Training Journalism Instructors to Teach Online: A Multiple Case Study

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This qualitative multiple case study explores how journalism and mass communication schools prepare and support faculty and adjunct instructors who teach online, and examines the collaborative relationship between instructors and instructional designers through the lens of a professional learning community.


Brian Delaney is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies and a Research Assistant in Drexel University’s School of Education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ithaca College in 2004, and a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in e-Learning Technologies and Instructional Design from Drexel in 2016. He spent five years as an adjunct lecturer at the Ithaca College Park School of Communications, teaching journalism courses, and was an award-winning journalist in newspapers and radio over a career of 16 years. His research foci include: journalism and mass communication education, online and blended learning, educational technologies, experiential learning and e-learning, instructional design, and Mind Brain Education sciences. In February 2018, he was selected Co-Editor of the Emerging Voices in Education Journal for a two-year term. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Stefanie, and their two children, Eamonn and Brynn.
Dr. Betts has 20 years of experience in higher education serving in key leadership positions within private, public, and for-profit institutions as a program director, Senior Director for e-Learning, Director of Online & Blended Learning, and Chief Academic Officer. Dr. Betts has expertise is in higher education, online and blended learning, curriculum and instructional design, strategic planning, and evaluation. Her research focus is on online and blended learning, Online Human Touch/high touch, Brain-Targeted Teaching, 21st century skills, workforce/career development, student retention, and faculty development. Dr. Betts is a Middle States peer evaluator and Quality Matters peer reviewer. She is also an instructor for the Online Learning Consortium Advanced Certificate program. Dr. Betts has also been a keynote speaker at conferences and government-supported events in Sweden, South Korea, Canada, and across the United States.

Extended Abstract

Historically journalism and mass communication (JMC) educators have been focused on industry needs, traditional programming, and keeping pace with technology. There is a new area requiring adaptation. National data reveals increasing growth in online enrollments across the United States with over 31% of all students enrolling in at least one online course (Seaman, Allen & Seaman, 2018). To meet this growing demand, new JMC degree programs are being launched to serve non-traditional students, international students, and/or students who prefer the flexibility of asynchronous, online environments or hybrid formats. Consequently, JMC instructors need to adapt rapidly on three pedagogical fronts: emerging industry, technological trends, and best practices in distance education teaching and learning. This is a difficult if not impossible task without institutional support.

Extensive research exists in the broader areas of online teaching, learning, educational technologies, and life experiences of non-traditional students, among others. However, there has been little to no research examining these important topics within the context of online JMC courses, certifications or programs. Since journalism is a professional trade that weaves theoretical principles with high levels of practical application, critical examination of online pedagogies and faculty training is paramount for program efficacy.

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study is twofold: to explore how JMC schools prepare and support faculty and adjunct instructors to teach online, and to examine the professional relationship between instructors and instructional designers through the lens of a professional learning community.


Several JMC schools are adapting curricula to online formats. This aligns with research by Castaneda (2011) who found that 13% of accredited JMC schools in 2011 were offering, or planning to offer, degree programs in online formats. In these evolving spaces, JMC educators must develop pedagogies that sufficiently train students for fieldwork, immerse them in media technologies, and avail them to extracurricular or internship opportunities. For these reasons, it is critical for faculty and adjuncts to access professional development opportunities for online teaching. The knowledge will help maximize both student learning and the student experience, in addition to strengthening the instructor’s approach to online pedagogy.



Professional Development for Online Instruction


Continued innovation of information technologies has increased learning delivery methods and reach, including in professional development strategies. These developments have greatly influenced  higher education, enabling (a) international faculty to collaborate on research; (b) learners to access targeted courses, certifications, or programs remotely; and (c) education leaders to supplement their own expertise through online training programs. Targeted institutional programs, then, can provide up-to-date learning opportunities for faculty and adjuncts to improve their pedagogical approaches (Marchese 1998; Brancato 2003).


Mohr and Shelton (2017) wrote that “understanding the needs of online faculty is the first step to planning effective professional development” (p. 134). Steps should be taken to build a community that connects stakeholders both on campus and off since online faculty can be separated geographically (2017). From a policy perspective, the literature indicates that department and school leaders should establish and promote a clear vision of the importance of online teaching to increase faculty engagement and buy-in (2017). According to Lewis and Wang (2015), transferring face-to-face pedagogies to online environments is “ineffective” (p. 110).


Adjunct faculty present a unique challenge for professional development. Research reveals that part-time instructors comprise 19% of all faculty positions at public research institutions and 50% of all faculty positions at community colleges (Hurlburt & McGarrah, 2016). With increasing courses and programs moving online, there is increasing growth in this instructor population. As part-time employees, adjuncts spend significant time working off-campus in other roles. Depending on the situation, they are not included in faculty meetings, do not have a voice in department planning, have little or no teaching experience, and may not be required to hold office hours. Wright (2010) wrote that faculty and adjuncts need consistent levels of support, including mentorship. Observing a quality online course “should increase confidence” (2010, p. 3).


