A Low-Tech Approach to High Tech Teaching: An Innovative Faculty Development Program for Online Teachers

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session outlines a low-cost professional development program for online teaching that is adaptable by institution. This semester long, cross-discipline learning community increases online teaching skills and targets student success and retention in online courses. Participants will leave with a detailed guide for implementing a similar program at their institutions. 


Faculty developer in a small, rural community college in Northwest North Carolina. Current professional focus on a college-wide faculty development program to improve online teaching.

Extended Abstract

Presentation Goal:  This session will share a step-by-step, low cost professional development program for online teaching that is adaptable to meet diverse needs by institution. The andragogical based approach uses a cross-discipline learning community of faculty peers to increase online teaching skills and ultimately improve student success and retention in online courses. This approach utilizes the strengths of face-to-face learning environments to apply best practices in online teaching and learning environments. Participants will leave with a detailed guide for implementing a similar program at their institutions. 

Introduction: Over the past several years, our institution has noticed a significant increase in the need and demand for online courses. In response to student need, we have continued to grow our online course offerings. Institutionally, faculty were committed to online course offerings, but were also determined to ensure that course quality, student learning, and retention were not sacrificed. This desire coincided with the SACS COS Quality Enhancement Plan and thus the CORE (Collaborative Online Reflective Experience) learning community approach was developed. The overall goal of the learning community is to align the professional development with Knowles Theory of Andragogy when working with adult learners to provide self-directive applications and concepts, prior knowledge and experiences to current teaching, and applicable best practices through on-going support. This approach also allows faculty to connect with one another and develop cross-campus and cross-discipline relationships that may not otherwise be possible. The appeal of this approach is that it is faculty driven, and it can be replicated at various sized institutions economically. 

Context:  CORE (Collaborative Online Reflective Experience), is a professional development model created in response to an institutional SACS COS Quality Enhancement Plan targeting increased student success in online courses by improving the quality of online coursed design and online pedagogy. A major component of this college-wide initiative is to provide online instructors with sustained, collaborative, high quality faculty development experiences.  Grounded in Malcolm Knowles' theory of Andragogy, this faculty designed and implemented model brings together a diverse group of four to five instructors from different disciplines across campus divisions in a semester-long learning community focused on the development and application of high impact teaching practices in online courses. This approach is grounded in pedagogical practices first, with technology serving in the ancillary role. This approach recognizes that while courses vary significantly across content areas, there are certain design features and teaching practices that belong at the core of all online teaching. Among these are:

  • Providing timely and actionable feedback

  • Instructor social presence and responsiveness

  • Designing for course navigability

  • Clarity of instructions throughout the course

  • Student engagement and principles of active learning

  • Backward planning

The CORE learning community approach to faculty development was inspired by Knowles theory of andragogy, which outlined the characteristics of adult learners: 

  1. Orientation to learning. Knowles argues that adult learners respond to self-directed learning experiences and are motivated to learn “to the extent that they perceive that learning will help them perform tasks or deal with problems that they confront in their life situations” (67). CORE participants are preparing to teach or are currently teaching at least one online course; therefore, this intensive and focused approach is structured throughout the semester to provide timely and relevant support targeting an increase in the instructors’ capabilities to teach effectively in online classrooms.

  2. The role of learners’ experiences. Knowles argues that adult learners bring their life experiences to a learning environment and those experiences act as additional resources. CORE values the experience of each instructor and puts each instructor in a position to share his or her knowledge and experience with one another in a collaborative learning environment. While each participant works within a community of faculty peers, each instructor's content, expertise, and level of confidence with online teaching is unique. This model is enhanced by the instructors' unique experiences as part of a collaborative whole. Each instructor brings something valuable to the group and each instructor takes something valuable away. This model is designed to allow instructors to adapt this experience to their own teaching context and needs.

  3. Readiness to learn. Knowles argues that as adults mature, their readiness to learn adapts to the situations they encounter. Prior to the implementation of CORE, our institution did not provide formal faculty development in online teaching and learning. In surveys, our faculty members routinely asked for more training in effective online teaching practices. CORE is designed to benefit the instructor who is completely new to online teaching as well as the instructor with vast experience. Each instructor is currently teaching at least one online course during the semester in which he/she participates; therefore, there is increased exigency to learn and apply this learning to a real situation.

  4. The need to know. Knowles argues that adults learn best in problem-centered, real-world situations. Because the instructors are currently teaching at least one online course, the concepts they are learning are immediately applicable. Instructors are encouraged to discuss, share, and enhance their teaching practices in live courses in response to the learning community experience. Time is given during each meeting to not only discuss and share best practices and approaches, but to also spend time engaging in those activities with the support and advice of learning community peers.

  5. Motivation. Knowles argues that adults find increasingly internal motivations to learn. The learning community is a small group of instructors who are working together on a common task in order to increase their own effectiveness as instructors in the online setting, but also to learn more effective ways to teach in any setting, leading to increased engagement, self-efficacy, and satisfaction with online teaching.

                Approach and Results:  

The first step was to identify faculty members who were excelling in online teaching within the institution, and who also had a passion for leading and sharing strategies and best practices with colleagues via professional development. Initially, five faculty members were identified to serve as peer mentors. The peer mentors served in a variety of roles including, attending professional development conferences, creating the assessment rubric to determine quality online teaching within the institution, and the learning community curriculum. The peer mentors implemented the content and best practices into individual courses and used the peer mentor community to improve online course quality, teaching, and student retention. This model was extended into learning communities, where each peer mentor had a learning community consisting of four to five faculty members. The learning communities provided ongoing professional development throughout the semester long CORE approach. Upon CORE completion, emerging peer mentors/leaders were identified from within the learning communities to serve as new peer mentors for future groups. Following CORE completion, participants will complete CORE certification and participate in follow-up enCORE professional development sessions to continue enhancing their online teaching skills and keeping up with changes in technology.

Preliminary results indicate positive results at our institution following implementation of the CORE program. We have noted favorable changes in instructor feedback, self-efficacy, and social presence in addition to increased student retention.