September 14th, 2010

Observing Online Instruction: View of Instructors and Students

By:

The tremendous growth of online learning has been spurred by improved student access, the increased rate of degree completion, and the growth of varied and/or professional education1 (Seaman and Allen, 2008). For long-term success in online education , institutions must establish an overall program composed of recruitment, training, scheduling, and mentoring. They also need a system for evaluating and observing faculty to ensure that course standards are maintained and courses are taught within institutional policies.

Park University has developed the faculty online observation (FOO) system that allows for an annual observation of each of the 400+ online adjunct faculty members. The FOO was developed on the basis of research in the area of evaluation and observation, to include Best Practices 2 , the Seven Principles of Effective Teaching 3 , Quality Matters, and Principles of Effective Teaching in the Online Classroom 4 . The FOO allows observers to observe the facilitation of courses and includes five major portions of classroom facilitation: building community in the classroom; discussion, facilitation, and instruction; assessment, grading, and feedback; course climate and online classroom environment; and online instructor response time.

It was important to determine the importance that faculty placed on the areas of the FOO concerning their view of facilitation topics that they are “judged” by. To determine this, the faculty members were surveyed in March – April 2010. There were 268 respondents that responded to 39 items in a Likert style questionnaire. Concerning building community in the classroom, e-mail and discussion threads were very important, as well as new learner concerns. Likewise, instructors placed a high importance on responding to e-mails in a timely manner, while not as much importance was placed on grade book comments. Instructors were not as apt to place a high importance on discussion facilitation and instruction. Only 6 of 10 felt it was very important to provide feedback on homework assignments and term papers. Fewer felt this way concerning threaded discussions, core assessments, and auto-graded assignments, and discussion board submissions’ grade book comments. These are considered critical items of observation and thus it is of some concern that faculty does not place these items as a higher priority. Seven of 10 instructors felt that instructors should grade all assignments in a timely manner, but only five of 10 felt that instructors should provide helpful, individualized, constructive feedback on all graded assignments.

Instructors placed a high importance on observation items related to course climate and the online classroom environment. Eight of 10 felt it was very important for instructors to maintain a positive atmosphere in the online classroom and communicate clearly throughout the course. nine of 10 instructors felt that it was very important that the instructor model proper online classroom behavior. The results from the survey will be very helpful in the determination of both future training needs and as points of discussion in the determination of specific areas facilitation and observation of online courses. There are certainly a number of points of concern that need to be addressed. Most importantly, specific areas considered as “critical areas” by the FOO observers and not considered as “very important” will be starting points for discussion and possible training or requirement adjustments.

1. Allen, E. I. and J. Seaman, Staying the course: Online Education in the United States, 2008, The Sloan Consortium, November, 2008. Retrieved March 18, 2009 from
http://www.sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/staying_the_course-2.pdf.

2. Park University, (2004). SOL Principles and Standards. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from Park University School for Online Learning Web site: http://www.park.edu/online/faculty/Best_Practices/principles_and_standards.html

3. Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann. (1996). “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. AHHE Bulletin, October, pp 3-6. http://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven.html.

4. Weiss, R.E., Knowlton, D.S., & Speck, B. W. (Eds.) (2004). Principles of Effective Teaching in the Online Classroom. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

Michael T. Eskey, PhD is an associate professor of criminal justice at Park University.