Advanced Certification in Online Teaching: An Analysis of Two Instructors’ Digital Success through Student Evaluations
Concurrent Session 8
Higher education in the “Digital Age” demands educators to gain online teaching and learning expertise. As such, pioneering institutions offer students advanced certification opportunities to become online instructors. The current proposal showcases the effectiveness of digital pedagogy through student evaluations from recent asynchronous and synchronous fully online graduate courses.
The current proposal seeks to showcase the transitional experiences of face-to-face higher education instructors who were recently minted as online instructors. The presenters are full-time doctoral students, one in educational policy and the other in teaching and curriculum who participated in an advanced online teaching program. Both presenters were successfully awarded the advanced certificate in online teaching at the Warner School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester.
As the demand for online courses continues to rapidly grow around the world, a need for instructional leaders who can design and deliver content in a virtual space follows. The Warner School is one of the select group of higher institutions to offer scholars of today a rich opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Through the 15-credit program, the presenters were trained with a combination of theory and practice, engaged as a learner and the instructor with innovative digitally-rich activities, and used a wide range of online and web tools such as Blackboard Collaborative and Zoom for video conferencing to facilitate hybrid- and fully-online courses at the graduate level. The presenters learned quickly that the use of technology in instruction was not as a goal in itself, but rather, a tool to be leveraged to facilitating unique learning outcomes. To this end, the presenters reflect on their online teaching experiences and development based on an analysis of course evaluations by students. As a consistent priority to maximize students’ engagement and interaction by both practitioners and researchers, the presenters focus on students’ formal and informal feedback to underscore best practices for the spectrum of current to future online stakeholders.
The first case to be presented comes from a synchronous online course titled Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism. The course caters to master’s level graduate students in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and was taught in the semester of Spring 2017. The course was originally taught and designed as face-to-face: it was the first time for the course to be delivered as a fully online course because the school partnered with a TESOL program in a university in Mexico.
The top priority of the course design lies in ‘interaction’. In the face-to-face format of the same course, the presenter uses cooperative activities: according to Kagan’s (2002) principles of PIES, the principles of cooperative activities are Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation, and Simultaneous interaction. While there are numerous ways to implement these principles in digital learning, the presenter assumed that they could produce promising outcomes when used in synchronous sessions. The presenter had never used cooperative activities in synchronous sessions before, but the necessity to do so was inevitable for the following reasons: (1) the course consisted of theory-heavy articles. In each week, there were an average of three to four readings that cover major theories of second language acquisition; (2) this resulted in increased time for students to read and comprehend the assigned readings, and the situation was even more challenging for international students who had to read everything in English; (3) Finally, the limited time frame of synchronous sessions (1 hour and 30 minutes) and limited opportunity to interact with their peers became an obstacle. Sharing their interpretation of the readings and real-life experiences in second language learning is the critical element of the course, and the presenter aimed to maximize the interaction among students. Rather than putting students in a breakout room and interact with limited numbers of classmates, the course implemented and routinized the cooperative activity that allowed students to reproduce and reconstruct what they learned from reading to more numbers of classmates through multiple rounds of interaction.
While the school-wide learning management system (LMS) was Blackboard, students demonstrated higher interest with Zoom. As a result, the class synchronously met once a week via Zoom. Zoom sessions with routinized cooperative learning activities were received well among students throughout the semester. The course evaluation clearly reports that not only the online sessions with cooperative activities helped students’ content and language mastery, but also facilitated students’ “interaction with content” as well as “interaction with peers” (Berge, 2002, p. 185). Students expressed how the synchronous session was “dynamic”, “interactive” and therefore helped them build a “sense of belonging to this class”. The evaluation reported a 100% response rate of “strongly agree” to most items such as “the course and course activities were well organized” and “classes were interesting and stimulating.”
The second case for presentation is a doctoral-level methods course called Survey Design that takes on an asynchronous fully online format. Similar to the first case, this course was originally designed and facilitated in a traditional face-to-face setting. For a decade, the one-credit course was offered on two Saturdays at the length of six hours per class. Offered as a fully online course for the first time in the summer semester of 2017, the course received an enrollment similar to that of the face-to-face sections. In addition to the delivery of subject-based content, the course requires practical hands-on instruction. Research shows that students who have limited experience in research and statistics who are required to take research methods online courses tend to face great difficulty (Hsu, Wang, & Chiu, 2009). Students’ anxiety is heightened in the online learning format in part because of anxiety about statistical content and also the cognitive load of managing the learning software involved without what is generally deemed, the benefit, of face-to-face instruction (Collins & Onwuegbuzie, 2007; Hsu, Wang, & Chiu, 2009). In short, the outcomes for online learners of research methods can be poorer than those in face-to-face courses if not intentionally scaffolded and structured. Thus, this goal surfaced to the top as a concern to remedy in the conversion of a traditional face-to-face course into fully online.
The online version of Survey Design employs Blackboard as the LMS. In Blackboard, students are able to access all course materials in the online space and were expected to participate in directed asynchronous discussions to carry out the course’s collaborative approach. The course was designed to have five weeklong modules independent of each other. Each module consists of students’ learning objectives, reading assignments, recorded panopto lectures, a mini-quiz, an activity for discussion, and an end of the week reflection journal. The routine is consistent across modules to reduce potential student anxiety. To increase instructor-student and student-student interaction, every student is assigned a “thinking partner.” Careful consideration of potential challenges that arise from the pairing of online and research methods were successfully combated as seen in the analysis of student evaluations of the course. Common concerns such as feelings of alienation were virtually nonexistent accordingly to students. In fact, one student shared: “the instructor was motivated and engaging. Her excitement helped move the course forward.” In addition, 50% of students marked “strongly agree” while the remainder chose “agree” to the evaluation item that reads, “the instructor showed a genuine concern for the students.” Based on these two evaluation items, the accessibility and engagement driven structure of the course did not allow for any feelings of isolation. The presenter of this case and instructor of this course believes that alienation or isolation was not problematic as regular communication was heavily emphasized and counted toward participation grade. Further, technical difficulties were addressed and kinks were worked out during a “freebie” initial learning and overview module, in addition to the ever-present routine across all modules. Drawn from the evaluation, another student shared: “I really like the online format - the course was enjoyable and practical.” In fact, 100% of the students either selected “agree” or “strongly agree” to the item: “the course and course activities were well organized.”
To conclude, this session shares two different pedagogical implementations of online learning principles that the presenters have acquired through the advanced certificate program in online teaching. This session starts with a brief overview of the online teaching program at the Warner School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. Following that, the presenters will guide the audience of online teaching and learning researchers and practitioners through each of the two courses’ structure, summarize experiences, and showcase best practices drawn from course evaluations. Presenters will share instructional discoveries and upcoming approaches to further improve the use of digital pedagogy in upcoming online courses. This presentation will be particularly beneficial to current and future instructors that aim to: (1) design and teach synchronous or asynchronous online courses at a higher education institution and (2) use major web conferencing tools such as Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom.
Berge, K. L. (2002). Hidden norms in assessment of students’ exam essays in Norwegian upper secondary schools. Written Communication, 19(4), 458-492.
Hsu, M. K., Wang, S. W., & Chiu, K. K. (2009). Computer attitude, statistics anxiety and self-efficacy on statistical software adoption behavior: An empirical study of online MBA learners. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(2), 412-420.
Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Collins, K. M. T. (2007). A typology of mixed methods sampling designs in social science research. The Qualitative Report, 12(2), 281.
Kagan, J. (2002). Surprise, uncertainty, and mental structures. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.