In my last post, I shared the results of my inquiry into what motivates faculty to teach online. To quickly recap: Based on my research conducted at St. Bonaventure University, the following factors heavily influence faculty’s interest in teaching online:
• The ability to reach more students
• The flexibility of teaching online
• A belief in the effectiveness of online education
• A belief that it offers an opportunity for professional development
More broadly, both intrinsic and extrinsic factors were found to influence faculty members’ willingness to teach online. So: I’ve spoken with a bunch of instructors about online education, and I’ve distilled their responses into some categories. Where do we go from here?
Good question; I’ll answer it with another one: How can this information be used by higher education institutions to encourage faculty members to teach online?
Considering the results of my research, it seems obvious that a variety of approaches will have the greatest impact:
Involve faculty in any new online program initiative, from the start. This will give them an opportunity to engage in the planning of how a program can be implemented in a pedagogically sound manner. In turn, this will likely increase their comfort level with online education and give them a sense of ownership of the online programming. Plus, as we saw recently, not involving them can result in significant pushback.
Offer formal training on how to teach effectively in an online learning environment. This will serve the dual purpose of improving instructor effectiveness and increasing faculty’s recognition of online education as a viable delivery mechanism.
Provide additional institutional technology support for faculty members participating in online education, including instructional technologists, instructional design specialists and technology helpdesk personnel. In short, don’t let the technology itself get in the way.
Use workshops and other development sessions as opportunities to emphasize the benefits of online education. In particular, highlight the capacity for online education to allow faculty members to reach new student populations. Also stress the added flexibility instructors will gain by participating in online education (relative to teaching a traditional, lecture-style course).
If we boil these four points down, the key theme is buy-in. It seems obvious, but faculty will be more likely to participate in online education if they are included in the process and are supportive of the initiative (a shocking revelation, I know). Applying the tactics listed above will support numerous opportunities for increasing faculty comfort with, and support for, online education.
The other major takeaway from my research is to not focus on only one motivating factor or supporting tactic. Indeed, the results of my research support the notion that intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivators are important to faculty participation in online education. Try to implement your new or expanded online education programs in a way that accounts for a wide range of potential motivators.
The benefits of online education may seem like common sense to you, but unless you apply that same common sense as you work to incorporate them into your programs, you’re going to face opposition that may well be avoidable. Think of the Golden Rule; “Do unto others,” and all that. Would you want to have your curriculum, style and approach—not to mention the very physical boundaries of your classroom itself—flipped, up-ended and revamped without even a “Thank you, ma’am?”