Online Training for Online Faculty
A checklist of the best strategies for designing and delivering online courses to train online faculty.
1. Train faculty on the same platform their students will use. Not only does this increase the faculty's familiarity with the system; it gives them an immersion from the student perspective. During the training, continually reinforce the faculty members' observations of phenomena they experience as analogous to what their students will see.
2. Provide multiple safety nets for faculty during and after their training. Because faculty will have varying levels of computer ability, collections of tip sheets and job aids are beneficial for reference during the training and afterwards. Vendor manuals can be obtuse and intimidating for neophyte users but locally produced material can be much more to the point.
3. Provide multiple ways of learning for multiple learning styles. Faculty going through training to teach online will come from a variety of academic disciplines and will have predilections in their thought processes reflective of their fields. So, have training modules produced as full text descriptions, narrated animations, step-by-step graphics, and quick checklists so that learners can use whichever one resonates with them.
4. Stretch the faculty members' skills and challenge their preconceptions. For example, some faculty may believe that small group work can't be done online. Therefore, require an online small group activity during the training. Not only will this force them to confront the possibility that they were wrong but it can help them come up with ides on how to transfer that idea to their own teaching.
5. Be a role model of desired teaching behaviors for online faculty (but even more so). Every thing you do as a faculty trainer is an example of what you want your faculty to do themselves, and they will take note of what you do and how you do it. If you are not providing timely and robust feedback or stimulating the flow on the discussion board, they will not think those are important.
6. Your organization skills will be tested as an online faculty trainer. Most likely, teaching an online faculty development class will only be one of your duties. Set aside time every day to check your boards, answer e-mail from trainees, and solve their technical problems. Again, you will be role-modeling the self-discipline and time management abilities that you want new online faculty to have.
7. Remain open to feedback from your faculty trainees. Even if they are new to online instruction, your faculty trainees will still have good ideas based on their own experience. Don't be resistant to their suggestions on how to make the online training course better. This is also a trait you want to demonstrate so they can make that part of their own online teaching style.
8. Online instructor trainees must get practice with their writing skills. A great deal of communication in an online course happens via the written word (e-mail, discussion boards, chat, announcements, and online text readings). Be sure to include several small writing activities such as mandatory discussion or short reflective essays so your faculty trainees can keep their composition skills sharp. Encourage their writing to be tight, precise, and clear.
9. Be their instructor, not their colleague. For your faculty training course to be effective, especially if you are teaching it online instead of face-to-face, the faculty trainees must respect the fact that you are a "real" instructor teaching a "real" course. Posting and enforcing deadlines for activities and even giving an occasional 90 instead of 100 on an activity, shows you mean business. You'll get better compliance and better effort if they take you seriously.
10. Respect the faculty members' previous teaching experience. Whether your trainees were mandated to take your course or self-selected, they are still college faculty. Your challenge is to elicit the best things they already know about good teaching and show how they can still use that knowledge in the online environment.
Ron Thomas is the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University worldwide headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. Among his responsibilities is the design and delivery of online training classes to serve more than 3,000 full- and part-time faculty in over 100 locations across the U.S. and overseas, including fully online degree programs.