tips for online faculty
When Sheri Litt became dean of arts and sciences at Florida State College’s Open Campus, one of her priorities was to address the issue of online learner satisfaction and success. “We started looking at the data,” Litt says. “We looked at students’ comments on surveys to find out what they were disappointed with in their online courses. And a lot of comments [said, in essence,] ‘I felt my instructor didn’t care’ or ‘I felt my instructor would just log in once every six weeks’ or ‘It would take an entire semester for the instructor to grade an assignment, and [he or she] didn’t really give me any feedback so I could develop my skills.’” Based on this qualitative approach, Litt and her colleagues developed a set of best practices that have improved student motivation, satisfaction, and success.
Careful preparation is essential to the success of an online course “to provide a positive experience for the students and to be able to maximize your time with students so that you’re not spending time on reworking things that weren’t clear up front,” says Ann Millacci, associate professor of education at the University of Cincinnati. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following advice on preparing your course for your learners:
In small online courses, instructors have the luxury of participating in frequent personal interactions with students in online discussions. But doing this with more than 15 students can be difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to maintain instructor presence and participation in online discussions without becoming overwhelmed. In an interview with Online Classroom, Heidi Ash, online program director for the Department of Health Studies at Texas Woman’s University, offered the following ways to address this issue:
I have been teaching online courses for more than eight years now. I was one of the first at my previous institution to transition a face-to-face (F2F) course to a 100% online course and now, in addition to my F2F courses, I also teach for two fully online institutions. However, I still find many of my F2F colleagues reluctant to make that transition.
Faculty use asynchronous discussions to extend and enhance instructional practices in the online classroom. It is widely reported that online discussions play an integral role in facilitating students’ learning, as well as fostering dialogue, critical thinking, and reflective inquiry (Kayler & Weller, 2007; Morris, Finnegan, & Sz-Shyan, 2005). Despite faculty’s knowledge that discussion forums can serve as a useful learning tool, online discussions are not easy to establish and manage.
Through regular student feedback, Jennifer Luzar, associate professor of language arts at Northwood University, has compiled the following things students want in their online courses and ways that she has adapted her instruction accordingly.
1. Quick responses – From the time she started teaching online, Luzar has made it a point to respond as soon as possible to her students. The typical reply from students is, “Wow! Thanks for the quick response,” as if this is not usually the case. “I used to be surprised by that because I feel that as online instructors it is our responsibility to try to get back to these people as quickly as possible,” Luzar says.
As online education enrollment increases, (Allen & Seaman, 2011), innovative practices are needed to improve quality instruction. One area that needs further exploration is that of promoting online students’ self-efficacy. In this article we examine the concept of self-efficacy, as it pertains to the online classroom, and offer practical suggestions for online instructors.
There are many ways to provide feedback to students in an online course. When selecting the type and frequency of feedback, consider what the students want and how they will benefit from it without creating an unreasonable amount of work for yourself. In an interview with Online Classroom, Rosemary Cleveland, professor of education, and Kim Kenward, instructional designer at Grand Valley State University, offered the following advice on how to manage feedback in the online learning environment:
When designing an online course it’s important to carefully consider which tools align with the course’s learning objectives and the types of communication that will occur.
There are three types of communication that can occur in an online course—one to one, one to many, and many to many. In an interview with Online Classroom, Sara Ombres, faculty development instructor, and Anna Reese, production coordinator/instructional designer, both at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus, talked about how they help instructors select communication tools to suit the situation.
As an online instructor, I require my students to engage in weekly discussion forums. In the online college environment, discussion forums are designed to simulate a professor and his or her students engaged in a traditional classroom discussion. Students respond to a question and then reply to the responses of their classmates. The point is to keep the discussion moving, keep students engaged in the topic for the week, and facilitate learning.