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Penn State launches on-line course for faculty worldwide who want to hone on-line teaching skills|
by Celena E. Kusch
Most people can remember school days passing with their faces buried in notebook pages and their hands scribbling away until the end of the class period. Todays classrooms are a different story.|
The frequent use of bulletin board discussions, collaborative learning, case studies and hands-on activities have meant an increased need for faculty to develop a broader repertoire of teaching strategies, strategies that often demand the use of technology. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fast-growing field of distance education.
Extraordinary advances in communications and information technologies coupled with changing student demographics have made distance education an attractive method for reaching new student audiences, Dr. Gary Miller, associate vice president for distance education and executive director of the Penn State World Campus, said. At the same time, on-line technology is changing the way we think about the on-campus teaching/learning environments. But whether the students are across campus or across the country, it is not enough to simply add technology to traditional instruction.
The real strength of on-line technology is that it makes possible new approaches to pedagogy, Miller added. As increasing numbers of University departments see the value in using the World Campus and technology-enhanced instruction to reach a host of new part-time and adult students, there is an increased demand for faculty to become well-versed in designing and delivering courses in on-line media.
The World Campus, Penn States virtual university offers top-quality signature academic programs to distance education students anytime, anywhere. Through a new World Campus program, faculty at higher education institutions worldwide have access to a new tool for expanding their ability to integrate technology into their instruction. Faculty Development 101 (FACDEV 101) is an on-line course in which faculty learn to develop and teach on-line courses. The course has been available to Penn State faculty registered to teach in the World Campus since last year. In February, the World Campus released a public version of FACDEV 101.
While students in the course, Penn State faculty can participate in the same on-line environment that is used to deliver World Campus courses. The public version of the site provides access to the same teaching resources contained in the instructor-led Penn State course.
Through Faculty Development 101, faculty will gain firsthand experience of their students educational environment, an advantage often taken for granted in resident instruction, said Dr. Larry Ragan, director of Instructional Design and Development for the World Campus.
The course is divided into two modules, one for authoring an on-line course and one for instructing it. Users work through the course at their own pace. World Campus faculty engaged in discussions finish in about seven on-line hours per module. Those taking Faculty Development 101 for informational purposes only can finish both in an afternoon and gain a source of useful references, resources and templates to continue more specific course planning work.
Throughout the course, registered World Campus faculty have the opportunity to interact with other faculty designing and instructing World Campus courses by using built-in e-mail, bulletin board, quiz and other tools. Course participants who are not registered faculty have access to activities that do not require interaction with other students.
Some introductory elements of the course are tailored to World Campus faculty, but most lessons are constructed around skills and issues important for all distance educators and applicable to resident instructors who employ information technologies as well. The course includes a discussion of the importance of the syllabus in on-line teaching and an interactive syllabus template; a presentation of copyright and intellectual property issues; a guide to choosing the appropriate delivery technology, ranging from print to proprietary programming; and a matrix for determining course goals, teaching strategies, content, assignments, interactions and assessments.
An important course session offers research on the characteristics of distance education students and ways to tailor course content to meet their goals and needs.
Like students of other virtual universities, most World Campus students are adult learners who either need continuing professional education in the form of postbaccalaureate certificates or have work or family commitments but would like to pursue a degree. These students are attracted to the convenience and flexibility of these courses, which offer opportunities for high-level educational interaction without requiring scheduled meeting times.
To maintain the balance between that quality learning and flexibility, World Campus faculty use Faculty Development 101 to adapt their teaching strategies to an environment where body language cannot offer cues to learning. According to Dr. Barbara Grabowski, associate professor of education at Penn State, her student interactions through the World Campus have been evidence that flexibility and quality are not mutually exclusive.
In the World Campus, interactions with students can be very, very rich, in fact, even richer than what you might engage in with students in the classroom, because they cant be passive participants. When theyre in the classroom, students can sit back and hide. In a virtual class, they might think they can hide, but we know theyre there, we know when theyre not talking, and we can make the kind of interventions needed to keep students on track, she said.
This kind of success doesnt happen without effort, Grabowski noted.
Faculty need to be prepared for teaching this way, she said. Im afraid that unprepared faculty members will put their syllabi on the Web, have a little discussion here and there and consider that distance learning. The World Campus is taking a very important leadership role in making sure that doesnt happen. The World Campus works hard to ensure that the kind of instruction that gets put up on the Web and offered to the world community is of much higher quality and filled with the good interactions which are so critical to good learning, rich in content and motivating. Thats really important.
World Campus organizers are hoping this leadership and innovation will encourage more Penn State faculty and departments to take advantage of distance education courses to reach new groups of students.
In the World Campus, technology does not drive the programming, Miller observed. Our faculty work with teams of technical support staff and instructional designers to ensure that students receive course materials through the best and the most appropriate media, whether that is print publications or interactive, on-line animations. Faculty Development 101 is another resource to support that quality course design and instruction.
By offering the course to the public, World Campus administrators are improving the quality of distance education worldwide.
A number of faculty at Penn State and other institutions are interested in exploring the role of technology either for distance delivery or to supplement their resident instruction. Faculty Development 101 offers them the same wealth of resources collected for our World Campus faculty, Miller said.