What Faculty Learn Teaching Adults in Multiple Course Delivery Formats

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1 What Faculty Learn Teaching Adults in Multiple Course Delivery Formats Karen Skibba, MA Instructional Design Specialist University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Doctoral Candidate University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Overview To increase access to the growing adult population, many colleges are offering programs that include courses that are face-to-face and fully and partially online, known as hybrid or blended. A Sloan-C survey of U.S. colleges and universities found that core faculty teach online courses (64.7%) about as frequently as they teach face-to-face-courses (61.6%) and a large percentage teach hybrid courses (67.4%) (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). A term used to describe programs that offer courses in multiple course delivery formats is blended; 36% of colleges offer at least one blended program (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). Bonk, Kim, and Zeng (2006) noted, "Blended learning highlights the need for instructional skills in multiple teaching and learning environments" (p. 564). This has become challenging since even though teaching is a major part of the faculty role, many are not taught how to teach nor are they expected to keep up with trends that affect teaching, including the growth of adult students and the increase of course delivery formats. Thus, it is important to understand how faculty learn to teach adults in blended programs and how migrating between multiple course delivery formats influences their teaching practice. The Research Problem Ross and Gage (2006) explained that participating in a blended program means that a student is not a traditional student or an online student but has the freedom to choose from all types of courses to earn a degree of which some are hybrid (partially online also known as blended), some face-to-face, and some fully online (p.156). A Sloan-C survey of U.S. colleges and universities on blended programs found that higher education institutions offer similar courses in face-to-face (88.5%), online (53.3%), and hybrid (45.9%) formats (partially online), which offers evidence that blended programs may continue to grow (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). Many faculty, however, are not taught to effectively integrate technology into teaching and learning as is necessary to offer the course delivery formats that comprise a blended program. In addition, faculty are increasingly being expected to teach students who are becoming more diverse using a variety of course delivery formats, including face-to-face, online, and hybrid. These educational trends have created challenges within higher education since faculty are often not taught how to teach adults nor how to meet the needs of this population in their instruction (King & Lawler, 2003). Therefore, the problem that guides this study is that the landscape of higher education has transformed to include more adult students and multiple course delivery formats. Yet given these changes, we do not understand how faculty learn to teach adult students using multiple course delivery formats that comprise a blended program including online, hybrid, and face-to-face course formats. Understanding how faculty learn to teach adult students within a blended program offers insight into the challenges faculty face and how they overcome these challenges while teaching multiple course delivery formats, especially online and hybrid courses. Therefore, this study informs the field of distance education and training by providing practical guidelines for faculty on how they can learn to teach and manage multiple course delivery formats within a blended program and improve their teaching practice. These findings are useful for faculty developers, instructional designers, and administrators to assist faculty in learning how to teach in multiple course delivery formats as programs become more blended. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 Methodology This study employed a qualitative basic interpretive approach to understand how instructors interpret how they learn to teach adults in a blended program, what meaning they attribute to how their teaching practices are influenced, and how they construct their experiences when teaching multiple course delivery formats within a blended program by describing their experiences (Merriam, 2002). Brookfield (1995) and other adult learning researchers explained that in order to understand how faculty learn to teach, it is important for instructors to critically reflect on their prior experiences since this affects how faculty practice teaching. Therefore, the following data collection methods were utilized to encourage faculty to critically reflect on their teaching experiences within a blended program: in-depth interviews (1.5 to 2 hours), faculty background questionnaire with reflective questions, and a teacher learning audit. This paper reports on preliminary data of five faculty members from one blended adult degree program who have taught at least two course delivery formats. The full study will include ten research participants. Faculty Individual and Shared Reflection Lead to Pedagogical Transformations Reflective practice (Schön, 1983, 1987) and experiential learning (Kolb, 1984) adult learning theories focus on how faculty learn by planning a course of action, acting on their plans, observing what happened, reflecting on the results, and starting the process over again. Chism (2004) explained that these cycles can be thought of as spirals that occur frequently during peak times of development and slow down during routine practice. This study found these spirals take place as faculty learn to teach adults in a blended program. Chism (2004) explained, When moments of exploration occur, faculty mentally try out different solutions, selecting the ones that they judge most likely to be effective in the context they face (p. 42). Then faculty act on potential solutions and experiment with new teaching approaches. This process is described through analysis of the first research question: How do faculty perceive how they learn to teach adults within blended programs that include both online and hybrid courses? Chism (2004) added that these cycles continue fairly automatically as faculty develop and refine their teaching routines, but can be transformative when a problematic situation is recognized (p. 40). This phenomenon became apparent through analysis of the second research question: How does learning to teach adults in a blended program influence teaching beliefs and practices? How Do Faculty Perceive How They Learn to Teach Adults Within Blended Programs That Include Both Online and Hybrid Courses? The research participants listed a wide variety of ways they learned to teach adults within a blended program, including: reading books and adult learning literature, attending conferences, taking adult education or other related courses while receiving