As more institutions of higher education increase the delivery of online learning courses and programs, ensuring faculty possess the right skills to excel in this medium is paramount. Teaching online requires specific competencies, skills and aptitudes allowing faculty to foster the acquisition of knowledge, in an environment that is isolated and geared for independent and self-directed learners. Equally important is the subsequent support and renewal of skills for the continued success of the program and the students enrolled in it.
Online learning, in the United States, continues to grow. The most recent figures place the number of students taking online courses at 6.5 million (Seaman, Allen and Seaman, 2018; Legon, Garrett & Fredericksen, 2019; Clinefelter, Aslanian & Magda, 2019). Every year more institutions add online programs. Many become online institutions by establishing formal distance education enterprises or expand current ones. These operations, as they become more complex and sophisticated, require the ability to quickly develop services to support an increasing number of faculty members. (Naidu, 2019). While higher education is undergoing a transformation, some scholars believe there is little innovation. According to Salmon (2014), “there is a lack of institutional learning from the many thousands of isolated experiments and innovations as, in many universities, internal investment, reward, recognition and approval systems do not encourage systematic change or experimentation” (Salmon, 2014). This paper discusses that are the result of innovative approaches to administer, infuse quality and prepare for an expansion of the online campus. These innovative approaches include training, professional development, compliance, and planning for future offerings and growth.
The success of an eLearning program, its rigor, recognition, and accomplishments depend, to a great extent, on the support provided to its faculty teaching online. The literature on the topic indicates that training and support (Bigatel, Ragan, Kennan, May, Redmond, 2012) are two of the main pillars that ensures the endeavor is sound, high quality and sustainable. Faculty training is paramount in an eLearning program. While the craft of teaching technically can be adapted to any modality, eLearning requires a specific set of competencies for the professor to deliver instruction with the utmost quality and commitment, facilitating student success in a medium that is isolated for both the professor and the student.
As part of our responsibilities, the campus oversees the hiring, training, supervision, presence and quality of the eLearning faculty. The campus has made faculty support a cornerstone of its values and goals, and invests significantly and consistently in training its faculty (Elliott, Rhoades, Jackson & Mandernach, 2015). Training and development are paired with support fine-tuned for online delivery, from course design to constant renewal of teaching strategies, and from best practices to adoption of instructional technology tools (Miller, Benke, Chaloux, Ragan, Schroeder, Smutz & Swan, 2014). With three strategies — Online Certification, an Instructional Design unit and eFaculty Coaches—the campus has been able to support, develop and grow its more than 450 faculty members teaching over 1,200 sections every semester, in a sustainable and scalable manner (Morales, 2011). TCC Connect Campus at Tarrant County College is a 100% virtual campus serving more than 20,000 students annually, in 24 academic programs (Morales, 2019). These programs were established in 2014 under a non-traditional approach (Christensen and Raynor, 2013).
Teaching online requires a specific set of competencies and attitudes. Online learning has been in growth trajectory (Seaman, Allen and Seaman, 2018) for the last decade allowing students to earn a degree as well as allowing faculty to renew their teaching while increasing their repertoire of teaching strategies (Orlich et.al. 2016). A way to increase the success of a faculty member when teaching and online course, is through the implementation of an online certification. Many institutions have adopted a mandatory approach to this training. In addition, to ensure that the expectations and skillset outlined by the institution, the certification also provides upcoming faculty, with teaching strategies, management techniques for the online classroom, research-based best practices and an orderly transition from face-to-face to online teaching for those new to the modality. A mandatory Online Certification is required for faculty before they embark on the pedagogy of online teaching. The certification provides faculty with the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in the virtual classroom, including presence, facilitation and interaction strategies (Bigatel et al., 2012). TCC Connect Campus created two tracks for the certification. One track is for experienced faculty and it is based on a competency-based education (CBE) model and a track for new faculty interested in online teaching. The CBE version allow the academic administrators of the campus to expedite the certification of a faculty member by accepting and validating training and certifications obtained previously by the faculty member . This process provides an avenue to certify recently hired faculty in one business day. This process aims at a rapid hiring and deployment of faculty in the event of an increase in enrollment, due to a partnership or interest in new programs. The traditional track for new faculty is an instructor led process that can lasts as short as 4 weeks and as long as 12 weeks.
