1 BEST PRACTICES FOR ONLINE INSTRUCTORS Reminders Wade W. Fish and Leah E. Wickersham Texas A&M University-Commerce Online education has become increasingly popular in higher education, which is a trend that will continue as more universities have begun to heavily invest in online teaching due to student demand. While best practices for implementing online instruction are well documented in previous literature, factors identified in this review of literature serve as reminders that should be considered by higher education faculty to enhance the quality of their online courses. Teaching online requires a faculty member to think differently about teaching and learning, learn a host of new technological skills, and engage in ongoing faculty development for design and development of quality online instruction. During the past few years, online education has become increasingly popular in higher education (Dunlap, Sobel, & Sands, 2007; Stoltenkamp, Kies, & Njenga, 2007). In 2004, over 54,000 online courses were offered within universities across the United States (Singh & Pan, 2004). Online learning is a trend that will continue as more universities have begun to heavily invest in online teaching (Appana, 2008) due to increased student demand (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). While best practices for implementing online instruction are well documented in previous literature, the following factors serve as reminders that should be considered by higher education faculty to enhance the quality of their online courses. THINK DIFFERENTLY Necessary measures to develop and teach quality online courses are considerably different compared to implementing conventional courses (Dunlap et al., 2007). Effective online course delivery requires more than simply repackaging existing traditional course content (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008) by means such as placing presentation slides and lecture notes into course management systems, which is frequently practiced by poorly trained faculty (Dunlap et al.). Faculty must restructure how course content is delivered, which takes type of content, student ability and course sequence within curriculum into consideration Wade W. Fish, Department of Educational Leadership, Texas A&M University-Commerce, P.O. Box 3011, Commerce, TX Phone: (903) The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Volume 10(3), 2009, pp ISSN Copyright 2009 Information Age Publishing, Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
2 280 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 10, No. 3, 2009 (Cornelius & Glasgow, 2007). Online teaching requires faculty to be able to communicate differently and by learning how to enhance relationships with students online (Dykman & Davis, 2008). Delivering quality online courses is more difficult and time consuming compared to traditional courses (Almala, 2007; Darrington, 2008; Dykman & Davis, 2008; Li & Irby, 2008). Difficulty revolves around faculty having to create quality learning environments through virtual classroom communities (Darrington) in addition to faculty having to adjust to limited social interaction (Dykman & Davis). Recommendations to decrease the difficulty level of implementing effective online courses include increased faculty release time in order to reduce teaching loads (White, Brown, & Sugar, 2007; Winkler-Prins, Weisenborn, Group, & Arbogast, 2007), which will allow educators time to develop instructional materials and to learn how to adapt to the online instructional environment. According to Dykman and Davis, online teaching will likely become easier and rewarding for educators as they become more comfortable delivering courses online. THE ADULT LEARNER The increase in the number of online courses has resulted in an emphasis toward adult learning theory, in which the instructor serves as a facilitator of learning rather than a distributor of content (Ruiz, Mintzer, & Leipzig, 2006). This paradigm shift from traditional content-centered to learningcentered courses (Magnussen, 2008) facilitates learning through collaborative discovery (Dykman & Davis, 2008), which increases student satisfaction (Appana, 2008). Effective online learning environments engage students toward higher levels of thinking, promote active student involvement, accommodate individual differences and motivate learners (Zsohar & Smith, 2008). Curriculum content should be authentic and applicable to the real world that facilitates problem-centered learning. Quality instruction further builds critical thinking skills that enhance lifelong learning (Dunlap et al., 2007). Meaningful interaction that motivates students to think critically is dependent upon effective course content presentation. FACULTY SUPPORT AND COLLABORATION Successful online course development is dependent upon the commitment (Magnussen, 2008), enthusiasm, interest and skills of dedicated faculty (Winkler-Prins et al., 2007). Despite the demand for online instruction, innovative adoption of online teaching practices in higher education has been limited, as universities often are reluctant to engage in technological development (Fox, Anderson, & Rainie, 2005 as cited in Dykman & Davis, 2008; Spellings, 2006 as cited in Dykman & Davis). The willingness of institutions to invest in technical support and equipment is necessary to implement successful online programs (Magnussen, 2008). Furthermore, administrative support is essential in order to create effective distance education support structures (Appana, 2008) and maintain strong e-learning infrastructures (Almala, 2007). While initial funding may serve as a limitation, sufficient allocation of revenues is necessary in order to allow faculty members to convert conventional programs to online courses (Appana). Institutions must provide ongoing faculty training and support (Appana, 2008) through professional development opportunities that expose instructors to current technologies and related software (Evans & Champion, 2007). Universities staying current with technological innovation results in improved online course development outcomes and satisfaction (Cornelius & Glasgow, 2007). Those instructors who teach online should be properly trained in order to become more technologically proficient (Arabasz & Baker, 2003 as cited in Stol-
