Building Trust. faculty concerns about online education. Author: David Migliorese Director of Online Learning Deltak

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1 Building Trust faculty concerns about online education Author: David Migliorese Director of Online Learning Deltak

2 As enrollment growth in online courses continues to outpace overall higher education rates (10 times in ) and as traditional schools of all stripes continue to grab headlines with bold online initiatives, it seems the march toward wide adoption of online and blended learning is inevitable and accelerating. As this extraordinary transition in higher education progresses, it s interesting to consider how this sea change looks to the faculty those in the trenches delivering courses every day. The Babson report Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education 2 offers a glimpse of how faculty and administrators view the general quality of online learning as well as how they feel about its implementation thus far, and the results are eye-opening. There are two findings in this report that merit serious discussion. The first is that a majority of faculty remain skeptical about online learning s quality in comparison to traditional classroom learning. Only 35% concur with what the early research suggests that online learning tends to produce outcomes that are comparable to traditional formats 3. While some find fault with the no significant difference body of research, and there is still much to learn, there is enough evidence to warrant openness to the notion that if done well, online learning can work. Yet according to this study, only 38% of faculty agree that online learning even has the potential to be as effective as traditional classes. The other noteworthy finding is that 58% of faculty members are more fearful about online learning s ascent than they are excited. This is in contrast to administrators, 80% of whom are more enthusiastic than fearful about online learning and 75% of whom believe that learning outcomes in online programs are at least as good as their traditional counterparts. This disparity between administrators and faculty speaks to a tension that is playing out as schools plot their course into the world of online learning amid serious concerns of a significant amount of their faculty. students by providing flexible, year-round options to keep them progressing toward their degrees. And, of course, there is wider reach for financially challenged schools with limited growth opportunity in their local markets. So, as administrators fully understand, ongoing faculty resistance is a problem that schools must address if they are to take advantage of the opportunities presented by online and blended learning. And they can address it by proactively managing the cultural and organizational change online learning entails establishing proper policies, providing adequate support, and incentivizing excellence in online teaching. It s also true that faculty leadership in these initiatives is essential to their success. While there are sound reasons for faculty to remain reticent, there are equally compelling reasons for them to dig in with administrators and work to ensure online learning at their institution is every bit as robust, personal, and effective as their traditional classes. There are considerable benefits to online and blended learning, chief among them is access to life-changing educational opportunities for adult students in a format in which they can succeed while working and attending to family responsibilities. Online and blended courses can also help keep expenses down and accelerate time to completion for traditional Page 2

3 After 15 years of experience working alongside faculty as they make the transition to online teaching, it comes as no surprise that there is still fear and mistrust in the academic community. Many faculty members are concerned about their institution s identity and reputation in an academic culture that values stability, tradition, and selectivity. Those with little direct experience in the online classroom worry that it will be a diminished experience where they won t get to know their students and be able to teach effectively. For many, online evokes a mechanistic, standardized approach to learning that focuses on low-level cognitive skills rather than communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Having heard about how much work online instruction is, many faculty worry about being overloaded, and being insufficiently recognized or compensated for their efforts. Those who are new to the tools and strategies of online teaching worry about having to struggle with technology and learn new pedagogical techniques. Some are also concerned about academic freedom and intellectual property, as online curriculum tends to be managed more centrally than its traditional equivalent. Fear and resistance can be expected as faculty members are asked to venture outside of their comfort zone. But the concerns faculty express are often well-founded and even emblematic in some instances of the early struggles universities have gone through in their online ventures. The schools that are most successful in motivating their faculty to support online and blended initiatives are the ones that cultivate faculty leadership for the initiative and develop proactive strategies directed at allaying concerns and setting a foundation for success. In our experience, while fear manifests itself in a wide variety of ways around several issues, concerns about three critical components of an online initiative drive the bulk of faculty resistance: quality, support, and incentives (in the form of compensation and recognition). Careful planning directed at these areas can make the difference between building a thriving, high-quality online or blended initiative, and creating a flashpoint of resentment and ongoing conflict on campus.? p Faculty lacking experience in the online classroom worry that it will be a diminished experience where they won t get to know their students and be able to teach effectively. Many have only been exposed to uninspiring courses and either aren t aware of the options available to them or don t have the support needed to build engaging courses. > Quality Along with the fears associated with online learning, the Babson survey also found that the majority of faculty members believe that online learning outcomes are inferior to those of traditional courses. Yet there is also a strong and growing core of faculty who Page 3

