Building Bridges Between Technology and Pedagogy: The Creation of an Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit
Concurrent Session 1
The presenters will explain their work to scale up online teaching support at their institution. Random acts of improvement shifted to systematic, purposeful improvement. An Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit transformed scattered actions into a well-articulated and accessible vehicle to improve enthusiasm for and quality of online teaching and learning.
Recognize the value in building a faculty-developed Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit that supports the design and delivery of online courses that stimulate deep and reflective learning.
Identify ways to shift from a technical, process-driven focus to a pedagogical focus that addresses common problems of instructional practice.
Appraise their institution’s needs and readiness to support the creation of a faculty-developed Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit.
When new to online teaching, instructors eagerly seek guidance on how to use the learning management system (LMS). In fact, each year at our institution’s New Faculty Orientation, there are several breakout sessions on teaching-related topics such as reaching students, course design, and using the LMS. Without a doubt, the LMS session led by instructional designers attracts the most instructors. The LMS itself acts as a kind of magnet that draws faculty to the Center for Teaching and Learning. After a semester or two, however, instructors become comfortable with navigating the LMS and overcome the inevitable frustrations that come along with learning a new technology. Their attention then turns to the matters that faculty care about most deeply: effective teaching and genuine student learning. Faculty realize that while they possess the ability to “build” a course in the LMS, they lack the necessary strategies and skills to teach online. In the words of one of the presenter’s esteemed colleagues whose goal is to ensure that students engage with high-quality learning experiences, “I’m not interested in flashy gizmos. I miss face-to-face instruction but understand that our students both need and want online. So help me use the technology in ways that strengthen and deepen student learning.” Her observation confirms a key principle in Darby and Lang’s recently published book, Small Teaching Online (2019): Technology should never drive instruction. Indeed, the instructional goals determine the instructional design and technological tools selected to engage students. The arguments Darby and Lang make in their text prompted a cascade of events undertaken by the presenters as outlined in this proposal.
Prior to January 2019, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and what was known as the Online Faculty Development Center (FDC) were two separate units. In a nutshell, the CTL focused on face-to-face courses while the FDC focused on online classes. The FDC had a rich history of providing high-quality online technical support to faculty, and while that support was much appreciated, the missing piece was the “faculty mindset.” The FDC sought to update faculty’s skill set for using technology by manning a helpdesk that employed a just-in-time-technological support service model and offering workshops that covered the “how-to’s” of using LMS tools such as grade book, quizzes, and assignments. To address quality assurance concerns, the FDC encouraged online instructors to take Quality Matters workshops and submit their courses for both internal and external course reviews. In sum, the focus targeted HOW to use instructional technology rather than WHY to use it. Indeed, the FDC developed written support through job aids that faculty could access via their website; however, the help page was difficult to locate and, once located, difficult to navigate. More problematically, the job aids were process-driven, not pedagogically-driven.
Around the same time that one of the presenters was preparing to return to teaching after spending eight years as a faculty ranked administrator in the provost’s office, a comprehensive administrative review determined that the FDC and the CTL should merge. The returning instructor arranged a one-on-one tutorial on using the LMS that resulted in her meeting a newly hired instructional designer (the other presenter) with a background in teaching. During this meeting, rather than solely focusing on how to use the LMS, the two discussed the pedagogical why. What they uncovered was a piece that had been missing in the FDC: a faculty mindset. During this first meeting, the two presenters recognized the formation of a much-needed bridge between technology and pedagogy. Now, questions, explorations, and solutions for online teaching are grounded in learning theory, knowledge of effective instruction to include discipline-specific standards (McEwan, 2003), and standards that support online course design (Quality Matters, Higher Education Standards for Course Design, 6th edition).
The 2019 publication of Flower Darby’s book Small Teaching Online inspired the idea to establish a faculty reading group. As the presenters read the book and planned the sessions for the reading group, they were inspired to develop an Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit. They recognized both an opportunity and the need to scale up online teaching support at their institution. Random acts of improvement needed to shift to systematic, purposeful improvement. The Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit is a self-service type of website that provides instructions on how to use the technology in a way that is framed within the faculty’s instructional context. The OTFT transformed well-intentioned but scattered actions into a targeted, focused, well-articulated, and accessible vehicle to improve enthusiasm for and quality of online teaching and learning. Three key factors influenced the development of the toolkit: (1) Instructional problems of practice drive the selection of “tools” placed on the toolkit’s website, (2) Faculty present their instructional questions and solutions quite differently from how-to content available on other support sites, and (3) Both the reading group and toolkit development honor long-standing adult learning principles, i.e., adults have a deep need to be self-directing and they are motivated to learn when the need and their interests coincide (Lindeman, 1926; Knowles, Holton, and Swanson, 2005). The kinds of instructional needs that faculty regularly identify as they are teaching their classes determined the organization of the site. For instance, clicking on a question such as “How do I get students to read?” will take users to another page with suggestions for learning activities such as discussion boards that use Socratic questions, quizzes that give learners multiple opportunities to master the material, and concept maps that require students to make connections between their readings. Additionally, the Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit has links to videos in which online instructors (many of whom participated in the faculty reading group) talk about their online teaching experiences. They share their favorite technology tools and their strategies to use them to enrich student learning.
Plan for Audience Engagement
During this Present and Reflect session, participants will learn about the evolution of online teaching support at the presenters’ institution and have an opportunity to explore the Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit. In a think-pair-share activity, they will receive a handout with screenshots of the old website with the list of job aids and the new (and much improved) Online Teaching Faculty Toolkit.
Their task will be to look at the before and after images of the resources that our institution has provided for our faculty. In the after images, they will pay special attention to the instructional needs that we have identified. In pairs, they will consider the following questions: What kinds of instructional needs have you heard faculty talk about on your campus? How have faculty attempted to meet those? Can you think of examples of how faculty have met those needs? How did it go? Did it work? If so, do you have a sense of why it worked? What was good about it? What were the obstacles? Which technology tools have you used? Which teaching strategies did you employ in your use of the tools?
Toward the end of the sessions, participants will take a Readiness Assessment Survey that poses questions to help them determine if the culture of their institution is one that might support the development of a faculty-designed toolkit.
Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner (6th ed.). London: Elsevier.
Lindeman, E. C. (1926). The meaning of adult education. New York: New Republic.
McEwan, E. K. (2003). Seven steps to effective instructional leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Quality Matters (2018). Higher education rubric workbook: Standards for course design, 6th edition).