a graduate degree, attending technology workshops or through just plain intuition, ability to gauge an audience, and a willingness to retool a course based on student evaluations. However, these methods were not as significant to the instructors learning processes as trial and error of teaching in various course delivery formats and either observing other instructors or talking informally with colleagues. None of the faculty interviewed received training, other than one who observed another instructor teaching the same course, to teach their face-to-face courses either when teaching traditional or adult students, except for one faculty member who did received an adult education degree. One instructor summarized what all said: We were never trained to do this kind of work. Another added, In retrospect, it certainly would have been helpful to have gotten some feedback. The instructors shared strategies for teaching adult students that they learned through experience, including: offering a variety of assignments to appeal to diverse learners, providing flexible due dates to accommodate busy work and life schedules, focusing on participatory and experiential learning, and choosing readings that appeal to the adult learners who want to apply what they learn to work and life circumstances. These adult learning skills helped the research participants transition more smoothly to online instruction since many of these teaching strategies also apply to online learning. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 Lowes (2008) found that the process of teaching both online and face-to-face courses led teachers to reexamine some of the fundamental differences between these classroom cultures and how they learned to develop effective teaching practices. This study found similar results and that instructors spent longer periods of time in the various stages of the Chism (2004) spiral learning process depending on which course delivery format they were learning to teach. In the case of face-to-face courses, instructors did not spend as much time in planning a course of action but would act on their plans without as much preplanning as when they taught online or hybrid courses. When learning to teach online courses, instructors spent a longer time planning the course, observing what happened, and reflecting on the results. The research participants explained that a face-to-face course can be developed right before and during class. One instructor described that teaching face-to-face was more like a quick analysis of the situation and options and plugging things in. I wasn t guessing about what might work, and I wasn t sitting back and mulling the situation over. She added, This process wasn t as random as trial and error, nor was it the result of a lot of reflection I didn t have time for that! The research participants described face-toface instruction similar to what Schön (1983) explained as reflection-in-action. Reflection-in-action is when changes are made while actions or events are in progress. This on-the-spot experimentation is triggered when a situation is not working as well as what was thought or planned (Schön, 1987, p. 28). This quick analysis and adjustment was possible when teaching in person, but not when teaching online. In comparison, the research participants explained that online and hybrid courses must be planned completely in advance before offering it to students. While some changes are made while online courses are in progress, it is more difficult to make major changes. Online learning has to be excruciatingly well organized otherwise students get lost. The instructors described how they learned to teach online and hybrid courses from experimenting with different approaches and then reflecting on how well students responded to course activities after the course was complete. Schön (1983) would describe this type of reflection as thinking through a situation after it already happened as reflection-on-action. This type of reflection took place individually and with colleagues. Advice one research participant gave to others on how to teach adults in blended program summed up what most said: You need to read about it, you need to observe people doing it, and you need to ask those people who are doing why they are doing what they are doing. However, it is not enough to observe and discuss what others do with online or hybrid courses, it is also important to understand the pedagogy behind it. In order to learn this, the research participants spent time with colleagues sharing ideas, advice, pedagogical strategies, and even showing and observing each others courses. One example of this reflection noted by the research participants included how important it is to be present in the course by responding often to students postings. When I do not do this, I see the participation by students falls off, and their own postings tend to become cursory and short, often token efforts and they do not respond to each other. While all the instructors noted the importance of being responsive, they all still struggle with the time and effort required. All of the research participants explained that they are always learning, regardless of which course delivery format they are teaching. It is a work in progress. However, when it comes to online and hybrid instruction, they would prefer to learn more about online pedagogy. It s fine to have access to all kinds of bells and whistles but how do I determine what my students need to effectively learn and what is overkill.and with regard to blended courses, how do I make the best use of the live class. Others wanted to know: What is the best tool to achieve the learning objective that you are trying to achieve with the student? No matter how much experience they had teaching online or hybrid, the research participants wanted to learn new technology and pedagogical skills to continue to improve. I ve gone as far as I can go without really understanding what sort of state-of-the-art online pedagogy is. The research participants said that their university focuses more on training technological skills instead of the pedagogical strategies that they learned through trial and error but would like to learn other approaches. