With part-time faculty now the majority of instructors at most higher education institutions, it’s important to provide them with the support they need to succeed. But what kind of support do they find most useful? The answer to this question can help administrators meet adjuncts’ needs and make the best use of limited resources.
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When Hayley Lake, lecturer at Eastern Washington University, got the opportunity to develop an online version of Survey of Alcohol & Drug Problems, a multidisciplinary course that draws students from a variety of majors and backgrounds, she knew that online discussions would be an essential feature of the course. She had taught the course in the face-to-face environment and saw a lot of room for improvement—despite the diversity of students and the inherent potential for lively discussions, the course lacked engagement and rigor.
Because online courses have fewer opportunities for the spontaneous, real-time exchanges of the face-to-face classroom, online instruction requires a deliberate approach to design and facilitation. As Bethany Simunich says, “Online, learning doesn’t happen by chance.” In an interview with Online Classroom, Simunich, associate director of online learning at Kent State University, offered the following techniques to improve an online course:
Consideration of convenience and flexibility typically leads instructors and instructional designers to favor asynchronous over synchronous learning. But given the potential benefits of synchronous communication, perhaps it’s time to rethink the 100 percent asynchronous course.
If you’re having trouble getting students to engage in the discussion forum, perhaps it’s time to rethink how you use this tool. “Think of it as a place to foster interaction between the students through a variety of means rather than just asking them questions, although that’s great too,” says Chris Laney, professor of history and geography at Berkshire Community College.
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.
Cynthia Schmitt, senior director of continuing education at Florida Institute of Technology, tries to make the online learning experience comfortable and efficient for students. Students want their courses to be convenient, easy to use, responsive, and accessible so that the technology does not get in the way of learning. Here are some ways Schmitt recommends achieving these goals:
Clear expectations, structure, and instructor intervention can go a long way toward getting students highly engaged and highly interactive in online discussions.
Online instructors need to be intentional about creating a sense of presence in their courses so that students know that somebody is leading their educational experience. According to Larry Ragan, director of instructional design and development for Penn State’s World Campus, this sense of presence consists of three dimensions: