This is the second post in a short series focused on topics addressing key issues for transitioning from emergency remote teaching to continuing to respond to the COVID-19 crisis while providing high-quality online learning. There are many challenges – and opportunities – that have resulted from the events of recent weeks. We’ll be covering a few of those here, and invite you to join in the conversation. In case you missed it, read the previous post.
Higher education institutions are breathing a collective sigh of relief at having survived the enormous challenge of the quick spring 2020 migration to “remote instruction” in response to COVID-19. It was a significant accomplishment to pivot so rapidly and provide continuity to our students to complete the academic year. At the University of Central Florida (UCF), we were fortunate to have 24+ years of experience and research with online learning which helped us transition nearly 5,000 face-to-face and 700 blended course sections to remote delivery within the first week of campus closure. UCF has long invested in a large team of specialists in the Center for Distributed Learning and a diverse suite of faculty preparation programs to support quality online learning. As a result, of the 1,639 unique faculty teaching courses at UCF in spring 2020, only 354 (22%) had not completed any prior digital learning credentialing program, when the COVID-19 crisis struck.
This existing, robust online learning infrastructure enabled a relatively smooth transition to remote instruction, although it was still a lot of work for a lot of people and there were certainly many challenges. UCF’s Division of Digital Learning personnel and existing online faculty preparation programs allowed us to quickly design and implement training and resources to help faculty Keep Teaching and students Keep Learning. The university’s long-term investment in digital learning clearly paid off and an end-of-semester survey indicated that 94% of faculty felt they adapted to remote teaching with little difficulty, and 67% of students agreed with them.
Aspirational Planning: Better Prepared and Supported Each Semester
At UCF, our general approach during the ongoing COVID-19 response has been two-fold: first, to rely more on actual, well-designed online courses than remote instruction in each semester and secondly, for those classes that cannot be taught online, to better prepare non-online faculty for remote instruction.
As others have also mentioned, temporary, remote instruction is not synonymous with our traditional, high-quality online courses (Hodges, et.al, 2020; Lederman, 2020; Mathes, 2020; Golden, 2020) The remainder of 2020 (and possibly 2021) are an uncertainty, with regard to the impact of the pandemic, and budgets and resources are stretched thin. Maintaining students’ access to quality instruction is critical, and while rapid migration allowed us to maintain continuity for spring, we have time for more intentional planning for summer and fall.
The Dual Support Approach: Preparing for Remote Instruction While Preparing for More Online Teaching
Recognizing the importance of distinguishing between actual, intentionally-designed online courses and rapidly deployed remote instruction, it is imperative to implement a “dual approach” to faculty preparation. Each semester, we need to iteratively prepare those faculty who are “remote teaching,” but we also need to intentionally recruit more faculty to be prepared to design, develop, and teach actual online courses. This might be visualized metaphorically as walking on a tightrope while also being attached to a guidewire as a safety line. Initially, one tends to rely on the guidewire, but the goal is to walk without it.
Preparing our non-online credentialed faculty for remote instruction is imperative in the short-term for continuity. However, the more thoughtfully designed online courses are taught by prepared faculty, the more successful are students, faculty, and institutions. Both methods of instruction require access to institutional support resources. With the rapid migration to remote instruction, UCF’s online support desk reported double the number of help requests compared with the same two months in 2019. Our faculty who are thoroughly prepared for their roles as online educators rely less on these resources and, in fact, can serve as mentors to those moving online, helping to minimize the support required. UCF faculty Amanda Groff, Anthropology, and Alisha Janowsky, Psychology, and instructional designer Roslyn Miller, in interviews with the University Innovation Alliance, shared tips for faculty migrating to remote instruction.
Moving Forward: UCF’s Case Study Supporting Remote Instruction and Actual Online Teaching
Spring and Summer 2020
During the spring term, our mandatory faculty preparation course for online design/teaching, IDL6543, was already underway. COVID-19 struck during our spring break — too late to create new online course sections. Instead, the emphasis was on helping instructors of face-to-face courses quickly use online tools to engage in “remote teaching.” In addition to the Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites, numerous support materials and workshops on using the Zoom web conferencing platform were launched and pushed out to faculty. Many team members stepped up to support the technical support personnel who were inundated with faculty help requests.
