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Faculty Development

Preparing Faculty for High-Quality Online Programs

Temple University's College of Public Health is a diverse school experiencing significant growth online. Here's how the institution is supporting the development and maintenance of high-quality online faculty.

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At a large urban institution in the heart of North Philadelphia, Temple University's College of Public Health faced a contemporary problem: How can we keep up with the student demand for high-quality online programs if our faculty aren't ready? There's a simple answer: We can't! So we decided to get our faculty ready and give them the tools to be successful in the online space, whether it's their first class or their fourteenth. Here's how we did it.

Scaling Up Online

Like other institutions, we've experienced a steady uptick in the number of faculty delivering courses online. Temple's College of Public Health alone has seen a more than 50 percent increase in online classes within three years, partially due to the creation of seven new fully online graduate programs. With the explosion of new online courses came the need for faculty trained to teach in the traditional classroom to adapt their methods and styles to the online environment.

At the same time that the college was increasing both online courses and online programs, our institution became a participant in the State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). The SARA agreement requires that institutions comply with a series of guidelines to ensure that online courses and programs are high-quality, including consistency in course offerings, online course evaluations and faculty training, among other standards.

"When Temple joined SARA, it prompted us to think about how to develop systems for quality assurance mechanisms specific to the online learning environment. It was time for us to develop a faculty training mechanism to meet the SARA standards and address faculty attitudes, skills and confidence around online learning while improving the user experience for students," said Jennifer Ibrahim, associate dean for Academic Affairs.

Happily, we had a team in place that was ready to take on this charge: a group of four faculty, representing different departments within the college, who have all been trained in using the Quality Matters rubric and have collectively taught dozens of online courses over the past 5-plus years. Our team had previously worked together to build online teaching capacity by delivering online teaching professional development sessions and working one-on-one with faculty to develop online courses. Knowing first-hand about the dedication and training needed to teach online and the potential to impact student outcomes, we asked ourselves, "How do we get faculty excited, prepared and empowered to take on this challenge?"

Training for Online Success

From the beginning, our goal was to strike a balance between technology training and pedagogical training for faculty to incorporate best practices in online education. "Although it is tempting to take traditional classroom materials and simply move them to an online platform, we wanted to empower faculty to be creative and think differently about how to deliver their course materials," said Jamie Mansell, associate professor and online Doctor of Athletic Training program director.

At Temple, we've been using Canvas as our learning management system for a little over two years. Within the College of Public Health, our team developed a standardized online course template on Canvas that aligns with Quality Matters guidelines. "In discussing options, we decided to practice what we preach and utilized this same template to deliver the training, allowing the instructors to see the student side of an online course. What better way to help faculty see the value of the training than for them to experience what it would be like for students in the courses they develop? In addition, we were respectful of faculty time by allowing them to learn the content and immediately apply it to create the online course they would be teaching" said Laurie Friedman, assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

We recognized that faculty may be at different levels of preparedness and self-efficacy to start teaching in an online space — and we realized the challenges of organizing faculty in a single location at a given time. Therefore, we chose to deliver the training in a fully asynchronous environment, allowing faculty the time and space needed to digest the materials and practice with the content to build their confidence. Faculty are enrolled in the training during the semester prior to their assigned online class, and are asked to complete the training at least four weeks before the start of their online course to provide sufficient time for feedback to the faculty with lead time for changes to the course before launching, if needed.

We wanted the training to take the faculty member through the design of an entire online course, from syllabus creation, to choices in delivery style, to assessment techniques and more. Each of the nine modules included both pedagogical and technological pieces, encompassing everything from creating alignment (Module 3), to setting up your Canvas site (Module 4), to designing and delivering synchronous sessions (Module 8).

Within each module, there is an organized infrastructure to ensure a consistent experience for the faculty. The structure starts with a clear set of learning objectives, designed both to model best practices and to ensure alignment with activities and assessments. Following the objectives, there are diverse resources, including videos, instructional guides with screenshots, web links, journal articles and examples from our online classes. After the content, each module contains "assignments" for the faculty to complete. These assignments allow the faculty to demonstrate that they can incorporate both technological and pedagogical best practices within their own online course.

"It was important that the training mimic how faculty should set up their online courses — by experiencing our Canvas online course template and other online teaching best practices, we hope to reinforce that approach outside our training," said Annie Frankel, assistant professor and online Masters of Public Health program coordinator.

Once the training is complete, faculty members walk away with a fully developed online course and the confidence that they are prepared to teach online. We provide feedback for each assessment item in the modules and are available for questions or discussion. Many of the faculty see the benefit of such feedback to make improvements to the course before it is ever deployed to the students. Additionally, faculty complete pre- and post- module self-assessments, where they rate their ability to complete the tasks and track their growth throughout the training.

Many of our faculty have asked about access to online training materials: What happens if they forget some of the things they learned or encounter new challenges as they start teaching online? That's an easy one; because of the online, asynchronous nature of the course, faculty can remain in the Canvas site and refer back to materials as they recognize specific areas of their online teaching they'd like to address based on their experience and student feedback. This format also allows us to disseminate information around best practices, innovative online teaching methods and other relevant resources to the community of online faculty as technology and best practices evolve. Moreover, the online modules facilitate remediation in instances where a faculty member may be struggling with a particular part of online teaching; for example, effective use of discussion boards. A faculty mentor or chair can use the online learning modules as a reference for faculty to go back and review and modify their approach next time.

What's Next

As we continue to try to model best practices (even when it's difficult!), we have looked carefully at our evaluations and are adapting the training to continue to meet the needs of our faculty, both full-time and adjunct, and our online students. One challenge is simply the time that it takes to complete the modules. Like at other institutions, faculty at Temple are often simultaneously teaching, researching, engaging with the community and working to build strong academic units through service. Finding the time to complete the modules and prepare an excellent online course can be difficult. We are looking at ways to streamline without compromising content and opportunities to demonstrate abilities.

We are also glad that many of our adjunct instructors have had the opportunity to take advantage of the training. Because so many of the degrees in our college are practice-based, our students benefit by learning from skilled adjunct faculty who are teaching as they work in their respective fields. It can be challenging to enroll adjunct faculty in the course and ask them to complete it in a short timeframe while simultaneously getting access to Temple's technology systems — both time and access can create roadblocks. We are working with academic units to hire adjunct faculty with plenty of time for training and course preparation. Offering the training to adjunct faculty before they need to teach is also contributing to the development of a larger pool of well-trained online faculty, even if it means they teach at another institution or can deploy those skills within their place of employment. One adjunct instructor shared that "[the training] is more than I expected in all of the best ways. I had a lot of questions, definitely was nervous and I can tell already this is going to help me with most of those questions and build some confidence."

Our team is committed to quality online teaching and believe that through better faculty preparation, we are giving faculty the tools to focus on course content and students, rather than worrying about technology or how to translate their teaching techniques to an online setting. Having our faculty ready to teach online can allow us to build our online teaching and program capacity — which will, of course, require that we train more faculty for online teaching. We are ready for that.

For more information on the online teaching training offered at Temple University, please feel free to contact Anne Frankel at anne.frankel@temple.edu.

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