4 actively champion the quality of their online programs. So it follows that institutions offering courses online must assure effectiveness, not only to allay faculty concerns, but to validate the initiative s advancement of their mission and to establish the value of their degrees in the marketplace. What s fascinating is that only 25% of faculty members believe their institution has good tools in place to assess quality of online instruction, and less than half believe their institution has good tools in place to assess traditional instruction. This highlights the fact that while institutions are discussing the need for improvement and moving to develop stronger assessment practices, there is still a lack of evidence of learning outcomes in higher education. One way for institutions to provide evidence of their commitment to quality would be to focus on generating authentic and transparent outcomes data irrespective of modality (faceto-face, blended, or fully online). This would support the improvement of all instruction as well as provide clear information about the effectiveness of online classes. Many faculty members will likely hold on to their skepticism of new modalities until such data is produced and openly shared in their institution. Human Factors ICT competency Motivation Attitude Experience Learning view Knowledge view Technology view View of technology Role in learning Course Factors Structure/organization Quality content Activities/projects Relevance Clear goals Clear expectations Motivating Challenging Flexible Success Measures Learning Outcomes Student Satisfaction Higher learning Faculty satisfaction Sustainability Scalability Rate of return Leadership Factors Technology provision Staff/student training Staff/professional development Help desks ICT laboratories Support teaching staff Other logistic Technology Factors Asynchronous Synchronous Multimedia Friendly Dependable Layout Alternative tools Capacity/speed Pedagogic Factors Collaborative Interactive Feedback oriented Problem-based Process oriented Learner-centered Flexible/some f2f meeting p Adapted from Menchacha and Bekele Learner and Instructor-Identified Success Factors in Distance Education. Distance Education 29 (3). Based on an extensive literature review, QM s rubric represents an efficient way to raise awareness of and to promote best practices in online courses on campus. Another way institutions can demonstrate commitment to quality in online courses is through investigations into instructional variables beyond modality. Given the early research and the momentum behind online learning (especially in areas such as Nursing and Business), it s time to venture beyond the broad question of whether online is legitimate or if it can be as effective as traditional models. The more pressing question is which practices within that broad category are most effective at meeting which learning objectives? Research in this direction and efforts to circulate the research supports the evolution of online course design and online teaching. It s no surprise so many universities new to online learning subscribe to Quality Matters (QM). If outcomes data is not generally available to drive quality discussions, it s interesting to consider what exactly people are thinking of when they raise the quality question. Direct measures of learning outcomes are one way to measure effectiveness but, despite accreditation pressures, assessment initiatives still often fall short of producing reliable, valid, and actionable information that contributes to ongoing program improvement (and benefits to students). Instead, we often turn to inputs to evaluate quality. How selective is the program with regard to incoming students? How many hours of effort are required in a course? How much time does an instructor spend interacting with students? How much presentational media is there? What technology enables a course s learning community to develop? Page 4