3 Best Practices for Online Instructors 281 tenkamp et al., 2007). An intensive team effort is necessary, especially for those instructors who lack online course development skills (Taylor, 2002, as cited in Appana, 2008), which includes collaboration between faculty and web design teams (Appana). Li and Irby (2008) provide measures that faculty can take to enhance their online course development skills, which consists of regularly attending online education workshops and conducting literature reviews in order to stay current on effective online education practices. Li and Irby further recommend that instructors consistently consult and network with other colleagues who teach online courses to include those from other universities. Properly trained instructors will likely have the knowledge to build successful courses that enhance faculty productivity, engage learners and optimize student learning outcomes (Zsohar & Smith, 2008). STUDENT SUPPORT Successful online students are likely to be disciplined, organized, self-motivated, and technologically knowledgeable (Hiltz & Goldman, 2004). Unfortunately, many students enrolled in online courses are not tech-savvy (Darrington, 2008). Comprehensive student online training is necessary in order to reduce student frustration levels (Magnussen, 2008; Restauri, 2004 as cited in Appana, 2008) and to ensure that online technology does not interfere with learning (Comelius & Glasgow, 2007). The presentation of online courses further contributes toward student success levels. Online technology should consist of user-friendly technology delivery systems (Almala, 2007), and software that appeals to learners (Hutchings, Hadfield, Howarth, & Lewarne, 2007). Furthermore, online course content should be easy to navigate that contain high quality images, graphics, video streaming, and links to electronic resources (Winkler-Prins et al., 2007). QUALITY DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION Quality online courses adapt to student needs, provide meaningful examples, motivate students, and consist of instructors who express concern for student learning (Young, 2006). The foundation for developing online courses revolve around the careful selection of course delivery systems (Cornelius & Glasgow, 2007), establishing high standards (Almala, 2007) and instructional planning (Evans & Campion, 2007). Organization and Planning According to Dykman and Davis (2008), detailed organization and planning is the first step in teaching online. Components to planning online courses include developing course objectives, identifying reading material and assignments, determining interaction options and clarifying student expectations. Learners are more likely to focus more on learning (Dykman & Davis) and benefit (Zsohar & Smith, 2008) when online courses are carefully planned through clear expectations and guidelines. Clarification is especially important since faculty members are usually unable to provide students with instantaneous explanations for potential misunderstandings online (Magnussen, 2008). Upfront planning, prior to the beginning of an online course, is necessary to decrease student misunderstanding and confusion (Almala, 2007; Li & Irby, 2008) as making significant adjustments mid-stream usually does not work with online teaching (Dykman & Davis, 2008). Planning early consists of developing objectives that provide learners with clear guidelines, which can be effectively achieved by modularizing or organizing course content into topics (Dykman & Davis; Zsohar & Smith, 2008). Properly created modules assist student expectations by providing well-written directions that assist them toward remaining on a required pace and keeping track of assignment due dates.
4 282 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 10, No. 3, 2009 Many novice online instructors have difficulty in their attempts to make online courses academically rigorously equivalent to conventional courses, which often results in overloading students (Dykman & Davis, 2008). Online courses should offer a variety of activities and assignments that involve both lower- and higher-level cognitive processing (Dunlap et al., 2007). This balance encourages a collaborative environment. Online course assignments must not only provide a sense of connectivity, but holistically fit together to complement learning objectives (Zsohar & Smith, 2008). Instructor and Student Interaction Interaction between the instructor and student enhances the effectiveness of the online learning environment (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Muirhead, 2004, as cited in Dunlap et al., 2007) contributing to positive student performance, grades and course satisfaction (Appana, 2008; Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). According to Thurmond (2003, as cited in Dunlap et al.), the effectiveness and quality of the instructor contributes more towards student satisfaction than technology. While quality instructor guidance and verbal directions are often non-existent in online courses (Evans & Champion, 2007), a learning community must exist to where students do not feel disconnected (Cornelius & Glasgow, 2007). Feedback to students that is prompt, relevant and continuous contributes to high student satisfaction levels in online courses (Darrington, 2008; Zsohar & Smith, 2008). Dykman and Davis emphasize that initial and continuous communication as consistent meaningful dialogue between instructor and student serves as a basic principle of online teaching. Furthermore, professors should be proactive, diligent, and keep track of commitments to communicate with their students online. Direct inquires from professors enhances student comfort levels. Results from a study conducted by Gallien and Oomen- Early (2008) concluded that students who received consistent personalized instructor feedback exhibited higher satisfaction levels and academic gains compared to those students who received strictly collective feedback. While important, providing consistent personalized feedback to students in online courses can serve as a challenge to professors (Li & Irby, 2008). Magnussen (2008) recommends that faculty should set boundaries in order maintain manageable workloads such as by specifying times to where students can expect prompt instructor feedback. Faculty can also minimize s, while maximizing entire class communication, by posting student questions on class wide discussion forums, which decreases replicate questioning and student misunderstanding (Gallien & Oomen- Early, 2008; Li & Irby; Zsohar & Smith, 2008). Utilizing accessible online grade-books (Winkler-Prins et al., 2007) and providing assignment grading rubrics with clear expectations (Darrington, 2008) further enhances student feedback efforts. Ongoing Evaluation Faculty should continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their online courses (Dykman & Davis, 2008; Stoltenkamp et al., 2007). Continuous evaluation should involve researching current practices of institutions that serve as leaders in delivering quality online programs (Almala, 2007). Stotenkamp et al. concludes that continuous planning is essential due to ever-changing technologies and policies. Frequently updating online programs (Winkler-Prins et al., 2007), collecting student feedback (Cornelius & Glasgow, 2007; Li & Irby, 2008), and obtaining input by colleagues (Zsohar & Smith, 2008) further contributes toward the development of quality online courses. CONCLUSION The concept of delivering instruction online is one that is not going to fade away. It is not an
