Conversation Starter 2 – Requisite Training in Online Teaching and Learning

 

One of our shared goals is to ensure that our students receive the best academic experience we can provide them both in and out of the classroom.  These “Conversation Starter” papers are a way of providing you with the background and context surrounding academic issues that will arise as we navigate the ever changing landscape that is higher education.  According to Buller (2017), there are three types of organizational change:

  1. Reactive Changes – are changes forced on organizations from outside forces.
  2. Proactive Changes – are changes that would eventually be forced on an organization by outside forces if the organization did not adapt.
  3. Interactive Changes – are brought about because of a unique combination of internal rather than external forces.

Today’s Conversation Starter addresses the need for a proactive organizational change in order to adapt to changing expectations about best practices in online teaching by external accrediting bodies.  If we choose not to be proactive, there is a significant likelihood that we will encounter reactive changes.  In a high functioning learning organization, interactive changes position the learning organization as a leader in pioneering and implementing best practices making reactive and proactive change forces moot.

UIS has a remarkable record of leadership and excellence in online teaching and learning.  In many respects we set the standard for quality and responsiveness in this field, receiving widespread recognition and awards for excellence over the past twenty years.  This field has evolved over the years and the US Department of Education along with the regional accreditors, in our case the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), have taken an active role in providing direction for quality assurance of all offerings and programs.

The US Department of Education in 2011 issued a “Dear Colleagues” letter setting out policy referencing Program Integrity Regulations it had put in place for distance education.  These included requirements that colleges and universities receive authorization from states in which their students resided to assure that the students have recourse in their state of residency if they find the distance learning classes to be lacking in a substantive way.  This raised the prospect that UIS and all other universities serving students in other states would have to go through what in many cases was an involved and expensive process to gain authorization to serve out of state students in the other 49 states and US territories.  The situation resulted in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) of which we are members as are colleges and universities in 48 of the 50 states (and several territories).  As part of the SARA agreement, the regional accreditors, including the Higher Learning Commission, collectively drew up a set of standards to be applied to online courses and programs to assure that quality was maintained.

These standards, the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education, are available online . They are not optional or advisory, rather they form the basis for review for accreditation and expansion of online programs.  The portion relevant to faculty training is section 6:

6.  Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula and evaluating the students’ success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.

Analysis/Evidence:

  • Online learning faculties are carefully selected, appropriately trained, frequently evaluated, and are marked by an acceptable level of turnover;
  • The institution’s training program for online learning faculty is periodic, incorporates tested good practices in online learning pedagogy, and ensures competency with the range of software products used by the institution;
  • Faculty are proficient and effectively supported in using the course management system;
  • The office or persons responsible for online learning training programs are clearly identified and have the competencies to accomplish the tasks, including knowledge of the specialized resources and technical support available to support course development and delivery;
  • Faculty members engaged in online learning share in the mission and goals of the institution and its programs and are provided the opportunities to contribute to the broader activities of the institution;
  • Students express satisfaction with the quality of the instruction provided by online learning faculty members.

The requirement for faculty training has been rigorously applied by the Higher Learning Commission.  Just last January according to Inside Higher Ed https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/09/15/accreditor-denies-arizona-community-colleges-bid-expand-online, in reviewing the online program at Scottsdale Community College to assess their request to expand the program, the visitation team lauded the program, but denied the expansion since Scottsdale had a voluntary, rather than required, online teacher training program.  The full HLC team report was obtained by Insider Higher Ed and is available online  In sum, the report said that although the college has much to be proud of, including an engaged faculty, quality services and technology, it did not, however, have required faculty training so the request was denied.  The HLC mandated that in order to re-consider the request to add online programs, the college must:

  • Develop and apply standards for training faculty members delivering online courses
  • Develop student-centered standardization of courses to make it easier for students to navigate; and
  • Develop an institutional program or system to ensure consistency between online courses and programs across departments and disciplines.

It is incumbent on UIS to provide a standard faculty training course that “is periodic, incorporates tested good practices in online learning pedagogy, and ensures competency with the range of software products used by the institution.”

To comply with the requirements, COLRS has developed a flexible schedule, self-paced faculty development course on Blackboard that we believe will meet the requirements of the Higher Learning Commission, while providing time-flexibility to those who will be taking the course. The course, entitled “Building Digital Communities” is comprised of six modules.  Upon completion of the course requirements, COLRS will provide faculty with a digital badge and notify the Provost’s Office of completion.  It is our intended goal that all online teaching faculty would complete the Building Digital Communities course prior to Spring 2019.

Provost Dennis R. Papini

Read more about Conversation Starters

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