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Faculty Training, Support for Online Teaching Needs Improvement

A survey of chief academic officers at public colleges and universities found that while most online courses are taught by full-time faculty, their preparation for and oversight in doing so is highly inconsistent. The survey was undertaken by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) working in tandem with Learning House, a Wiley division that provides online program management services. Researchers received responses from 95 CAOs, representing a quarter of AASCU's membership.

According to the results, two-thirds of courses are currently being taught by full-time faculty, and almost all of those instructors (98 percent) are "expected" to teach online as part of their regular workload. While six in 10 faculty members (62 percent) are incentivized for developing online courses, just three in 10 are given bonuses for teaching online courses.

While the majority of faculty members are incentivized for developing online courses, few are given bonuses for teaching online courses.

While the majority of faculty members are incentivized for developing online courses, few are given bonuses for teaching online courses. Source: "Online Learning at Public Universities" from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Learning House

When it comes to helping people prepare for teaching online, results are uneven, primarily because faculty have a choice about whether or not to take advantage of the training made available to them. The survey found that while 97 percent of institutions deliver training on learning management system usage and 94 percent offer instructional design help, fewer than half mandate any kind of preparatory activities. Forty-five percent of respondents said instructors are required to take self-paced training on the various tools used in online courses; and 44 percent are expected to get orientation to learn about the institution's support services for online students. Just about a third (37 percent) must take face-to-face training and 29 percent must go through self-paced training on effective online teaching methods.

Also, expectations for how people approach their teaching online is erratic. For example, most schools have no set policies for posting topics on message boards (74 percent), grading assignments (71 percent), responding to student posts (63 percent) or even responding to student questions or e-mails (54 percent). However, a slight majority of institutions (52 percent) do have written policies for faculty to follow regarding office hours.

Most schools have no set policies for how faculty teach online.

Most schools have no set policies for how faculty teach online. Source: "Online Learning at Public Universities" from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Learning House

While 55 percent of undergraduate general education courses are taught by adjunct faculty members, how these part-timers are vetted leaves some key aspects to chance. CAOs reported that the process of hiring adjuncts included calling references (81 percent), verifying degrees (78 percent), doing a background check (74 percent) and conducting telephone or in-person interviews (72 percent and 67 percent, respectively). But just a quarter of schools (26 percent) require a teaching sample and only 8 percent request a writing sample.

The report provided multiple recommendations. The first one: Expect faculty who have never taught online to get trained, especially on the basics: using the LMS, directing students to available services, understanding faculty support services and following best practices in online pedagogy. And provide an incentive to encourage faculty participation. Once the instructor is in the online class, deliver a "regular feedback cycle" for continuously improving the instruction. And make sure the learning experience is uniform across online courses, by putting policies in place that encourage faculty to interact regularly with their students.

"Today, online and hybrid courses comprise 38 percent of the courses offered at AASCU institutions, and despite an overall decline in higher education enrollment, the number of online students continues to increase," said George Mehaffy, vice president for Academic Leadership and Change at AASCU, in a statement. "To meet this demand, institutions are rapidly developing and deploying online courses, but the level of faculty support varies widely, ultimately impacting the quality of both the faculty and student experience."

The report is available with registration through the Learning House website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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