brief faculty on our library's resources and search strategies, and to explain how librarians can deliver services directly to the online classroom. Faculty are required to perform a library database search, find information resources related to their own courses, and create a sample assignment that incorporates the use of library resources. Through the direct experience of becoming online learners in the CTLA 201 training course, faculty find they develop a first-hand understanding of issues faced by their future online students. Through the series of exercises needed to complete their practice classrooms, faculty establish a good basis for designing their own classrooms. By observing an archived class and the model facilitation and design of the training course itself, faculty have a solid basis on which to build as new online instructors. Finally, by sharing ideas and interaction with peers, trainer, and librarian, faculty benefit from the sense of community and achieve a level of confidence that carries them through to their first online teaching assignment. Faculty who successfully complete the training course receive a hard-copy certificate from the Center for Teaching and Learning and are also given a stipend upon teaching their first class, providing recognition of their efforts during the training and preparation period. Follow-up training and support provides yet another way of ensuring faculty satisfaction. Our Peer Mentoring Program helps bridge the space between the completion of training and encountering the realities of the first teaching assignment. Most of our new faculty are paired with another faculty member with whom they can confer during the entire first semester they are teaching online, giving them a personalized measure of support. We also offer a large program of online faculty development workshops, most of which are asynchronous and facilitated by faculty. These one or two week workshops are free of charge and open to all faculty, and provide an opportunity to focus in depth on a particular topic related to online teaching and learning. Faculty derive a sense of satisfaction from interacting and sharing with their colleagues in these workshops which complement the base-line CTLA 201 training course.
Training faculty in cohorts of 20 is a scalable and cost-effective practice. Faculty trainers can replace or augment training staff, depending on the resources and needs of a university. An initial investment of time and resources must be made to design and create content for the training course. Costs will vary depending on the availability of existing training content, staff that have experience creating such content, and the scope of the course. Also, by using simple graphics and HTML, and limiting multimedia content to low-threshold solutions such as narrated PowerPoint, audio snippets, or other easily assembled elements, the institution can create an appealing course without the costs attendant upon high production values.