5 In an effort to summarize all the factors that impact course quality ( online program success factors ), Michael Menchacha developed a theoretical framework based on a review of 82 studies published in major educational technology journals between 1995 and His framework, located on page 4, illustrates the complexity of the quality question. If quality is driven by so many interdependent factors and can t be distilled into a simple formula, schools have to develop extensive systems and a diverse organization focused on success. At Deltak, we make it our business to help schools navigate this complex landscape. With respect to course design and delivery, we have found it productive to introduce the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework as a common language regarding quality. 5 At Deltak, we employ our own Course Quality Framework that unpacks research-based critical success factors of online courses including actionable items inspired by the Community of Inquiry framework. With its focus on social, teaching, and cognitive presences in the classroom, CoI aims to reach higherorder learning and to foster interpersonal connections. This has been reassuring to many faculty who say these are essential to a successful class, and are also the attributes they most feared sacrificing when teaching in alternate modalities. Based on strong research, CoI is broad enough to encompass many teaching philosophies and flexible enough to encourage application of different practices for varying contexts (different disciplines, term lengths, types of learning objectives, technologies). Using Deltak s Course Quality Framework has provoked important p The Deltak Course Quality Framework uses the Community of Inquiry model (above) as a common language to discuss quality in online learning and to ensure the community aspect of teaching and learning is not lost in the transition to online delivery. discussions and has focused our faculty, in many cases, on a common vision with regard to the elements of the online learning experience that matter most. Adoption and consistent use of this framework by institutions is one way to signal commitment to quality and help guide faculty and instructional designers to effective practice. Incentivizing research into effective practice can further spur interest in online teaching and contribute to a culture of continuous improvement. Of course, knowing what the quality target looks like does not mean one is going to have the time, interest, tools, or resources to hit it. That s where a robust support system comes into play. > SUpport Planning for the complex cultural and operational shift that comes with moving to non-traditional online formats is challenging in many respects, perhaps especially with regard to course development and delivery. Typically, schools embarking on these initiatives invest liberally in technology, considerably less in training and technical support, and even less in instructional design support. It s not uncommon for dynamic campuses of hundreds of faculty and thousands of courses to have only a handful of instructional design and technology staff. This fosters a Do-It-Yourself approach to course development where faculty, armed with a few hours of LMS training, design and build their online courses the best way they know how. While some faculty members thrive under these conditions, they are challenging and uncomfortable for many others. And the quality that results is usually uneven and often uninspiring. At many campuses, the DIY development model can be a source of frustration that fosters negativity toward online teaching. Page 5

6 As Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins explain in The Myth about Online Course Development, developing and delivering effective online courses requires pedagogy and technology expertise possessed by few faculty. Reliably creating a truly distinctive, effective, and engaging online course generally requires a team of people faculty members, instructional designers, media specialists, technologists, and support personnel. At Deltak, we provide this kind of support system as well as a managed process that is collaborative and iterative for developing courses. This process follows stages from conception to launch, and ensures requirements for the course are clearly articulated up front and measured upon offer. In our system, faculty who are relatively novice at teaching online have access to an instructional designer and technologists who significantly reduce their learning curve, and work alongside them through the development process and into the teaching process, thus reducing fears around quality, workload, and competency. 7 Support for online course development is not just about the technology. It s about carefully determining learning objectives and the activities that assess them; planning engaging projects that require application of concepts in authentic contexts; presenting information efficiently and clearly in various media; fostering community and designing collaborative activity; delivering effective and timely feedback to scaffold learners (without overwhelming instructors); and leading a community of learners as they explore new territory. A support system for faculty teaching online should include design support, technology support, and facilitation support. Given these components, faculty fear associated with the prospect of teaching online can dissipate quite substantially. With these supports in place, we ve seen narrow views of online learning replaced with an expansive vision of online learning s potential on many campuses. A related cause of skepticism about online education is lack of direct experience with truly inspiring, state-of-the-art online courses. In a DIY course development environment, few faculty members have the time and inclination to learn the technology thoroughly, educate themselves on the pedagogy, explore all the various ways of designing their course content and activities, choose and implement a class collaboration strategy, take advantage of campus ID support, and create a great course. Most will present their content and repurpose the assignments they use in their traditional classroom with a few adjustments, but rarely do you see an experience reimagined for the online student in the way it could be. Given that the affordances and limitations of the two modalities are so distinct, the same results can and should be achieved through very different means. When faculty convert their existing courses without truly redesigning for the new context, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: faculty who are uncertain of the potential effectiveness of online TRAINING Course Design Course Production Course Management Course Facilitation Experienced online instructors lead new faculty through an exploration of design, development, and facilitation best practices Instructional Designers (ID) work with faculty to design learning activities to the online modality A Production Specialist builds the course and any multimedia for review by faculty A Learning Technologist sets up and maintains the course throughout the term 24/7 Helpdesk IDs available to discuss facilitation questions Student Retention Specialists manage student orientation, keep students on task, and work with faculty to keep lines of communication open p Creating a truly distinctive, effective, and engaging online course generally requires a team of people faculty members, instructional designers, media specialists, technologists, and support personnel. At Deltak, we provide multi-layered support to help faculty make a successful transition to teaching online. Page 6

