As we’ve explored the building blocks to a robust, successful online program platform, we’ve noted the importance of having the right infrastructure for programming and ensuring that the student experience is holistic and in alignment with best practices. The last layer of the blueprint is where faculty fit in.
Faculty possess an extremely high amount of influence in the effectiveness of a virtual classroom as they are not only the frontline for student interaction, but they also steer the academic ship throughout the course. With misperceptions—including a Marquette University survey which found students believe faculty intentionally make online courses needlessly more difficult—it’s apparent that there is an opportunity to aid faculty’s efforts. Empowering faculty to successfully play their role in a quality online program is paramount to that program’s success.
Embolden faculty’s new efforts by building on past experience
The ability to empower educators to utilize their skillsets is vital when transitioning to virtual classroom experiences. In a recent webinar, Dr. Patrice Torcivia Prusko, Director of Learning Design, Technology, and Media for the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, encouraged getting to know faculty members, learning how they approach teaching, and how to draw connections between desired teaching outcomes and the types of assignments they employ.
Dr. Rozalind Jester, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Innovation and Online Learning for Florida Southwestern State College, advocates for technology that connects students and instructors, noting the emphasis should be on student engagement and efforts that “start to build those relationships.” Active learning is a key element of that experience.
While faculty can draw upon their vast prior experience in traditional classrooms for elements that transcend modalities, the methodology isn’t the only aspect that could change. Oftentimes, the demographic for online learners in virtual classrooms is different than in traditional classroom settings and pedagogical adjustments may be necessary to engage these populations effectively.
Support faculty with resources unique to their circumstances
Just as we noted in Pillar II about wraparound services that aid the whole individual, not just an online student’s academic needs, more well-rounded resources empower faculty to do their best work, as well.
Dr. Joshua Kim, Director of Online Programs and Strategy for Dartmouth College, illustrates this directly, explaining, “[Faculty] all are stretched in a million directions. It’s really the job of institutional leadership to be not just thinking about the student wellbeing, but the educator wellbeing—and understand educators are no longer just faculty.”
Dr. Prusko also points out the importance of recognizing that different institutions and different faculty need unique resources based on their specific contexts, expounding, “What we can do to support an adjunct [professor] is different than someone who is on a tenured track versus someone who is already tenured.”
As distinct faculty groups are charged with their own priorities, someone who must publish original research will have a different availability than an adjunct faculty member hired specifically to manage open course sections. Understanding the unique needs and circumstances that impact each faculty member’s availability and capability can help set them up for success.
Educate the educators
Another key way to set faculty up for success is by providing expert-level training for student engagement in online classrooms. Ensuring educators are supplied with relevant, insightful workshops and just-in-time resources will not only bring their virtual classroom teaching into alignment with best practices, but should also serve to grow their confidence, as well.
Encouraging mutual respect from instructional designers and educators also can inspire collaborations that generate enhanced results. Dr. Kim posits, “Bring faculty together—who have long training in their discipline—and bring experts in [online] learning and you put them in teams and you treat all these people as colleagues.”
In a similar vein, Dr. Jester has looked to create internal advocates to act as ambassadors in the transition process, explaining how her institution is “giving faculty that recognition, the ones that are just doing an awesome job.” Dr. Jester’s team tapped many of those faculty for a group called Moving Online Mentors and provided a stipend to help support the group in aiding faculty’s switch to online classrooms.
This wraparound service is available to those new online educators throughout the semester with weekly check-ins and other resources. Another key feature of Dr. Jester’s program—which is also present in the literature for online learning—is creating an environment where faculty are teaching one another, enhancing their ability to get deeply familiar and comfortable with the modality.
Help faculty make the leap
The ability to empower and properly engage faculty members in the transition to virtual classrooms is a vitally important one as it serves as an important linchpin connecting the students and the technology. Providing faculty with the freedom, flexibility, and expert resources to build upon their teaching knowledge can allow educators to effectively embrace the online modality more readily.
Looking to provide your faculty with the best practices and available resources to captivate learners and achieve institutional goals? Talk with our team today, and let’s empower your educators for next-level performance!