Instructional Design Services
Instructional Designers (IDs) act as consultants to the faculty in the development, of content for online course delivery (Sims, & Koszalka, 2008). These professionals possess the competencies to help faculty translate activities, content and select the right assessment tools to build high-quality courses for online delivery (Ashbaugh, 2013). Instructional designers competencies which range from “technical skills in handling learning management systems (e.g. Angel Drupal); creating HTML5 web pages, managing databases, multimedia skills in creating and editing digital content (e.g. videos, graphics)” (Park & Luo, 2017). In parallel, the IDs also assist faculty with strategies to improve the delivery of instruction, including student engagement, by adapting the methodology that helps them teach with the best approach (Brigance, 2011; IBSTPI, 2012; Reid, 2018).
Designing and developing effective curriculum is a collaborative process. The online faculty, instructional designers and peers are all important to the course development and deployment process. At our institution, IDs have been instrumental in the implementation of high-quality, high-engaging courses that leverages various subject matter experts (SMEs), instead of an individualized approach to course design. The IDs offer and suggest grounding learning activities in various types learning theories. In addition, our instructional designers conduct curriculum needs analysis, articulate instructional design plans customized to each course, suggest and train on technology integration, and much more. Peer to peer networks benefit the ID process, as well, provide feedback and suggestions for improving the learning activities and instructional material. Our peer developed process is a more robust one (Morales, 2017; Quinn, 2014). This process is locally known peer developed courses, our practice has produced evidence where the product, an online course. The iterative nature of curriculum development and improvement provide a process for faculty, instructional designers, and peers to continually improve course curriculum teaching and learning.
Finally, eLearning faculty success is dependent on training, competencies and skills in the virtual classroom (Al-Salman, 2011). Faculty success is no longer limited to training and to meet expectations by their program. Additionally, faculty success is better supported by a holistic process that its goal is to improve teaching and learning. Here is when the eFaculty Coach comes to scene.
eFaculty Coaches provide eLearning faculty with continuous support in the areas of online presence, administration of the classroom and just-in-time training. They also assist with discipline assessment activities, effective communication, online presence, and virtual classroom observations. Data collection plays a pivotal role in the endeavor, as they complete and submit weekly data reports for assigned course load. And also utilize data and applies current best practices to provide pedagogical support to online faculty. Grounded in mentoring, the eFaculty Coaches assess faculty activities and interact with departmental chairpersons. eFaculty Coaches is an initiative that aims at increasing the quality and performance of faculty teaching online courses (Morales & Tapia, 2018).
The eFaculty coaches are unique college resources that support and empower the online faculty. The credentialing of eFaculty is important the credibility of the eFaculty coach and faculty they mentor. The credentialing of eFaculty coaches is the cornerstone to building trust between eFaculty coaches and online faculty. An eFaculty coach must have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university; three years of experience in course/ instructional design; three years of experience teaching online and experience in faculty coaching, mentoring, or development. These qualifications allow administration to exercise ample discretion on how to assign roles and activities to the eFaculty Coach. A few of these assigned roles include providing feedback and coaching to online faculty in the administration of the virtual classroom. Another role is to identify instructor training needs or improvement opportunities using checklists, rubrics, and compliance documents. One other key role is to engage in observations that include consideration of grades, feedback, communication, and online presence/ engagement.
In addition, the person is required to have 18 graduate hours in a subject taught at the college, allowing for the same caliber of professional coaching and supporting a faculty member. It is important to make a distinction that the eFaculty Coaches do not coach faculty in the same areas they are credentialed.
The reasoning to develop faculty support services is paramount to the success of eLearning endeavors as these effect, program quality, student satisfaction, student retention and student success as well as faculty engagement and faculty success. Through a soft-launch approach, the implementation of these three areas allow the college to continuously develop and support the faculty and are created to support the growth of the eLearning enterprise at the college.
Written by Carlos Morales, TCC Connect Campus-Tarrant County College, USA. Published in the Book of Abstracts for OEB Global 2019, ISBN 978-3-94-1055-51-3. Order the print version here.
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