In an ideal world, we would all have custom, personalized support standing at the ready to provide just-in-time response to our need for guidance and support. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could provide this for faculty developing online courses for our institutions?
But we don’t live in an ideal world; we live in a world of increasing demand and limited resources. The reality is that the assistance and support we provide to faculty developing online courses needs to be manageable, scalable, and effective all at the same time.
At Virginia Tech, we recently went through a period of rethinking, redesigning and revising the instructional design and development support we provide to faculty who are developing online, hybrid, and flipped classrooms. The process of review and revision continues – and always will – but the results of our new approach tells us we’re on the right track. I’ve been asked to share the approach so that others can follow us on this path and make it their own.
Responding to Growth in Online Courses
Like other institutions, we have seen online courses at VT grow steadily and the trend continues. At this point, nearly all of the programs at VT offer some courses online and the others are in the process of developing them. Our current strategic plan calls for us to expand high-quality distance learning and to ensure that faculty have the skills necessary to develop courses with meaningful interaction and active learning opportunities. Along with professional development for faculty, solid instructional design of online courses is key to answering this call.
However, VT is home to just under 30,000 students, about1400 faculty, and only four full-time instructional designers for online learning, each with responsibilities in addition to supporting faculty.
Modernizing our Faculty Development Philosophy
The instructional design staff supporting faculty developing online courses historically focused primarily on faculty receiving a course release for one semester for which their department was compensated under an award from the Provost’s office. The goal was to complete development within this one semester. Unfortunately, that was a rare occurrence. As a result, many course development projects lingered, funds were encumbered, and online courses were taught without being completely developed and reviewed for quality assurance.
In the Spring of 2013, the approach changed. Borrowing from Meirer (2000) and Piskurich (2006), we streamlined the process for faculty developers and instructional designers. Building upon previous successful initiatives that formed faculty learning communities, we invited faculty receiving awards to join a community focusing on the practice of developing high-quality online courses.
We adopted a cohort approach to project-based professional development in the form of an online course. This online course structured the instructional design process in which peers contribute to and reviewed the work of others in the cohort. While participating in the cohort, faculty developers met regularly with instructional designers providing guidance and assistance with meeting the requirements of the online course. Through this approach, we effectively established the beginnings of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998 ). Faculty completing the professional development and review of their courses were awarded the Master Online Educator certification and joined the community of faculty holding this certification.
During that semester, 24 faculty received awards allowing course release time to develop online courses. They participated in the professional development that began with a one-day workshop at the start of the semester followed by participation in the online course and regular meetings with their assigned instructional designer. The professional development provided assignments and due dates for course elements that effectively removed the ‘task master’ role from the instructional designer. That role was transferred to the facilitator of the professional development course. However, most of the incentive to stay on track came from peers who were required to review submitted assignments. Faculty also shared information and peer reviewed submissions of evidence and examples meeting the standards of the Quality Matters (QM) rubric. The review took place near the end of the development and prior to presentation of the course to the department head for approval.
Success in the Initial Trial of the New Faculty Development Process
For the first time, all 24 faculty involved fully developed their online course in one semester. They submitted evidence and examples for peer review for quality assurance, and presented both the outcomes of the peer review and the fully developed course to their department head for approval. All awarded funds were distributed to the department with none remaining encumbered over additional semesters. The difference was the streamlined process focused on development and not on the instructional design theories and process.
In Fall 2013, the instructional design staff merged with other units at VT to become Networked Learning Design and Strategies (NLDS) , a unit of Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS). This merger was in response to our strategic plan and associated initiatives. It expanded the scope of the instructional design staff from faculty who receive awards to develop online courses to all faculty seeking to develop online, hybrid and flipped classroom approaches. There was now an even more pressing need for scalability.
The process as it is designed now adheres to our version of the KISS approach: Keep It Straightforward and Simple. Our faculty know their subject matter, we know the instructional design process. We each need to know enough about what the other knows to get the job done but we don’t need to be experts in each other’s fields.