Online Human Touch

Leaders in higher education are placing a stronger emphasis on instructor and instructional designer’s professional development as online education enrollments continue to grow annually, (Mohr & Shelton, 2017). Betts (2009) developed a conceptual framework called Online Human Touch (OHT) to train and support faculty who teach online in a graduate degree program at Drexel University. Betts asserted that a large percentage of online instructors were part-time adjuncts with little pedagogical knowledge; additionally, those positions are prone to constant turnover (Betts, 2009; Betts, Kramer, & Gaines, 2011). The OHT framework was designed for a holistic, department-level approach to prepare instructors to teach online; however, the framework is relatable to instructional designers and the role they play in supporting online teaching and professional development.


OHT is based on two research-backed assertions: one, faculty are more likely to engage online instruction if they feel supported by program stakeholders and the surrounding community, and two, improved faculty instruction and support will increase student engagement, learning, and retention (Betts, Kramer, & Gaines, 2011). The model identifies five focus areas for holistic training and development: faculty engagement, community development (or connectivity within the department), personalized communication, faculty development (training before teaching), and data-driven decision-making.


Interviews with each of this study’s nine participants included questions that were formulated from the five focus areas of OHT in the context of that individual’s work at their institution. According to Yin (1984), multiple case studies should not be generalized to one another, but “to theory, analogous to the way a scientist generalizes from experimental results to theory” (p. 37). There are a number of approaches to training instructors to teach online, and this research study will use OHT as a comparative framework.


Research Questions

This qualitative multiple case study aims to address two research questions:

  1. How have JMC schools approached the preparation and support of full-time and part-time instructors to teach in online courses?
  2. How do journalism instructors and journalism-oriented instructional designers collaborate as a professional learning community to strengthen JMC pedagogy in online courses?


This qualitative multiple case study examines professional development opportunities, both institutionally provided and individually sought, for JMC instructors preparing to teach courses in fully online environments. A total of nine individuals, three each from three JMC schools — one full-time faculty member, one adjunct instructor, and one journalism-oriented instructional designer — were interviewed for this study. Each school represents a bounded case, and data analysis will include analyzing each case separately and then comparing findings across the three cases. Data from each case will be framed according to the five focus areas of OHT.

Interview participants were selected after consultation with an administrator at each school. Inclusion criteria was met with each participant. Both instructors must have taught online courses for at least one academic year, and the instructional designer’s primary responsibility was supporting online courses. While the instructors provide insight into individual experience, instructional designers speak from both individual experience and program-level planning and implementation.



The nine interviews for this study were conducted, transcribed and coded throughout May and June. Preliminary results from interviews reveal the following:

  • Opportunities exist for each school to comprehensively review and update its respective approach to training instructors to teach online.
  • Adjuncts would embrace additional asynchronous opportunities to strengthen both their online pedagogical repertoire and professional relationships with instructional designers.
  • Participants acknowledge ongoing efforts to better incorporate customized experiential design thinking into professional learning communities comprised of instructional designers, instructors and administrators in journalism and mass communication schools.
  • These online programs are connecting non-traditional students — who work full-time jobs and/or are caretakers — to educational advancement opportunities that face-to-face programs cannot provide.


JMC schools have spent the last 15-20 years straining to keep pace with a rapidly evolving professional industry disrupted by incessant digital innovation and changing consumer habits. During this transition period, a number of schools have launched degree programs in fully online formats. This study aims to expand the literature in three specific areas: first, how participating schools approach preparing and supporting instructors to teach online; second, schools who are offering or planning to offer a degree program online will have additional data to inform their approach to these areas; and third, implications will inform future research in this area.

Goals of the Presentation

There is little to no literature available on how JMC schools in higher education are preparing full-time faculty and adjuncts to teach online courses. The purpose of this study — and presentation — is to document emerging themes from data collected through interviews with nine individuals, three each from three JMC schools at large, public, research-based universities in the United States. As JMC educators adapt to a rapidly evolving industry, this presentation will:

  • Summarize findings from a first-of-its-kind study into JMC schools’ approach to training faculty and adjuncts to teach online.
  • Highlight areas of opportunity for JMC schools to strengthen their approach to training faculty and adjuncts to teach online.
  • Explain the complex relationship between journalism instructor and instructional designer through the lens of a professional learning community.


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Betts, K., Kramer, R., & Gaines, L.L. (2011). Online faculty and adjuncts: Strategies for meeting current and future demands of online education through Online Human Touch training and support. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 1(4), 20-38.

Brancato, V.C. (2003). Professional development in higher education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 59-66. doi:10.1002/ace.100

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