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New course to help faculty teach online classes

Isabella Brodt | Hatchet Photographer
Isabella Brodt | Hatchet Photographer

Online learning leaders want faculty to get better at teaching online courses.

The University Teaching and Learning Center and GW’s in-house online course shop will offer a new online course to faculty next semester to help them learn the best ways to teach classes online. Officials and experts say as more classes are taught remotely, the course should help faculty make the transition to teaching online.

Geneva Henry, the dean of libraries and academic innovation, said the course will combine both core teaching methods and the technological elements of course-building to better prepare faculty to become better instructors – online or in-person.

“You can teach somebody how to do an online course but it doesn’t necessarily make it a strong pedagogically grounded online course,” Henry said. “What will come out will be really enriching. We should be able to put a number of faculty through it every semester.”

The course will cover how to get started in online learning, basic elements of course design and training for online interactions with students. Henry said the course will offer faculty the chance to practice with different technological tools, get feedback from their peers and experience what it is like to learn online the way their students will.

“Getting better as an online teacher is much the same as becoming a better teacher in the physical classroom,” Henry said in an email. “It takes practice with new tools and approaches. It takes getting feedback from students on how they experience the course as the course is taught, and then making and testing changes.”

The new course will complement the Course Design Institute, the teaching and learning center’s “boot camp” for online course design that nearly 80 faculty have taken over the past two years.

Though planning for the new course is still in early stages, Henry said she hopes that it will motivate faculty to try participating in online teaching.

GW’s 10 schools offer more than 100 online graduate and certificate programs, and many undergraduate programs involve online components or offer full online courses. Officials have also encouraged deans to promote online learning as an easy way to generate revenue at an institution highly reliant on tuition dollars. And as the University nears the Foggy Bottom Campus’s enrollment cap, online courses are an efficient way to continue increasing enrollment.

Henry said as the University’s online course offerings expand, it is important to ensure that the quality of online education matches the University’s standards of in-person teaching.

Last year, a group of former graduate students filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the education they received in a College of Professional Studies online program was of a lower quality than they were guaranteed.

Faculty who have taught both online and in-person courses say a course explaining ways to make online learning effective should be helpful in connecting with students and effectively preparing material for courses.

Michelle Kimball, a part-time faculty member in the School of Media and Public Affairs, said she is a proponent for this type of instruction for faculty who teach online, because exposure to technological platforms could help them teach in-person courses, too. Kimball teaches media law online for the University of Florida.

“I think it is imperative to have some sort of instruction tied to beginning an online teaching experience,” Kimball said.

Because teaching online involves more planning, having to go through the process of designing an online course has made her more precise when teaching in-person.

“It’s really improved and influenced my in-person teaching,” Kimball said. “With online teaching you have to plan every element, every module. Every choice you make has to tie back to a learning objective.”

Michele Clark, a lecturer in the Elliott School of International Affairs with experience in online and in-person teaching, said a course like this for faculty could help quell some of the misbeliefs that faculty have about the effectiveness of online learning.

“It would help to demystify online learning,” Clark said. “An online course would show faculty a pathway to becoming engaged with their students.”

But Clark said faculty also need ongoing support outside of the new course.

“It’s not enough for a lot of people to just be trained and then turned loose,” Clark said. “One of the characteristics of the best online courses is time and energy devoted to faculty support. It’s not enough to just develop a course.”

Sheryl Elliott, a professor of marketing and tourism studies in the business school, said GW should expand personnel support to provide online course instructors with the resources they need.

“It’s not just teaching somebody how to do things online,” Elliott said. “It’s also having that resource complement. If they have a centralized resource staff, I think that would be the complement to the course.”

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