The Online Learning Summit was the first of its kind for our campus. The Summit was a forum for identifying, sharing and discussing key issues about teaching and learning online. For a day, we invited the several cohorts of faculty who have been engaged in the Center’s programs to join other campus faculty experienced in teaching online to discover what they’ve learned to be effective practice. The event was planned to be the beginning of a knowledge exchange that is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and oriented to the improvement of practice. Before the Summit event, the eight position papers were posted at the Summit website so participants could read and comment ahead of time. During the Summit, the keynote speaker and eight faculty presented ideas about effective practice and then moderated a series of roundtable discussions with faculty participants. We ended the day with a reflection exercise about personal learning. We hope to continue the dialogue through a bi-weekly Online Showcase of courses through the academic year and plan the second conference for next Spring. http://wp.vcu.edu/online-learning-summit/
The uniqueness of this first online learning conference was its intent. We felt that even though many faculty had been teaching online for several years, there was no organizing office or unified policy around online teaching at our University except those within departments and programs. Our University is beginning to focus on online programs with support and mission. It was time to describe the nature of quality online teaching for our campus by our own people with experience. We wanted to give our faculty the opportunity to have a dialogue about quality online teaching among those who have been teaching and those who are beginning to teach in this environment. The basis of teaching online is building community. This conference was meant to begin building our own campus community of online practitioners by the simple means of sharing ideas around a table and a meal. The value of the conference is that the faculty were heard and their experience validated as important information to share. The questions posed for this first Summit were:
• What shifts in practice seem most important for those new to teaching online?
• How does instructor role and identity change as one begins to transition to the online environment?
• How are notions of “teaching online” reshaping expectations for faculty workload?
• What role should professional development play in preparing faculty to teach effectively online? • What resources are necessary to best support faculty members who are in the process of making the transition to online teaching?
• What constitutes effective teaching practice in the online environment?
• What role does / should digital technology play as an element constituting effective practice online?
• How should effective or exemplary online teaching practice be demonstrated and evaluated?
• What practices are essential for supporting online learning regardless of discipline or content?
The papers presented were responses to these questions from these faculty's personal teaching experience. After the positions were presented, we spent an hour discussing them at tables. The moderators took notes. These notes will be summarized as part of the proceedings and posted to the Summit website. These Proceedings and the papers will be available for print.
The initial evidence of need was that registration was full with a wait list two weeks before the event. People apologized if they had to change their plans. Participants were asked by email to evaluate their Summit experience and make suggestions of ways to continue the dialogue through the following academic year and to improve the next Summit. Approximately a third of the participants responded. Some comments
“Thanks for time well spent – I feel enriched and enthusiastic about online teaching. Thanks also for feeding us and the coffee mug to take with us, too.” and
“It was a great chance for faculty from all different disciplines to get together and interact, which does not happen that often. Being able to spend time reflecting with those at our individual tables was a really good way to look at things from many perspectives."
Brief notes from the table moderators:
-Online can be more social than Face-to-face
-Low participation if Discussion not graded
-Balance Content with interaction in the online setting
-Tension with students being self directed in an online course when they are paying 10-15 k to be directed and told
-Design for accessibility at the beginning
-Thinking about motivation for Online students (positive feedback for students)
-Support for technology use in teaching online is significant
-“Mind shift” for online is not obvious (new online practices are unclear)
-Building an Online Persona (who do you want to be online?)
-Online teaching is more challenging (increased availability)
**Required Training for faculty members teaching online. (Baseline, Universal Principles, Best Practices. The summary report of moderator notes and evaluation comments is being compiled for the Proceedings.
Sharing conversation among faculty focused on teaching experience will surface good ideas and lessons learned so that faculty learn from each other how to "take advantage of the unique characteristics of online environments." Faculty new to the online experience hear that online courses can be quality.
By supporting the event and a simple meal, the University commitment to faculty learning about effective online teaching was recognized. Bringing the keynote speaker with 15 years experience to speak about effective practice indicated a change in focus from the administration's perspective. Faculty are more willing to engage in faculty development events related to teaching online when their time commitment is recognized. Some departments noted attendance for the event to assure faculty were credited with being involved.
The room we used seated 96 people at tables for 8 and was no rental cost since it was part of the Student Commons except for the technology support fee. The technology was the usual computer, projector, mics, and internet connection. People brought their own devices to follow along with Twitter.
We used a budget of $5000. The keynote fee and travel expenses plus the breakfast, snacks, and lunch for 96 people were the basic costs. We bought each participant a branded cup to remind them of their connection to this new online community. The event could be well done without the cost of a keynote. We could have gotten by with less cost if we had not offered the simple breakfast but we felt the food was well appreciated. The working lunch made it possible to keep the conversation going.