In preparation for summer, we pulled from our existing resources to provide faculty with support and online training sessions toward the end of the spring term, establishing early guidelines for faculty teaching in the summer. Repurposing an existing preparation program with a new focus, we quickly launched the 10-hour Teaching with Lecture Capture-Zoom edition (TLC-z) on remote instruction topics with an emphasis on using Zoom well. Working closely with college and department leaders, faculty were strongly encouraged to complete the new program, with 365 enrolling and 275 completing the course. As new features became available and effective practices were identified, we updated ongoing Zoom Guides and FAQs for both faculty and students. For experienced online faculty who had already participated in one of our credentialing programs, we created Zoom Essentials, a self-paced online course for those who wanted to migrate face-to-face or blended course elements to synchronous instruction using Zoom. An additional 156 enrolled, with 53 completing the training. The end result is that faculty who are remote teaching in the summer are better prepared than those who were forced into rapid migration.
As summer 2020 began and remote instruction continued, there was far less frantic scrambling than during the spring term migration. Meanwhile, the proportion of actual online course sections scheduled for summer 2020 (39%) was notably higher than in summer 2019 (24%) with many faculty and departments embracing the strategy of “online first.” Clearly, being able to rely upon existing online-prepared faculty to prioritize online course offerings is an investment that is paying off.
Lessons learned from experiences in spring and summer are being captured as part of our ongoing Digital Learning Impact Evaluation and are iteratively being applied to future COVID-19 semester planning. In fact, contingency planning, including expanding faculty development capacity for fall 2020, began informally almost at the same time as initial discussions about how to prepare faculty for summer 2020. This is the dual approach in action, concurrently planning for iteratively better preparation of faculty for remote instruction while also increasing the number of faculty prepared for actual online course design and teaching.
Fall 2020 and Spring 2021
Realizing that IDL6543’s participant capacity of 40 faculty cannot accommodate the rapid and significant throughput needed to prepare potentially hundreds of faculty for fall, we are creating a “provisional credential” for faculty completing Essentials of Online Teaching a fully online, 3-week program offered in early June. Over 185 faculty have enrolled to date, with the number growing. Faculty must receive permission from their department chair to participate. This program will focus on basic online pedagogy for asynchronous instruction, integration of media, and management of assignments and interactions with the end product being a fully designed online course. Successful completion will allow faculty to design, develop, and teach a new online course in fall 2020 or spring 2021, and a $500 stipend is provided. If faculty choose to submit for a Quality Review, and their course meets the stringent criteria for online design, their provisional online teaching credential becomes permanent. Accommodating a larger number of faculty with a quicker development cycle required rethinking our existing preparation process. Removing quality assurance measures on the front-end allowed for increased capacity and schedule flexibility. However, it was necessary to counterbalance this change with required quality assurance measures on the backend (i.e., required Quality Review) to maintain UCF’s high standards for online course design/teaching. Meanwhile, adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants serving as new instructors of record for non-online fall courses will be required to complete the TLC-z preparation course for remote instruction.
It is difficult to say what exactly higher education will look like beyond fall 2020 and spring 2021, but it seems fairly safe to predict that there will be changes to the status quo. Almost certainly these changes will involve a greater reliance on the work of online education professionals in preparing faculty and students for successful teaching and learning experiences. In the midst of a revision of UCF’s faculty development ecosystem when COVID-19 struck, lessons learned from the impact evaluation of our experiences this year will help us continue to iteratively improve and adjust our faculty development and support of online learning to better serve our faculty and ultimately increase the success of our students.
Golden, C. (2020, March 23). Remote Teaching: The Glass Half Full. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/3/remote-teaching-the-glass-half-full
Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T. & Bond, A. (2020, March 27). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning
Lederman, D. (2020, April 22). How Teaching Changed in the (Forced) Shift to Remote Learning. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/04/22/how-professors-changed-their-teaching-springs-shift-remote
Mathes, J. (2020, April 13.) A Defining Moment for Online Learning. Ihttps://onlinelearningconsortium.org/a-defining-moment-for-online-learning/