7 at deltak our team strives to help faculty imagine what is possible and then support them to achieve it by incorporating these types of experiences into their courses where appropriate. courses create them with little support, then look at what they created and deem it inferior to their traditional classes. Lecture capture, for example, is becoming ubiquitous on campuses, and is sometimes used to anchor online learning initiatives. Lecture capture certainly has its place in blended and open learning initiatives, but few would argue that it is equivalent to being in the room with the class, or that it in itself is a viable substitute for a course. 8 In any event, this approach is but one sliver of the rich diversity of available online pedagogical approaches, most of which include much more active and social learning experiences. Investing in a team approach that brings together instructional design, technical support, and subject matter expertise in on key problems will help ensure that the most effective approach, rather than the most familiar, is chosen and adeptly implemented. The more this happens, the more momentum you can develop for online learning initiatives. If you have relied on a role-playing activity to teach a certain skill or concept in your traditional classroom, and you can t figure out how to redesign that activity for your online course, you are bound to remain skeptical of the potential of online learning. If, however, you ve had the experience of collaborating with technologists and instructional designers who have been able to overcome pedagogical challenges like this one, then the picture starts to brighten. Shifting to a team approach can at first be uncomfortable for faculty who are used to thinking of teaching as a solo performance. But courses that result from a team approach speak for themselves. Some of the most effective and engaging online courses include debates, team projects where students can co-author documents using live meeting spaces, video galleries and podcast galleries for peer review of studentsubmitted oral presentations, and wikis where students develop class knowledge bases. At Deltak, our team strives to help faculty imagine what is possible and then support them to achieve it by incorporating these types of experiences into their courses where appropriate. We ve also helped faculty develop short-form video lectures, animations, and knowledge-application games. We ve incorporated eportfolios, social networks, twitter feeds, and other social media into courses. And there s far more out there that we ve just begun to explore. Game-based learning environments in which students collaboratively solve authentic problems in immersive scenarios have shown lots of promise, most notably in business and engineering classes Adaptive learning systems that provide diagnostic assessments and learn about each student s comprehension profile are also promising. Few, if any, of these innovative approaches would be effectively implemented in a DIY environment it takes a team to create and support truly inspiring courses. Showcasing innovations like these as they happen on each campus is critical to a systematized course development approach because it can inspire faculty to explore new approaches and foster a community of practice around quality instruction in all modalities. Regular meetings in which faculty share experiences and show their courses can call attention to the efforts and creativity of those pioneering faculty who solve difficult pedagogical challenges in their online courses. Newsletters featuring online courses can also help, as can exposure to noteworthy courses from outside the university via peer review or conferences. Planning intentionally to establish a community of practice by cultivating exemplar courses, promoting them as the accomplishments they are, and enriching the ecosystem can create an updraft of quality in online teaching and in the excitement of faculty. p We work with faculty to design courses that are truly engaging with features that allow for easy social interaction between students and instructors. Page 7

