Faculty Focus


Transformative Teaching: How Faculty Can Elevate Their Teaching Through Online Instruction

Transformative teaching during COVID-19

It is safe to say that online instruction may become to the traditional classroom what the telescope is to the naked eye. The future of higher education institutions will be determined by how well they adjust and adapt their classrooms for technological and global social changes now taking place (Penprase, 2018) (Schwab, 2016). COVID-19 has done for teaching in higher education what Boyer’s (1990) model scholarship has done for decades—made us examine and reconsider current educational models and processes.

And, if higher education institutions want to have some success with this change, they must plan immediate effective implementation and utilization of technology to facilitate instruction (Price and Kirkwood, 2014) (Quality Matters, 2020). So, here’s a prediction, in 10 years, we will no longer refer to online teaching as distinct and different from the traditional classroom. The traditional face-to-face classroom will not be considered the default or better than online instruction in higher education. Therefore, successful transformation means faculty must be versed in varied and critical strategies for teaching online in ways that accommodate diverse students’ needs. After all, the primary aim, purpose, and objective of faculty teaching is to engage in the most effective means of facilitating meaningful teaching and learning. Faculty must embrace the value of utilizing technology more effectively to engage students.

Some institutions have already shifted degree program and curriculum priorities, identifying technologically trained faculty, offering tiered completion options, and multi-instructional modalities (Penprase, 2018). The students of the future may need, and even demand, that institutions provide these options and more (Kreber, 2002).

The traditional classroom reconsidered

For some faculty—perhaps many—the traditional classroom is still structured around the “sage on the stage” model. Boyer’s (1990) model of scholarship affirms that faculty teaching methodology must be flexible for an ever-changing professoriate and the students they teach. In the current context, online teaching has opened the doors to possibilities and opportunities to enhance instruction that was previously before only considered by those acclimated to teaching at a distance. By celebrating what’s right with online instruction, we can re-examine our practices and methods of teaching.

Toward transformation

A cultural shift that has been brought to bear on the higher education classroom and there is no turning back. With this in mind, institutions can assist faculty preparing to teach students of the future by developing and maintaining the following:

  • Offering virtual synchronous live classes
  • Developing course maps integrated into the Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Creating interactive course content
  • Hiring course builders, developers, and instructional designers
  • Providing course access across multiple platforms including mobile
  • Ensuring dedicated access to tech support

Moreover, we offer Four Transformative Agents of Teaching as a guide toward effective instruction for the 4th industrial revolution. The four agents include faculty ability to:

  1. Create connections that engage students directly
  2. Commit to empower and influence student learning
  3. Increase attention to the details of delivery
  4. Desire to foster an invigorating learning environment

First, transformative teaching requires that faculty connect with students in the learning process with heightened intentionality. Gone are the days of absent-minded professors that wander into classrooms, stacks of papers in their hands, with no interest in engaging students directly or making modifications that align with best practices associated with student success.

Second, transformative teaching requires commitment—faculty must be immersed in their fields and disciplines to deliver material with passion and energy. Teaching in this way means staying abreast of current and relevant research and events, and synergistically presenting them to students.

Third, transformative teaching requires attention to details. The kinds of details that can mean student involvement, participation, and interest. Faculty willing to create PowerPoints with embedded videos, and those who utilize components of a web conference system to illustrate or demonstrate a concept, while structuring assignments and assessments that offer students a greater sense of learning and accomplishment, and proactively searching out additional tools to facilitate learning may come away with increased satisfaction for the craft.

Fourth, transformative teaching requires desire. Faculty must be motivated to foster an environment of learning through web conferencing, as well as their institution’s learning management system. Faculty willing to stay abreast of technological shifts, enhancements, and changes will be better able to engage students for the 4th industrial revolution.

Preparing to teach students of the future

When universities quickly closed and sent students home, professors were faced with an unprecedented situation. Like a natural disaster, professors took on a first responders’ role and responded. This response included but was not limited to, (1) assuring students that everything would be okay, and that they would get through this tough, challenging, and traumatic time together; (2) determining the best path to facilitate their courses online and what, if any, modifications to the course should be made; and (3) learning about the learning management system (LMS), how to utilize web conferencing, and troubleshooting for students faced with technology access and usage issues (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2002).

Finally, learning about the learning management system and ways to utilize technology to facilitate online instruction is not just for select faculty. It is for all of us. The 4th industrial revolution is here, as COVID-19 quickly revealed. As we look forward, even our face-to-face course development must be reviewed, renewed, and reconsidered for technological upgrades and modifications. We must prepare course facilitation back-ups. The professoriate must consider online teaching as a potential norm and not the exception. We must begin now by asking ourselves: How can our courses be facilitated better? What new technology can be integrated? What lessons/assignments should be incorporated to address student inclusivity? When we ask these questions, we guarantee ourselves increased opportunity to transform and transition a better and stronger institution of higher education for all.

Tracey-Ann Carter is assistant professor of social science/human services and chair of the department. She has taught online since 2018 and serves as a distance education trainer at Allen University.

Toni SimsMuhammad is associate vice president and academic affairs and distance education coordinator at Allen University. She has actively engaged in distance education research and practice for over 20 years.


Boyer EL. (1990) Scholarship reconsidered. Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching/Princeton University Press.

Kreber, C. (2002) Teaching Excellence, Teaching Expertise, and the Scholarship of Teaching. Innovative Higher Education 27, 5–23 https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020464222360

Penprase B.E. (2018) The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Higher Education. In: Gleason N. (eds) Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore

Price, L. & Kirkwood, A. (2014) Using technology for teaching and learning in higher education: a critical review of the role of evidence in informing practice, Higher Education
Research & Development, 33:3, 549-564, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2013.841643

Quality Matters (2020) QM Emergency Remote Instruction (ERI) Checklist Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.qualitymatters.org/qa-resources/resource-center/articles-resources/ERI-Checklist
Schwab, K. (2016) 14 Jan 2016. World Economic Forum. Retrieved on October 16, 2019 from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

University of Missouri-Columbia. (2020, February 24). Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 11, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200224131123.htm