Kelsie Abduljawad We are happy to serve students internationally to obtain a quality Penn State education through World Campus.  Faculty Development is helping World Campus instructors to adapt to meeting the needs of learners worldwide by offering a professional development course, OL 2500: Teaching the International Student, which will launch this fall.  Stay tuned to our social media and website for registration details!

Online_learning_imgFaculty Experiences in Transitioning from the Face-to-Face to the Online Learning Environment

Increasingly faculty are being asked to teach online to meet student demand.  As instructional designers working with faculty who teach online, Louise Sharrar (Instructional Designer, College of Liberal Arts) and I interviewed six faculty to find out what their experiences were in making the transition to the online environment. Some of the questions we asked ourselves were:

  • Is teaching online more difficult, time-consuming?
  • What are the differences in teaching face-to-face and online? Similarities?
  • Are the online students different from those in the face-to-face class?
  • What are online instructors’ experiences with using technology in the online environment?

We then approached instructors to provide us with some insight into those questions. Of the six instructors interviewed, four taught at the undergraduate level and two taught graduate level students. Of the four instructors that taught undergraduate students, the courses they taught were more advanced classes in their respective programs.

Is teaching online more difficult, time-consuming?

With regards to the first question, most instructors said that the workflow was distributed differently because they interacted with students throughout the week typically in asynchronous discussion forums or via email.  There was always the danger of feeling the need to be online 24/7 and respond to students very quickly. Sometimes, the anxiety of knowing students can ask questions at any time and perhaps they needed answers to questions quickly in order to complete an assignment loomed large.  Oftentimes, instructors worked on weekends and/or holidays because their student audience was mostly working adults and that is when they typically completed their assignments.

All the instructors had a high level of contact with students and primarily, this was through email. There also seemed to be consensus around how time-consuming grading was, however, a couple of instructors said that with more teaching experience online, the time invested in teaching and grading decreased.  One of the reasons for the decrease in time in grading had to do with designing a better balance between individual and group-based assignments and requiring more peer evaluations. With respect to the design aspect of the courses, some instructors pointed to the need for more detailed instructions and a more detailed syllabus. Furthermore, each instructor valued the support they received from instructional designers, World Campus multimedia specialists, and help desk support staff. Instructors took suggestions from their instructional designers on how to design and clearly articulate expectations for assignments, activities, and assessments. These instructors all felt that the upfront work is time well spent because it eliminates many emails with clarification-type questions down the road. They also agreed that boundaries must be set for how and when they interact with students and this should be spelled out clearly in the syllabus.

What are the differences in teaching face-to-face and online? Similarities?

With respect to some differences in the online environment, all instructors commented on the need to change communication patterns with students. Synchronous meetings were difficult to conduct so getting used to interacting with students one-on-one was quite an adjustment at first. Another difference according to one instructor was that he did more lecturing in his face-to-face class, but less in the online class. He felt that students in discussion forums, for example, contributed more to the conversation that his face-to-face class – he had many students in his face-to-face classes contribute little and if asked, provided very short answers. He said he used a flipped classroom approach long before it became popular. In contrast, in the online environment, he saw more of his students’ personalities come out because their contributions were more in-depth and insightful in discussion forum posts and written assignments. He also encouraged students to come to online office hours, phone whenever they had questions, etc. The door to communication was always open and students often took advantage of it.  This particular instructor had the same open door policy with face-to-face students as well.

Another instructor mentioned that she got to know her students better online and she developed more of a rapport with her online students compared to her face-to-face students. She also stopped lecturing and turned her online classroom into more of a flipped classroom where students were expected to show up prepared to actively participate in online activities (both synchronous and asynchronous). In contrast, three instructors felt that the loss of personal contact inhibited them in the online environment. They felt they could show their personalities better in the face-to-face environment – they missed seeing the expression on students’ faces that would indicate whether or not they had an impact on student understanding and learning. One instructor said she missed the ego boost she got from her face-to-face students “looking up to her” and the way she could coach or mentor them via personal interactions.

Are the online students different from those in the face-to-face class?

All the online instructors said they had more adult learners in their online classes than their face-to-face classes and were more accommodating of their adult learners’ need for flexibility due to multiple obligations (work, home, personal). Their adult students, for the most part, were more motivated, responsible, and worked harder than their traditional age students (18-24).  Adult learners tended to come to class more prepared to participate (“no slackers”) and they spent more time on their assignments. One instructor said he was surprised at his adult learners’ poor writing skills and started out being more lenient on them until they were able to improve their skills, thus boosting their confidence in academic writing.  One instructor said that his graduate students (all adult learners) contributed more to online discussions and he found that his students were more motivated, disciplined, and mature.

What are online instructors’ experiences with using technology in the online environment?

All the online instructors seemed to feel reasonably comfortable with various technologies and encouraged students to use a variety of tools.  As one instructor said, she didn’t mind if students used different tools as long as she could access them. For the most part, instructors required students to use presentation software because students had to present work to the instructor and peers as a graded activity. Collaborate and YouSeeU were most often used. One instructor said he liked to explore many different technologies and encouraged students to do the same because technology is a big part of the workplace. Depending on the course content, instructors reported using videos from Khan Academy or YouTube.  Some used Skype or a chat tool for meetings with students. In general, a wide variety of technology tools were mentioned in the interviews and although there might be glitches with technology, most instructors had positive experiences with technology especially when the technology tools are connected to an academic purpose.

Paula M Bigatel (Instructional Designer, Faculty Development)

Thank you to the instructors who participated in our interviews:

Simon Pak (Great Valley)
Denise Ogden (Lehigh Valley)
Michael Krajsa (Lehigh Valley)
Mary Beth Pinto (Behrend)
Michelle Kline (Berks)
Bob Wolf (Lehigh Valley)

manuscriptStudent Engagement Study Article Gets Published

In the spring of 2014, our faculty development unit initiated a study to measure student engagement in our online courses. The first survey was sent to all students in the online Bachelor of Science in Business program.  The study’s focus was to see if faculty who had participated in faculty development professional development (e.g., OL 2000 and OL 2700) engaged their students to a greater extent than those who did not.  We found a significant difference between those faculty who took either or both OL 2000 and OL 2700 in terms of strategies they used to engage students based on student responses.  An article was published in the current issue of Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration (OJDLA): “Measuring Student Engagement in an Online Program”,