4 Pieces of Advice for Schools Just Getting Started with Online Learning…

Our guest post for this week is from Leah MacVie, an Instructional Designer at Canisius College. If this post pushes your buttons you may want to watch her recent Innovators webinar: Preparing Faculty of all Technology Levels to Teach Online – Blended – Hybrid. Enjoy!

Preparing Faculty to Teach OnlineLast Friday I did a webinar for SoftChalk, “Preparing Faculty of All Technology Levels to Teach Online-Blended-Hybrid.” I have received loads of comments since then and wanted to share four pieces of advice I would give to colleges getting started with online learning.

  1. Online Faculty Training
    Our core workshop, the Online Course Development Workshop is a 5 week, fully online training program set up to teach faculty how to teach online. It runs five times a year and it has produced one hundred and twenty five graduates since its first launch two and a half years ago. Our faculty are not required to complete any trainings on campus. While it would be nice to have the support to make our workshops mandatory, I wonder sometimes if making training mandatory might backfire. Would faculty be as intrinsically invested in it if they had to take it, if they ‘needed’ a grade?  Thus far we have experienced a lot of success and one byproduct has been the faculty and staff who have become advocates after they completed the training. Perhaps the workshop wouldn’t be as successful if it was mandatory. Since we’ve had so much success not making our training mandatory, I would encourage schools just getting started with online education to try this route first.
  2. Creating Policy for Online Learning
    About two years ago, I drafted up an online education quality assurance policy proposal and a proposal for an office of online education. Yes, audacious after only having been employed by the college for a year! I didn’t expect it to get passed; I simply wanted to start the conversation. I interviewed about 50 people- faculty, staff, and students who were involved in online education. My department helped me to firm up the language and it was sent to our Vice President of Academic Affairs and then on to the President. After being reviewed by many sub-committees at the senior level, the President assembled a task force that would tackle many of the issues and questions presented in the proposal, such as quality assurance, intellectual property, and faculty training. The task force worked on it for a year and then it went back to the President. We are still waiting to find out what will happen to it, but I am hopeful that after all this work it will be incorporated into our college vision. This proposal became a manifesto of sorts for me- how wonderful online learning can be and what we need to do to make it happen at our institution. Issues, comments, and questions are still being raised about how online education fits into our mission at the college, but we at least have something to refer to when those questions do get raised, even if it’s not ‘policy’ yet. For schools just getting started with online learning, I would encourage you to have a document that addresses questions and concerns about online learning, even if it isn’t policy, yet.
  3. Online Faculty Development Path
    We all have faculty of different technology levels and I think some faculty who aren’t as tech savvy see that as a bad thing, like they can never catch up. It is important to have a ‘baby steps’ motto, coaching faculty one step at the time. As faculty developers, we are here to help them get from where they are, to where they want to be. There is no pressure to leap from one stage to another. For this reason, it’s important to offer a variety of options for training. We offer 3 base online teaching workshops- blended/hybrid, online, and advanced technologies online. None of these are mandatory, nor are they pre-requisites to each other. They are lively, fun, and they teach faculty what they need to know to get the job done with an introduction to the theory. To start out this path, there is a survey for teaching online to help faculty self-assess where they might start. Secondly, there are plenty of resources along the way for them to download and utilize when they need them, such as the online course review tool or the Griff Guide to Teaching Online. Finally, there are plenty of opportunities for development- workshops, conferences, and support groups. For schools just getting started with online learning, having an online faculty development path gives faculty a place to start their development journey.
  4. Core Technologies
    Lastly, I’m a big fan of being a master of some (this is a Softchalk blog, right?!). It can be overwhelming for faculty to try and incorporate technology. This is why we decided to train on a few core educational technologies that offer a ton of value. For example, we invest in two signature technologies on campus, GoToMeeting and Softchalk. Both of these products help faculty who teach online bring the ‘human touch’ to their students. While GoToMeeting allows individuals around the world to communicate in real time, Softchalk allows instructor to present to their students asynchronously and with style. Students have noted that these are both pieces that have made their online courses a wonderful experience. For a school new to online learning, investing in core educational technologies helps faculty to help themselves and is therefore worth investing in.

In conclusion, getting colleges started with online learning is not easy. There are logistical hurdles every institution has to jump over, but there is also a ‘public relations’ aspect to getting an entire campus and campus community on board with online offerings. Putting key pieces in place, such as an online faculty development path, trainings, a ‘proposed policy’, and core technologies will give individuals a place to start. Good luck to all those just getting started out there!

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