8 Without a robust support system and exposure to innovations large and small in the learning experience, faculty may succumb to the temptation to view online curriculum through a narrow lens, often as a watered-down alternative to a classroom course. Contrast this to the excitement administrators feel about the opportunity for enrollment growth and mission advancement, and you have a real disconnect. This inspiration gap between faculty and administrators can be closed in several ways. First, faculty will listen to their trusted peers and empowered champions will have a great influence. Beyond this, administrators need to provide a vision of the pedagogical and technical possibilities available to faculty and their support of the experimentation required to discover effective practice in each discipline. While everyone can see the huge opportunity for program expansion, there is less awareness of the exciting potential of advancement in teaching and learning online. Closing this gap can be critical to mobilizing faculty to support online initiatives. > INCENTIVES Once fears about quality and support are addressed sufficiently and faculty are inclined to believe that an online learning initiative could in fact work from a pedagogical perspective, their concerns often turn to incentives: compensation and recognition. Some faculty worry whether unbundling of the faculty role, as has been discussed for years, threatens to diminish the value of a traditional professor in the labor market, making it easy for schools to hire less expensive instructors to teach, while using content produced by its knowledge creating traditional faculty. Or as has recently been discussed given the attention around MOOC s, online learning could drive class size up and instructor contact down as curriculum either leverages open content from elite schools, or is delivered via adaptive learning systems. This fear of devaluation may be a key driver of the anxiety faculty feel about online learning. Only 30% of the faculty surveyed by Babson believe their institution has a fair system of paying for online instruction, and just under half think their institution respects online teaching in tenure and promotion decisions. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. In a 2005 study of factors that motivate or don t motivate faculty to teach online,peter Shea found that even among experienced online faculty, the top concerns about online instruction were inadequate compensation, inadequate time to develop courses, and uncertainty about recognition of the effort. 12 (Interestingly, concerns about the quality of the learning experience barely made the top ten in this study likely due to the experience level of the respondents.) Experience working in-depth with 25 schools has shown us that there is a range of compensation practices, and many of them fail to account for the true effort involved in the initial work of creating and teaching a course, not to mention the ongoing work of improving it over time. Many schools taking the initial leap into online learning treat developing and teaching an online course as an amount of effort equivalent to teaching one section of a traditional course. After all, in conventional classroom courses, faculty are paid one lump sum for preparing materials, leading class sessions, and grading student work there is generally no separate pay for development. Those of us involved in course development and online instruction know that developing a course is itself a tremendous investment of time. It requires a deconstructing of learning events, reconstituting them to engage students at a distance, and producing an often exhaustive amount of instructional material for students to make sense of the design. Only 30% of the faculty surveyed by babson believe their institution has a fair system of paying for online instruction, and just under half think their institution respects online teaching in tenure and promotion decisions. Page 8

9 Then there is media production, actually building out the web pages, figuring out the supporting technologies, testing and QA ing the work. In Deltak s model, faculty are responsible for only a subset of these activities designers help find materials, write instructions, and structure activities and developers build out and set up the courses for them. Yet even in our model, we find the effort averages hours for converting an existing course to online or blended format, and often twice that for designing from scratch. Once developed, teaching the course is often an intensive effort in itself. Attending to students in what may be an accelerated asynchronous online course in which students are constantly interacting can be a shift for many traditional faculty. And let s not forget the time it takes to learn the art and science of online course design and facilitation each of these is a professional development undertaking that should not be underestimated. In typical instructional models that do not include teaching assistants or community managers, faculty report spending up to 15 hours per week over an 8-week term teaching in discussion-intensive courses of students. (Of course, instructional support from TAs can offload much of this time for faculty while maintaining a high degree of engagement, given the right course design.) Schools that have been most successful at bringing faculty along in their online initiatives have been careful to ensure that compensation reflects the commitment online course development and teaching entails. Alongside faculty concerns about compensation are concerns about recognition. What will motivate faculty to put in the substantial effort to rethink their course and move it online? How will peers and leaders view their work? Too often, online initiatives are undertaken on the margins of the faculty without buy-in from its most influential members. This can be subversive to online initiatives, as the faculty community can devalue the initiative and relegate its participants to a second-tier status. Schools may unintentionally be taking advantage of the enthusiasm of early adopters and new hires eager to prove themselves and try a new and promising pedagogical approach. While this often results in dynamic courses with those committed instructors, it does not create the interest among others that builds momentum for the initiative. Those skeptical faculty members may succeed in marginalizing it in their organizational culture, valuing it less than traditional teaching. Academic leaders who see online learning as part of their mission take care to get buy-in from influential, wellestablished faculty as well as less influential enthusiasts, so that the culture cannot marginalize the online initiative or its faculty. They also ensure that the culture of the school evolves to recognize contributions to building and teaching in online and blended formats. Deltak s Program Planning Process invites leaders to consider this challenge and chart a course that makes sense for them including incentives for excellence in online teaching, periodic showcasing of online coursework, and community of practice initiatives that solicit all faculty to contribute to forming a vision for the online learning experience. Page 9

