Training and Preparing Your Faculty for Teaching Online

This year we have seen a growing proliferation of proposed online degree programs, as more institutions feel the pressure of needing to increase enrollment and revenue without also increasing expenditures in physical infrastructure. Most recently, Indiana has launched an online-only university to serve rural adults, and the University of California has decided to invest between $5 and $6 million in piloting online programs in preparation for offering online undergraduate degrees. These announcements coincide with the distribution of research studies that continue to raise questions regarding how to ensure the quality of instruction offered in some online programs and courses. This week saw a paper, for instance, questioning the quality of instruction offered in video lectures.

These ongoing concerns suggest the need to place more priority on training and preparing faculty for teaching online. In a recent interview with Academic Impressions, Charles D. Dziuban, director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida, offered strategies for ensuring that:

  • You have hired adequate faculty for your online degree program
  • The faculty are the right fit for the online program
  • You are delivering the training and faculty development needed

Two Options

Dziuban notes that you really have two options in faculty selection for an online program. You can hire new faculty, or you can repurpose some of your current faculty and move them to the online initiative, or you can hire new faculty. Hiring new faculty will require a thorough look at their online teaching credentials; repurposing current faculty will require an investment in training. Both will require an investment in systemic support.

Hiring Young Faculty: Finding the Right Fit

Dziuban cautions that fit for an online program is absolutely critical, so hiring new faculty requires a careful look at their credentials. You will want to understand their depth and breadth of experience teaching online and you will want to understand how it fits with your program.

For example, do new faculty candidates have experience with:

  • Teaching individual, "one-off" courses
  • Teaching a departmental boutique of courses
  • Teaching as part of a systemic initiative, where entire programs have moved online

You will want to make sure that their specific experience matches what you need. "Assess their readiness in a standard, systemic way," Dziuban advises, "by designing a faculty readiness protocol."

"Define the experience needed, the platforms they need to be familiar with, how many courses they need to have taught, and what kind of courses. Use this protocol to recruit faculty and assess their readiness for teaching online."
Charles Dziuban, U of Central Florida

Repurposing Faculty: Keys to Successful Training

Dziuban advises providing a comprehensive faculty development program for your online instructors. The core of a successful program could be a blended training course in which faculty address pedagogical challenges in online education with instructional design support. Training is not something you can cut corners on.

For example, offer an eight-week, blended course. Work with the deans to select the faculty who will take the course, and keep the training aligned with departmental goals and needs. The key features of the training should include:

  • Seeing and working in the online environment first-hand
  • Experiencing a blended course from the perspective of a student
  • Problem-solving with colleagues to address scenarios presenting pedagogical challenges
  • Practicing, presenting, and showcasing the initial models they develop for their course

To get the most benefit out of the training and to best prepare faculty for teaching online, Dzuiban recommends:

  • Interdisciplinary attendance -- have faculty from different disciplines collaborating to meet shared challenges
  • Offer a cadre of instructional designers who will meet with the faculty during the training and offer ongoing support post-training
  • Recruit a cadre of knowledgeable undergraduates to assist with technical support and assistance for faculty who are new to interactive learning technologies

(For more advice on using undergraduates to mentor faculty, refer to our November 2009 article featuring tips from Patricia McGee on training faculty in the use of interactive learning technologies).

"Remove as many obstacles as possible for faculty, so they can focus on the teaching."
Charles Dziuban, U of Central Florida

While there is an up-front cost to providing effective training, this investment will pay off in improved student success and satisfaction down the line.

Making the Case for Faculty Training

"Faculty are busy," Dziuban quips. "You really need to convince them of what's in it for them." Beyond advising faculty members that the training will aid them in developing effective pedagogy to meet the demands of today's students, Dziuban recommends incentives that have worked at various institutions to encourage faculty participation and engagement in training:

  • Offer a stipend, a new laptop computer, or a course release
  • Underwrite support for research into pedagogy in teaching and learning online

For example, the University of Central Florida's Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness makes this offer to faculty:

  • We will help you design the study
  • We will get the data collection protocols in place
  • We will analyze the data
  • We will report the data in publication quality format
  • We will help you travel to a conference or to association meetings to present your research findings

"Do everything you can to support this," Dziuban suggests. "Help your faculty position your institution as a leader in online education."

Provide Systemic Support

"It is a mistake to put the onus on the faculty alone. Without systemic institutional support, these faculty are likely to founder."
Charles Dziuban, U of Central Florida

Regardless of whether you hire young faculty or train your existing professors, Dziuban emphasizes that faculty development and support for an online degree program cannot be an unfunded mandate. Online learning needs to be part of the strategic initiative for your institution, rather than a bullet point in the strategic plan. "Does online learning play a role in division objectives and strategic priorities? If it does, you can make the case to devote the resources needed to make it successful."