Providing Flexible, Practical, and Transformative Online Faculty Development

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learn how varying flexible faculty development approaches were leveraged and combined into one web portal to help instructors plan and teach quality online courses.


Karen Skibba is an instructional designer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies where she consults with faculty on developing online and hybrid courses and using technology to enhance student learning. In August 2011, Karen received her Ph.D. in Adult and Continuing Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a focus on instructional design and online and blended teaching and learning. Her dissertation is about how faculty members learn to teach adult learners in a blended program. Karen received a Master's Degree in Communication Studies from Marquette University. She has taught college-level communication and online and blended course development courses and seminars. She co-authored a chapter on blended learning found in Blended Learning: Research Perspectives published by the Sloan-Consortium. Karen has presented her online and blended faculty development research at national conferences including EDUCAUSE, Sloan Consortium, Professional and Organizational Development, and the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison.

Extended Abstract

When instructors transition from teaching face-to-face to online, they experience many challenges. They may be uncomfortable learning new technologies, or need assistance aligning objectives to assessments and learning activities, managing workload, creating a positive learning community, and engaging students (Seaman, 2009). Adding to these challenges, teaching online requires different pedagogical strategies than those typically associated with classroom-based courses.

Helping with these challenges is difficult, especially in research universities, since faculty have little to no incentives or time to learn new teaching methods needed to be successful in the online environment, including attending online faculty development workshops. Therefore, it is important to provide multiple ways that allow faculty flexibility in how, where, and for how long to learn how to design and teach online courses. The question is: How can this be accomplished with limited faculty development resources and time? This session will share how resources and strategies from diverse approaches to faculty development were leveraged to help instructors learn how to design and teach quality online courses.

A cross-campus committee of instructional designers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recognized the importance of helping instructors develop and teach quality online courses and created a faculty development program that would be credible, comprehensive, and appealing to faculty who do not typically spend time on improving their teaching. This committee at first developed a year-long faculty learning community where participants would experience quality online course materials, share experiences with colleagues, and ultimately transform their teaching practices for the online environment. This community employs large group face-to-face meetings, peer learning teams, and an online course environment that puts faculty in the student role. The learning community format was crucial in helping the instructors share ideas with their peers and move beyond simply compiling online lectures, videos, and quizzes and instead exploring new strategies under the guidance of instructional design experts.

Three online workshops comprised the bulk of the TeachOnline@UW pilot program. These were, in order, "Getting Started," "Plan & Design," and "Facilitation & Management." In the first workshop, units included the online environment; transitioning to online; and online educational technologies. In the second, units included online course design; learning objectives and alignment; assessment; instructional materials; and course activities. In the third, units included online instructor roles; supporting eLearners; communication and participation; online discussions; and course management strategies. In each of the three workshops, participants engaged in reflective, experiential, and active learning activities. For example, participants explored and discussed online course examples, reviewed and drafted rubrics, created course and unit plans, reflected about teaching online in journals, and gave two-minute presentations on their discoveries. Importantly, they were situated in the role of online learners, which allowed them to empathize with their future students and hopefully change their assumptions around teaching online.

The TeachOnline@UW learning community continues to be very effective with very high satisfaction ratings: 95% are satisfied with the online units and reported gaining practical knowledge to apply to their own courses. However, UW-Madison is growing its online course offerings and needs to provide online faculty development to larger numbers of instructors who all cannot participate in the full-year learning community due to lack of time or timing of their course offerings. Many of these instructors need just in time resources and training to fit in their busy schedules and prepare to design and teach online courses within a short period of time.

To meet this need, UW-Madison developed a web portal to provide one place that instructors ó and those who support instructors ócan go to for course design and teaching strategies and resources. The web portal was designed to provide these resources in ways to meet the needs of faculty based on their time availability, needs, and interests. To utilize the high-quality content that was already developed for the TeachOnline@UW learning community workshops, the units from the three courses were chunked and repackaged. First, very brief information on key topics on course design and teaching are provided organized by the following headings: What is it? Why is this important? How to put into practice? Where to find resources? Want more? This last section leads the participants to self-directed self-directed online courses with active learning activities to engage in deeper discussions and activities to help instructors plan and teach online courses. Like the learning community online courses, the self-directed courses also provide a high-level of interactivity with a variety of self-checks, brainstorming with participants, course planning documents, and the ability to participate with others on these topics through Google Group discussions.

To provide more advanced training on complex topics, micro-courses were created to also share on the web portal. Micro-course topics include rubrics, active video, digital media, and many more that are in development. A micro-course is an online or blended short course focused on developing a specific skill or competency. A micro-course will require about six to ten hours of work and can be completed within a three week time period. At the completion of the course participants will be able to demonstrate a target competency at both a knowledge and skill level by successfully completing a short knowledge test and producing a small final project that meets established criteria. A micro-course may result in a badge and/or CEU credit in collaboration with UW- Madison's well-established Distance Education Professional Development program offered through the Division of Continuing Education. Webinars and face-to-face discussion sessions will be offered periodically to provide the opportunity for participants to discuss the content and share best practices with other instructors across the university.

The web portal will include a blog to promote the webinars, face-to-face sessions, and the TeachOnline@UW year-long leaning community. Therefore, this web portal will be a one-stop location for all online course design and teaching professional development opportunities. Plus, this web portal is a resource not only for instructors but also for instructional designers and technologists who can utilize these resources to help faculty with course design and teaching.