May 9, 2011

Practical Strategies for Online Faculty Orientation

By: in Distance Learning Administration

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Regardless of how much teaching experience you have, there’s often a good measure of anxiety when you teach your very first online course. Beyond the pedagogical hurdles, you wonder if students will be able to tell that you’re new to the online classroom, whom you can turn to for tech support, and how you can be more efficient with your time.

At Penn State World Campus, new instructors have a three-part training program that includes online pedagogy, a tour of the Learning Management System (LMS), and an orientation on the nuts and bolts of teaching in an online classroom. The goal is to streamline the teaching and learning process, and minimize the learning curves for new instructors.

In the online seminar How to Orient New Instructors to an Online Course FAST!, Jennifer Berghage, an instructional designer at Penn State World Campus, discussed her approach to orienting new instructors. It all begins with a comprehensive instructor tip sheet, which lives within the course site hidden from students but is always just a click away from instructors.

“What the tip sheet does is really highlight the administrative and participatory actions needed for modular lessons,” said Berghage. “Very often instructors new to teaching online are not used to what it is they have to do to interact with the students. It’s not like you’re standing in front of a classroom, so this tip sheet helps them understand that. I would probably say that a well-designed tip sheet is magic.”

The tip sheets contain both standard information and customized information, based on specific course and instructor preferences. The standard information explains how to use the announcement tool, set up office hours, set up chat spaces, and send an email greeting, as well as contact information for the instructional designer, help desk and student services. Customized information may relate to how to assign teams, whether to use peer evaluation, which assignments are ungraded but require feedback, and when to bring in outside articles or other resources.

As part of the orientation, Berghage also conducts individual website walk-through with each new instructor. The walk-through takes about 90 minutes and helps instructors get comfortable navigating within the course shell.

“Very often I will take the instructor through the pathway of the student,” she said. “It’s really kind of amazing how many instructors will be teaching an online course and never actually go to the website, never actually go through the steps that the student would go through. So I’ll take them, and I’ll say ‘You drive’ and they hate it and they laugh, but then you can hear the anxiety sort of diminish and you watch them build confidence, and it’s very satisfying for the instructors as well as for us.”

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