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Conference examines faculty workload in online education|
By Celena E. Kusch
| Today, about 200 graduate and undergraduate courses are delivered through Penn States World Campus. Projections show World Campus enrollments could top 9,200 in the 200203 academic year. This is a nearly 55 percent increase above enrollments for 200102 and a dramatic increase from the 41 enrollments in its pilot semester, just five years ago.|
According to Dr. Larry Ragan, director of Instructional Design and Development for the World Campus, Faculty are the absolute heroes of these programs. Without faculty dedication, we wouldnt have this kind of success, and I hear from students all the time how much these programs mean to them. To be able to sustain this initiative, faculty must be comfortable teaching in this environment. Ideally, the workload in their online courses must be equal to but not more than the workload of resident instruction.
Last fall, faculty and faculty support professionals from 27 higher education institutions worldwide gathered at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel to share ideas for making the online learning environment more professionally rewarding and more time-efficient for faculty. The Managing Faculty Online Workload Invitational Conference was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Its aims were to identify best practices in workload management and eventually to establish generally accepted standards for online teaching.
The conference was the culmination of a longer project that began with a survey of members of the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), a group of 80 institutions ranging from elite universities to community colleges that are committed to the advancement of online and asynchronous learning. Throughout academic year 200001, Sloan-C members together enrolled about 400,000 students in online courses.
Last May, World Campus faculty and administrators conducted a survey of Sloan-C representatives to identify issues of faculty online workload. Working with Dr. Frank Mayadas, Learning Outside the Classroom program director for the Sloan Foundation, the World Campus obtained funding for several Sloan-C members to attend a working conference to develop concrete recommendations based on survey findings.
Doing this work will help us set a baseline for what is good practice throughout the field, Ragan explained. The collective experience of the conference participants is a great resource to draw upon, especially since this was truly an international group. They represent all the major institutions for benchmarking in online education, and we developed new knowledge about online workload out of their experiences.
Participant Dr. Linda Smith, professor and interim dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also noted the range of participants experiencesfrom students to faculty to designers, from Australia to the Netherlands to Spain.
It is particularly interesting to have all the different voices in online education at this conference, voices not only from different institutions but from different roles, as well, Smith said.
Some of the best innovations in online education are happening in smaller institutions, Ragan added. There are so many ways that the instructional challenges are the same in every teaching situation. It is important that what we discussed at Penn State during the conference will extend out to institutions around the world.
During the conference, participants identified some of the major barriers to managing faculty online workload, including:
Throughout the conference, participants discussed in small groups and through individual presentations the many solutions available to overcome these barriers.
Dr. Al Turgeon, professor of turfgrass management at Penn State and one of the pioneers of online education at the University, was confident in the potential of online teaching.
I think online instruction can be even more efficient than face-to-face instruction, he said.
Achieving efficiency, however, depends on recognizing the differences between resident and online workload. Dr. Rebecca Gould, professor of hotel, restaurant, institution management and dietetics and director of the Information Technology Assistance Center at Kansas State University, explained, The time required for online learning is different and mostly up front. Faculty must have a teaching philosophy to drive what goes up online. According to our faculty survey, having a detailed syllabus, including policies for feedback, is key to managing workload.
Jia Frydenberg, director of the University of California, Irvine, Distance Learning Center, agreed. Students really want to connect with the faculty, and when they dont, we hear about it in the course evaluations. It is very important for faculty to manage their students expectations from the start in the course welcome message, she said.
According to Dr. Peter Williams, director of Distance Education at Rogers State University, managing expectations and workload comes from encouraging student self-regulation.
Self-regulated students need to know how they are doing, Williams noted. We must try to build in self-regulation in ways that we reward it through the design of the course itself.
To support self-regulation without increasing faculty workload, Williams recommends automating feedback in quizzes that dont count toward the final grade. One strategy could be the use of firewall problems. Students complete firewall problems after reading a portion of the assignment and only move on to the next section after they can respond correctly.
Similar resources to support students self-regulation also can be used in technical support. Dr. Gary W. Kuhne, associate professor of education and lead faculty member for the masters degree in adult education program, presented Creating a FAQ File for an On-line Course during the Online Workload Conference.
Building on faculty presentations and group strategy meetings, participants developed recommendations for managing online workload, including course authoring strategies, course teaching strategies, institutional strategies to assist in reducing online workload and online course revision and improvement strategies.
Dr. Sara L. Terheggen, project manager for the conference, explained that organizers will use these recommendations to generate a document of specific tools and practices to help faculty manage online workload. Participants also are considering plans to co-author articles based on the conference work or to contribute to a special issue of the ALN Journal.