If you are a distance education administrator, you know that running an effective program means more than just developing courses and ensuring consistent delivery. It also means complying with key regulations that impact the operations and experience of the program.
Nate Cottle, professor of human environmental sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, uses the process approach to learning as delineated by William Horton (2006) in his online and blended courses. Cottle spoke to Online Classroom about using this model. “Learning isn’t something that has to be confined to the classroom, and so as I teach blended classes, I think the more I can involve the students in learning and the more contexts I can involve them in, the more they’re going to learn,” he said. “The idea is to get them to slowly digest the information in different ways and to engage in different activities so that by the time the course comes to an end, they can apply the knowledge they have learned. That’s the ultimate goal: to get them to be in a state where they can apply the knowledge.”
Student retention is an ongoing challenge to online educators. While there is great variation in retention rates across programs and institutions, online retention rates tend to be significantly lower than those in the face-to-face environment. However, not all online educators struggle with student retention. Kari Frisch, a communications professor at Central Lakes College, has consistent retention rates of around 95 percent in her online courses, which include interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, mass communication, and online social networking. In an interview with Online Classroom, Frisch talked about the factors that she believes help her achieve such high retention rates.
There are two main forms of assessment often used within the online classroom. Both formative and summative assessments evaluate student learning and assist instructors in guiding instructional planning and delivery. While the purpose of a summative assessment is to check for mastery following the instruction, formative assessment focuses on informing teachers in ways to improve student learning during lesson delivery (Gualden, 2010). Each type of assessment has a specific place and role within education, both traditional and online.
The majority of us teach the way we were taught growing up (Southern Regional Education Board, 2009). This presents a challenge for online faculty, who most likely received their education in a traditional, brick and mortar school. Online instruction is much different from face-to-face instruction. Over the past nine years, I have discovered four basic elements that contribute to being an effective online teacher.
As an online instructor, I can fulfill the minimum requirements of the university regarding interacting with students, or I can create a learning environment that facilitates student engagement in the classroom. Students enroll in online classes because of the need for scheduling flexibility, work-life-school balance, costs, and convenience. Although online learning holds many advantages, the potential drawbacks revolve around the lack of personal interaction between the instructor and student, as well as the student-to-student contact. Keeping students engaged in the course is a vital function of an effective instructor.
Encouraging faculty to participate in distance learning has been a concern since the very first days of online delivery methods, and probably before. A look through the Distance Education Report archives will show the evolving concerns about pedagogical quality, academic rigor, reputation, and other factors that faculty members have expressed concerns about.
As an instructional designer and online instructor at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville, Dionne Thorne has worked with many instructors as they develop their online courses. Based on this experience, she offers the following advice on the course design process:
Faculty development is a crucial and vital component to any college or university. For institutions with geographically dispersed faculty who are teaching online, in some cases for the very first time, faculty development takes on a new level of importance. Here the challenges are not only ensuring instructors understand the technical aspects of teaching online and have the instructional skills to meet online learners’ needs, but also instilling a sense of community.