Supporting faculty in online and hybrid teaching beyond the pandemic
By Lisa Shappee, Kansas State University Salina
Like most higher learning institutions, in March of 2020, all courses at Kansas State University Salina transitioned online due to the concern of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. This led faculty who had never taught online before to quickly learn a new skill set while ensuring their students still had a rigorous educational experience. Even those with online teaching experience had the burden of rapidly shifting their traditional face-to-face courses online at a moment's notice, as well as supporting students who may have never taken a course online.
Figure 1. "Engaging the World Virtually" (by Alexandra_Koch on Pixabay)
Understanding faculty challenges with the onset of the pandemic
In order to gauge challenges that faculty faced when changing the modality of their courses due to the pandemic, a survey was created. This survey consisted of open-ended questions and was given to faculty who had never taught online before. This population would have a higher learning curve compared to their peers who have taught online.
The answers to two questions have helped to guide faculty professional development and support for immediate and future needs. Those questions were:
- List or talk about the challenges you encountered when moving your content online.
- Of the changes you made to your course when you moved to online teaching, are there any that you will continue to use in your face-to-face course?
The common challenges that the faculty faced when moving their content online revolved around learning the necessary software to teach online in a short amount of time. This response included learning how to grade electronically, moving paper tests to the LMS, and figuring out technical glitches with students' work. The next challenge was course organization and the communication of assignments. They struggled with the best way to organize content so students could easily understand the content setup and the assignments they needed to do, and when. Respondents also struggled with the best way to communicate these expectations to students. Finally, amount of time it took to create, record, and publish content was overwhelming since they had never used the tools available to accomplish this task. Creating new content, while learning software with a very short turn-around, was stressful and difficult.
Adopting constructive changes
There are some changes that faculty made that they will continue to utilize even after their courses return to campus. The first change that most of these faculty have decided to keep is online tests. These faculty had continued to utilize paper test years after the ability to have them online was available. With the forced move to online, they have found that giving tests online saves time once correctly set up. The system will automatically grade multiple-choice questions, and they can annotate comments on papers with ease once they learn the tools. Next, they will continue to use the flipped classroom or hybrid options for their courses. Many faculty enjoyed having students read or watch content before having a class discussion over Zoom. Spending time discussing the content and diving deeper into the concepts was something they enjoyed and wanted to continue. They found that many activities worked better online and would allow for more hands-on or discussion time in class. They also communicated that they would continue utilizing LMS features for communication. These faculty had always relied on class time to let students know when things were due. Sometimes course schedules were on the syllabus, sometimes they were not, making those class reminders imperative. They learned that with LMS communication tools, they could schedule announcements ahead of time to alert students when assignments were coming due. The assignments could also have due dates assigned to them that the students could view anytime. These are tools that they will continue to use, which will benefit them and their students.
The responses to these two questions have helped to guide faculty professional development and support for immediate and future needs One major change made was the addition of full-time instructional design support. Before the pandemic required the pivot to all online courses the campus instructional designer was also the library director. It quickly became clear that this position needed to focus 100% on instructional design and the changes were made. This has allowed for more focused communication to faculty about training opportunities and updates to tools the university provides for online instruction like the LMS and Zoom. This reassignment of duties has also led to more just-in-time support for faculty.
Figure 2. "Never Stop Learning" (by geralt on Pixabay)
Monthly professional development
Another change is the addition of monthly professional development opportunities specifically for campus. There are ample technology trainings offered by the main campus this is available to Salina faculty, therefore this monthly training focuses on issues that could be helpful to faculty based on their needs and the different programs offered. The hardest part is finding new options for professional development. The instructional designer can offer training, but faculty need to hear different voices and different viewpoints to really embrace a new tool or concept.
There are many different ways that we have employed to find new professional development opportunities, all of which are free. One is to focus locally. When we find that one of our faculty is doing something new or innovative, we ask them to present it to their colleagues. This is a wonderful process because it helps us to highlight our faculty and shows others what their colleagues are doing and how they can utilize it in their own courses. The next is to reach out to other instructional designers on main campus or colleagues at other universities. Often, they have faculty or training they are doing that they are more than willing to share and offer to another institution. Especially faculty on tenure track that need presentations to fulfill requirements. With everyone used to having training and meetings virtually, location is no longer an issue, and faculty like to hear from other faculty and what they are doing to innovate or create a better learning environment for students.
Figure 3. Hybrid Professional Development (by eldewsio on Pixabay)
Another way to find professional development is to attend conferences. Often, we will come across a presentation that would be meaningful to our own faculty. When this happens, we will ask the presenter if they would be willing to present to our faculty and generally, they are more than willing to offer their expertise. We offer this opportunity to both our small campus and the larger main campus to ensure a large audience for these invited presentations. An important part of offering these trainings is recording them. There is no perfect time of the day that will work for all faculty to attend training. The recordings will allow them to watch at a time that works for them. This also allows for the building of a just-in-time training library. While technology training needs to be revised frequently, some topics like creating engaging course videos or course mapping can be utilized for longer and can be shared with faculty should the need arise.
The pandemic caused disruptions for all institutions of higher education and possibly changed the face of higher education forever. The hope is as faculty got more comfortable with the technology, time spent creating content lessened, allowing for them to learn and share more with their students. In talking to faculty through help sessions, this does appear to be the case. They also learned that even if they are unsure they will use it, they should pay more attention to training opportunities; at least those that pertain to the tools provided by the university to teach online. Survey results showed that until some faculty are forced to utilize tools, they don’t see the usefulness. This was evident in the excitement over the LMS communication tools which the majority of their colleagues have been using for years. With all that has transpired, institutions and faculty are listening harder than ever to their instructional designers. It is important that we take the information we learned and create better training and support for faculty. This can lead to better course content and course organization, which will benefit students taking our courses.
About the Author
Lisa Shappee is the Director of Instructional Design and Faculty support for the Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus. She has been with the university since 2011. Lisa provides instructional design support for both credit and non-credit online and hybrid programs. She also provides technical training and support for faculty on the K-State Salina campus. She has presented regionally, nationally, and internationally on faculty development, distance education, and instructional technology
Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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