Not only did COVID-19 force faculty to move to remote instruction this past spring, but anticipating a continued outbreak has also required them to plan for teaching hybrid or fully online courses during the fall term. For faculty with experience teaching online, the shift requires little more than leaving enough time to properly prepare their online course. For those with little to no experience teaching online, however, this change may require a significant training initiative for colleges to adequately prepare faculty for a full semester of quality online or hybrid instruction.
Despite this past spring’s rapid induction into e-learning, faculty may still feel very unprepared for teaching in an online environment. Faculty new to higher education or who did not teach during the spring term may have no experience teaching from a distance. Here are five tips faculty development professionals can use to design a training that will help faculty not only acclimate to teaching online but also be good at it.
Develop your training in the learning management system (LMS) and have faculty participate fully as students. This training should include reviewing new content, submitting assignments and quizzes, and participating in online discussions. Even if you plan to deliver the content face-to-face, ask faculty to bring laptops so they can access materials online. Being online students can help shape the way faculty view the online learning experience. Also, it will help them troubleshoot problems that might occur when they are teaching online. Students may have questions about matters as simple as downloading a document or uploading an assignment. Faculty who have experienced the LMS from the student’s perspective will be better prepared to troubleshoot in advance or to help when questions arise.
Training in the LMS also allows faculty to see firsthand what a quality online course can look like. As you develop your online training course, be sure to include all the elements you want faculty to add to their course. Include the session’s objectives, and chunk material appropriately in the course. Even in short trainings it is beneficial to model proper design and communication. Don’t forget to send a welcome message, add an “about me” section, and upload your syllabus or agenda. We also suggest a course tour to help faculty feel more confident navigating the course content.
Teaching online can be complicated and requires careful planning. After a rather perilous induction to teaching within an LMS, faculty may feel overwhelmed and nervous about the upcoming academic year. Now is not the time to share all the bells and whistles of the LMS or the many add-on applications that can be accessed.
Help faculty transition to teaching online by sharing only the most need-to-know components of the LMS. If faculty have very specific questions about how they can reproduce a complicated project or teaching process, you can pull them aside and give them ideas individually. For all others, teach them to use the common tools (e.g., the grade book, discussion boards, and how to embed videos) with efficiency.
Even for institutions with full-time staff devoted to the training and development of online instructors, we recommend asking faculty to lead the development sessions. Our institution was able to train over 600 faculty in four weeks of intensive boot camps with the help of a cross-disciplinary team of 15 highly skilled online faculty. Recruiting these excellent instructors not only increased the number of faculty we could serve over a short period of time but also provided faculty participants with access to an experienced colleague who could share their own personal experiences, tips, and cautions (Vaill & Testori, 2012). In addition, faculty leaders can show their own online courses, which provide meaningful examples of quality online design.
Design a course shell that will allow faculty to play in the LMS without consequences, and make a copy for every person new to teaching online. Let them practice creating content, linking to outside resources, adding quizzes and tests, and developing other online assignments. These playgrounds offer faculty a way to explore and become familiar with the tools of the LMS (Lorenzetti, 2009) without the fear of messing something up in a course that will be used to teach students.
Our playground courses incorporate starter modules so faculty could see an example of a suggested model for online course design. They also include a “start here” module comprised of several common online sections, among them an area to upload a syllabus; a section for an about me video or statement; and links to helpful resources, such as video, to troubleshoot any LMS problems. For faculty new to teaching online, these may be resources they’ve not thought about including in face-to-face classes but that are critical for online learners. Our playground course not only allowed faculty to work online without fear of messing up but also modeled engaging online content.
There are many ways to design a successful online learning module, but when time is limited, faculty may be best served by receiving an outline for their content (DuCharme-Hansen & Dupin-Bryant, 2005). Think of an outline as a recipe for instruction. For example, we provided faculty with an outline that included the following:
In addition to providing faculty with a guide to designing a consistent structure for their online or hybrid course, the outline served to sneak in good practice without overwhelming faculty with an abundance of new information. For instance, the module overview contained three important components with brief descriptions of how to complete the section. Faculty readily prepared their outlines with the requested two- to three-sentence overview of why the module’s content matters without asking whether they had to include it. Without the outline’s prompting, faculty may have failed to include this very important introduction to the topic.
These five tips are designed to not only help faculty quickly prepare but also provide them with resources that will reduce anxiety during a stressful transition. A program that uses all these approaches will have a foundation whereupon faculty guide their peers with targeted direction and resources designed to leave room for individual preference while also promoting excellent online teaching. Simplicity of approach and structure mean faculty are not overwhelmed by learning new skills. We can assist faculty in their move from being unprepared and overwhelmed to feeling like they have a clear direction and base of support when we pair targeted training with resources that offer clear value in the development of online classes.
DuCharme-Hansen, B. A., & Dupin-Bryant, P. A. (2005). Distance education plans: Course planning for online adult learners. TechTrends, 49(2), 31–39. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02773969
Lorenzetti, J. P. (2009, September 15). Developing faculty competency in online pedagogy. Distance Education Report, 13(18), 5, 8.
Vaill, A. L., & Testori, P. A. (2012). Orientation, mentoring and ongoing support: A three-tiered approach to online faculty development. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2), 111–119. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ971048.pdf
Leah Parsons Simpson, EdD, is the executive director of online learning for the Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges System, where she leads system-wide online learning initiatives, including quality improvement training and development.
Juli Gatling Book, PhD, leads online learning special initiatives for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, including faculty development and support. She oversaw the development and implementation of the KCTCS Optimizing Online Learning (KOOL) hybrid course boot camps, which helped hundreds of faculty quickly become more comfortable teaching online.