The process is based on the ADDIE model but recognizes that the stages of that model may not be exclusive. It begins with the full-day workshop in which we focus on analyzing the teaching approach, the student audience, and the content with regard to online delivery. We ask faculty to participate in surveys to indicate their preferred learning styles, teaching styles, and instructional theory. Through these activities, they become aware of how these can influence their pedagogical approach, the way they structure their online course, the activities they choose, etc. We take a light approach, making it fun and adding discussion with sharing of personal stories. We do this over coffee and lunch is provided.
In the afternoon, we focus on the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the syllabus for their course, looking at measurable objectives, aligned assessments, weighting assessments, developing rubrics and a discussion of translating the proposed assessments for the delivery format. These topics are visited again in the online course with assignments contributing to the development process.
Throughout the online course, other topics are visited such as scaling up to large enrollment, managing the online classroom, incorporating group work, using peer reviews effectively, etc. These are introduced as part of the review of the syllabus for the online course in which faculty are now students as well as developers.
In the workshop, faculty developers are provided a statement of expectations. This describes what is expected of them with regard to participation and outcomes and what they can expect from us with regard to assistance and guidance, and what they should expect from each other in peer interaction that is a major element of the process. We also review the quality assurance process and obtain commitment to participation in that process.
In addition to working with instructional designers and developing courses throughout participation in the online course, faculty submit evidence and examples to indicate the extent to which they meet the standards of quality contained in the Quality Matters rubric. The quality assurance review process takes place throughout the semester and culminates in a final, scored review. The completed course and the results of the quality assurance review are presented to the department head for approval.
Throughout this process, faculty developers are encouraged to identify areas of research and to support fellow faculty in identifying research opportunities particularly in areas for future collaborative research. Our goal is to offer collaborative research opportunities for faculty to become leaders in the practice of effective, interactive, successful teaching in whatever delivery format they offer their courses.
In Spring 2014, NLDS offered faculty four options to join learning communities forming cohorts focused on flipped classrooms, technology-enhanced learning in traditional classrooms, online course development and redesign of existing online courses. Enrollment in those cohorts totaled 24 with 10 in Flipped Classroom, eight in Online Course Development, and five in Online Course Re-Design (one faculty member enrolled in two cohorts). This enrollment was significant as none of the faculty participating received funding or course release in order to participate. Two faculty members are incorporating the experience into their sabbatical activity.
The approach remained the same for each of the cohorts and faculty developers will earn certification as Master Instructor in the area of teaching that was the focus of their cohort. The one change in addition to multiple cohorts was the distribution of the quality assurance review throughout the process. The professional development and peer review assignments were revised to allow the development and submission of evidence and examples meeting the QM rubric standards throughout the semester, removing that process from the end of the semester and allowing more time for development. Also, the presentation to department heads will now take place in a ‘faculty showcase’ event to which all faculty in the department and across the campus will be invited.
As expected, without course release, there has been some attrition in the enrollment in the cohorts but those not fully participating remain involved with consultations with instructional designers and ‘lurk’ in the online classroom. They continue with the development of their courses and they remain connected with peers in the process.
The learning communities (cohorts) will again be offered in Summer 2014 with an expected increase in enrollment due to faculty availability during this time and the expected return of funding provided through the Provost office. Our plan now is to move to one cohort in which the professional development remains an online course with a full day workshop at the start. We realized that the design and development of the various formats share much in common and that faculty are interested in how strategies and pedagogy are adapted for each.
By combining all faculty developers in one cohort, we will foster the sharing of strategies and information common to online, blended, hybrid and flipped course development and the sharing of specialized strategies and skills across the different design approaches. This umbrella approach will allow us to continue to scale up to meet what we expect to be increasing demand with limitations on the ability to match that demand with additional personnel.
From conversations and response to conference presentations, it is clear that others are dealing with the same issues and challenges. We are in the early stages of conducting research on the strategies we are using and invite others to share their experience as we have shared ours. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Meier, D. (2000). The Accelerated Learning Handbook. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Piskurich, G.M. (2006) Rapid Instructional Design: Learning ID Fast and Right. San Francisco, CA: Wiley
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Networked Learning Design and Strategies (NLDS)
Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS)
Blacksburg, VA 24061