10 > SUMMARY The Babson study, like studies before it, shows that the more exposure faculty have to online learning, the more they believe in its legitimacy and potential. So in this sense, the principle challenge before administrators who want to advance online and blended learning initiatives is to entice those skeptics to give it a go, and then ensure that when they do it is a good experience in which they connect meaningfully with their students, and in which students reach meaningful learning outcomes. They can do so through stronger, more authentic outcomes measurement across modalities, a robust support system for faculty who teach online, and compensation and recognition policies commensurate with the importance of the initiative. Faculty then can move forward, confident that their reputation and the reputation of the school is intact. Ideally, faculty will have ample support as they make the transition to teaching with technology, and they ll be fairly rewarded for their considerable effort toward an important shift in their university s history. Faculty, too, have a responsibility here, and that is to carefully consider the choices before them and their institutions when they are approached with the idea of considering another modality. With over 6 million students currently enrolled in an online course (31% of total enrollment), there is little doubt that the market is increasingly choosing alternative modalities. 13 The shift is even more pronounced in adult education and in certain disciplines like nursing, business, and criminal justice, where online programs already grant approximately 40% of master s degrees. Even traditional format programs have benefitted from the inclusion of online and blended options to accelerate time to completion and even to meet some learning objectives more efficiently. While traditional courses are by no means disappearing, leaders entrusted to ensure their institution s status and long-term vitality cannot afford to ignore the shift that continues to take place. So what if you could offer the same quality learning experience, generating the same results or better and creating the same kind of connection and community you do in face-to-face classes, but with students at a distance? The best way to ensure that it happens is to get involved. As the transition to online learning takes place, faculty can make sure it is done responsibly, driven by institutional values and held to high standards. At Deltak, we ve been working with administrators and faculty to that end for years, and given where we re headed, it s still just the beginning. > About the Author David Migliorese is the Director of Online Learning for Deltak. David leads the Instructional Design group, responsible for the course design consulting, course production, and faculty training provided to partner schools. David has been working in online learning since 2000, when he joined the user experience team at Unext.com. There, he helped develop one of the first online MBA programs with a consortium of premier universities including Chicago, Stanford, and Columbia. Since joining Deltak in 2009, David has built a team of exceptional instructional designers and faculty support specialists who share his passion for student-centered, outcomes-driven learning. He is currently leading initiatives in flexible learning environments, student readiness, social networks, e-portfolios, continuous improvement, and faculty communities of practice. David completed his bachelor s degree in Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his Master s in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Page 10

11 > References 1. Allen, Elaine and Jeff Seaman Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States: Babson Survey Research Group. 2. Allen, Elaine and Jeff Seaman Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education: Babson Survey Research Group. 3. Bowen, William G. and Kelly A. Lack Current Status of Research on Online Learning in Postsecondary Education: Ithaka S+R. 4. Menchacha and Bekele Learner and Instructor- Identified Success Factors in Distance Education. Distance Education 29 (3). 5. Garrison, D. R., T. Anderson, and W. Archer Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education 2-3 (2): Oblinger, D. and Brian Hawkins The Myth about Online Course Development. EDUCAUSE Review 41 (1): To learn about one such system in place at Colorado State University Global, see Puzzifera, Maria, and Kaye Shelton, A Model for Developing High-Quality Online Courses: Integrating a Systems Approach with Learning Theory. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 12 (3-4). 9. Cardamone, L Learning to Drive in the Open Racing Car Simulator using Online Neuroevolution, Computational Intelligence and AI in Games IEEE Transactions on, Sept 2010, Issue 3 Vol 2. IEEE Transactions 2 (3). 10. Neely, Pat and Jan Tucker Using Business Simulations as Authentic Assessment Tools. American Journal of Business Education 5 (4). 11. Carnegie Mellon s OLI statistics modules, for instance, deliver customized content to remediate learning gaps found in diagnostic assessments. Use of these modules was shown to increase the efficiency of student learning (time to completion) by 25% while maintaining equivalent student performance. 12. Shea, Peter Bridges. Barriers to Teaching Online College Courses: A Study of Experienced Online Faculty in Thirty-Six Colleges. 13. Eduventures Online Higher Education Market Update 2011 & Sloan-C For an interesting study comparing lecture capture to the live classroom, see Figlio, David N., Mark Rush, and Lu Yin Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No Page 11

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