5 Best Practices for Online Instructors 283 educational fad or the latest buzzword used to impress our stakeholders. The ivory tower as it was once known has now firmly established itself as a digital one. The change in the ways and means of educating students of higher learning does not need to be viewed in a negative light; however, many faculty are reluctant to move from behind the lectern to a computer screen. This resistance to change is not without merit. As pointed out in the review of literature for this article, teaching online requires a faculty member to think differently about teaching and learning, learn a host of new technological skills and engage in ongoing faculty development for design and development of quality online instruction, and play the role of teacher, learner, and technical support. Faculty should not be alone in the requirement of making the shift from traditional teaching to the electronic mode of educating students. Administration must share in this responsibility and put their weight behind supporting faculty and students. A variety of ongoing professional development opportunities must be made available to assist faculty in developing the technical and instructional design skills necessary to create a quality online course and engaging learning experience for students. To that end, the technology used to deliver instruction must be current and user-friendly, providing technical assistance and/or training to faculty and students as needed. Incentives should be offered to faculty in the form of time, such as a course release, and/or monetary support to encourage quality design and development of online instruction. And finally, methods of ongoing assessment should be employed to assist in providing faculty with feedback for areas of improvement and encourage the practice of continuous improvement. The task ahead is not an impossible one, but it is vital that institutions of higher learning change their traditional practices rather than continue operating as normal while adding the huge responsibility of online teaching to an already heavy workload. The ivory tower has indeed changed, but with tremendous opportunities for growth and outreach and infinite innovative possibilities. REFERENCES Almala, A. H. (2007). Review of current issues in quality e-learning environments. Distance Learning, 4(3), Appana, S. (2008). A review of benefits and limitations of online learning in the context of the student, the instructor, and the tenured faculty. International Journal on ELearning, 7(1), Cornelius, F., & Glasgow, M. E. S. (2007). The development and infrastructure needs required for success one college s model: Online nursing education at Drexel University. TechTrends, 51(6), Darrington, A. (2008). Six lessons in e-learning: Strategies and support for teachers new to online environments. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 35(4), Dunlap, J. C., Sobel, D., & Sands, D. I. (2007). Supporting students cognitive processing in online courses: Designing for deep and meaningful student-to-content interactions. TechTrends, 51(4), Dykman, C. A., & Davis, C. K. (2008). Online education forum: Part two teaching online versus teaching conventionally. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(2), Evans, R., & Champion, I. (2007). Enhancing online delivery beyond PowerPoint. The Community College Enterprise, 13(2), Gallien, T., & Oomen-Early, J. (2008). Personalized versus collective instructor feedback in the online classroom: Does type of feedback affect student satisfaction, academic performance and perceived connectedness with the instructor? International Journal on ELearning, 7(3), Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. London: RoutledgeFalmer. Hiltz, S. R., & Goldman, R. (2004). Learning together online: Research on asynchronous learning networks. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Hutchings, M., Hadfield, M., Howarth, G., & Lewarne, S. (2007). Meeting the challenges of active learning in web-based case studies for sustainable development. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(3),
6 284 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 10, No. 3, 2009 Li, C., & Irby, B. (2008). An overview of online education: Attractiveness, benefits, challenges, concerns and recommendations. College Student Journal, 42(2), Magnussen, L. (2008). Applying the principles of significant learning in the e-learning environment. Journal of Nursing Education, 47(2), Ruiz, J. G., Mintzer, M. J., & Leipzig, R. M. (2006). The impact of e-learning in medical education. Academic Medicine, 81, Singh, P., & Pan, W. (2004). Online education: Lessons for administrators and instructors. College Student Journal, 38, Stoltenkamp, J., Kies, C., & Njenga, J. (2007). Institutionalizing the elearning division at the University of the Western Cape (UWC): Lessons learnt. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, 3(4), White, L. N., Brown, C. A., & Sugar, W. (2007). One department s transition to online instruction: Library science and instructional technology masters programs at East Carolina University. TechTrends, 51(6), Winkler-Prins, A. M., Weisenborn, B. N., Group, R. E., & Arbogast, A. F. (2007). Developing online geography courses: Experiences from Michigan State University. The Journal of Geography, 106(4), Young, S. (2006). Student views of effective online teaching in higher education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 20(20), Zsohar, H., & Smith, J. A. (2008). Transition from the classroom to the web: Successful strategies for teaching online. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(1),
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