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 How Does Learning to Teach Adults in a Blended Program Influence Teaching Beliefs and Practices? An underlying theme throughout the research is that the fundamental principles of teaching are the same in any format. One research participant explained I think that trying to find that balance between challenge and support is really whether it s live or whether it s online. I m trying to find what that student needs, what is the key that going to unlock that student. Another teaching principle shared by the research participants, as one said: Teachers teach best when they effectively set the stage for learning, not when they are telling students what they know. Another theme regardless of format included the importance of building a supportive learning community. How these teaching principles are achieved may change depending on the course delivery format. For example, if I m in a blended course and I ve got a student with a problem, I can take that student aside during a break and say, what s going on, but I can t do that online. I can send that student an in an online course, but if the student isn t in the course, isn t checking in, you know, he s gone. Participatory learning was noted as important for adult learners in all formats. The research participants learned new ways to build camaraderie and cohesiveness that naturally takes place in the classroom to also take place in online discussion groups by being present. Several research participants were skeptical at first that effective learning could take place online: I had an assumption that online teaching and learning would be less effective than live or blended teaching and learning. That assumption was challenged this semester when I had one of the best writing courses I ve ever had, and it was 100% online. I learned about the positive possibilities of online learning from seeing how my students in the writing course became a thriving, supportive online community. When I first started to teach in a blended format, I missed being live. I couldn t image it! I thought it was really terrible education. Then I got used to teaching blended, and when I had taught fully online for a couple of years before I went back to blended, and then I found myself not sure what to do with my time with live students I would never teach just live again I would always have a component that would be online because there is too much out there, too much that is so rich that I would want them to engage with...my teaching couldn t be the same anymore. Teaching multiple course delivery formats changed these instructors assumptions of what teaching is and how it can be achieved. Even though the research participants are adult educators who used participatory learning methods previously, they transformed their teaching by incorporating online activities that encouraged students to become even more engaged in their own learning and the instructor become part of the learning community with students. One instructor summarized: I believe that blended and online education can be just as rich and powerful and transformative as live education and sometimes more so. And I believe that we are just beginning to learn how to do this effectively and efficiently. Conclusion The research participants found that it is important to offer students a choice between all three course delivery formats so they can select the one that fits their learning style and availability. Yet adult students are choosing more online course delivery options since they need more flexibility to fit education into their busy lives. To meet the growing need for online education, it is important for faculty to embrace technology and learn how to use it effectively. Faculty may gravitate to one format over others since they are comfortable teaching one way, but as noted by one research participant, instructors aren t going to know what you prefer until you actually teach it a few times. By teaching in the various course delivery formats, instructors gain teaching strategies that enhance overall teaching practices. Based on this study, it is important to ask: Are colleges providing opportunities for both new and experienced instructors to Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 teach in multiple course delivery formats and reflect on and learn from their teaching experiences? Are they given opportunities to then share what they have learned? It is also important to ask how to better help faculty learn not only the technology but also the pedagogy. Cranton and King (2003) explained that in order for faculty development to be meaningful, it needs to go beyond learning new technology and provide opportunities to reflect on educators values, beliefs, and assumptions about teaching and their ways of seeing the world (p. 33). This includes getting faculty actively involved in the learning process; providing opportunities for self direction, self-assessment, reflection; and providing the ability to immediately apply what they learn. Reflection, then, should be an integral way of how faculty learn to teach whether learning through faculty development or self-directed methods. References Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., & Garrett, R. (2007). Blending in: The extent of promise of blended education in the United States. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Bonk, C. J., Kim, K. J., & Zeng, T. (2006). Future directions of blended learning in higher education and workplace learning settings. In C. Bonk & C. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives local designs (pp ). San Francisco: Pfeiffer. Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Chism, N. (2004). Using a framework to engage faculty in instructional technologies. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 2, Cranton, P., & King, K. (2003). Transformative Learning as a professional development goal. In K. King & P. Lawler (Eds.), New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education: New Perspectives on Designing and Implementing Professional Development of Teachers of Adults (Vol. 98, pp ). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. King, K., & Lawler, P. (2003). Trends and issues in the professional development of teachers of adults. In K. King & P. Lawler (Eds.), New directions for adult and continuing education: New perspectives on designing and implementing professional development of teachers of adults (Vol. 98, pp. 5-13). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. Lowes, S. (2008). Online teaching and classroom change: The trans-classroom teacher in the age of the Internet [Electronic Version]. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4. Retrieved February 6, 2008 from Merriam, S. B. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Examples for discussion and analysis. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Ross, B., & Gage, K. (2006). Global perspectives on blended programs. In C. Bonk & C. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs (pp ). San Francisco: Pfeiffer. Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Schön, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books. Author Summary Karen Skibba is an instructional design specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a doctoral candidate in Adult and Continuing Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Karen offers Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

6 workshops and consults with faculty on developing online and hybrid courses and using technology to enhance student learning. She has taught communication courses and coordinated preparing future faculty programs. Karen received a Master's Degree in Communication Studies from Marquette University. Address: Learning Technology Center Anderson Library, Room West Main Street Whitewater, WI Phone: Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 6

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