As online and blended courses flourish at universities, administrators don't have much guidance on how to make sure these courses continue to grow in number and quality.
That's why, in a session at the Blended Learning Conference and Workshop on Wednesday, July 9, a director of online education at the university level shared 12 strategies from his experience.
1. Centralize the administration of online/blended education.
Deans and associate provosts are already busy with a number of tasks to juggle, so adding online and blended learning responsibilities to their load doesn't make sense, said Brian Udermann, director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. And without centrally administering these responsibilities, confusion abounds. He suggests creating a director of online education position to promote consistency and standardization in blended education.
2. Create an online/blended advisory board.
At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, an advisory board talked through strategy and practical questions. The board included faculty from each college, administrators, instructional designers, students, program directors and representatives from student support services. If universities have complicated revenue-sharing models, they could have someone from business services on board as well.
But along with equal representation from various campus stakeholders, including an online learning skeptic in the process proved to be critical, Udermann said. Because this person didn't like online learning at all, he questioned everything and expressed skepticism no matter what someone proposed. This especially helped the group address challenges and questions because they came up in other committees and the Faculty Senate later.
3. Hire an instructional designer.
Most people who've been instructional designers can relate to this video that Udermann showed in the session. Instructional designers can help educate professors on exactly what good online or blended instruction looks like. Hint: It's not about just recording a lecture.
4. Create a policy and procedures manual for online/blended education.
When questions came up, Udermann's team figured out the answers and eventually put them in a policy and procedures manual so that everyone was clear on expectations. Some of the initial questions included, "Can I start my online/blended course a week early?" "Can I use a personal blog to teach online/blended courses?" "Can I get paid extra because it's more work to teach online?" The answers were all no, and now they have a policy that faculty have to use the university's learning management system to teach a course, not their own blog.
5. Create an online/blended education fact book; look at analytics.
By collecting data, online learning teams can share valuable insights with top university administrators. Udermann shared an example of some stats that illustrated the impact of online courses on graduation rates. While 70 percent of all students graduated in six years, 92 percent of those who took at least one online class graduated in the same time frame.
If universities collect online learning data, they need to use it, he cautioned. It doesn't do any good to collect it without having an action plan.
6. Create faculty buy-in.
Instead of mandating that every faculty member go through training before they teach an online course, proponents took the issue before the Faculty Senate, and it was narrowly defeated. If a mandate had been issued, they wouldn't have had faculty buy-in.
The university brought together online and blended instructors for luncheons and showcases so they could share what they were doing with each other and be recognized for their work. A tenured professor who showcases creative blended learning strategies will boost blended credibility, he said.
A faculty sole ownership agreement also helped create faculty buy-in because faculty were worried that someone else would teach the class they developed. This agreement gave faculty sole ownership over the courses they developed.
Finally, instructors had to go through training before they got paid. We'll get into that shortly.
7. Offer faculty development opportunities.
University faculty teach nearly all of the online and blended courses at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and they can take workshops and online instructor training courses to develop professionally.
8. Provide financial support for training and development of courses.
Now back to compensation. Faculty receive $500 to complete training and $1,000 per credit for course development. They have to complete instructor training before they get paid, and they also have to have a course review.
Faculty members meet with one instructional designer upfront, then review the course after they've taught it with Udermann and two instructional designers.
9. Be abnormal.
People are too uptight, so Udermann encouraged everyone to have fun and enjoy figuring out how to do something better when something fails.
"Generally if you're making mistakes and doing things wrong, it's because you're trying new things and taking risks," Udermann said.
Taking risks is important, and he shared an example of how he engaged students in a general health class. Out of 1,000 students in his class, only three to seven students raised their hands and said they wanted to be there when he asked.
So he had to come up with a different way to deliver information. He focused on health myths and misconceptions, and students really enjoyed it.
"You've got to deliver good content, but do it in a way that's engaging."
He demonstrated this abnormal method by sharing three sample statements and asking listeners to answer them true or false. See which ones you answer correctly.
Americans have more free time today than they did in 1965.
Eating turkey makes you drowsy
Swallowing gum is dangerous and should be avoided.
True; Americans have five to six hours more free time. We just spend it differently, with a typical person watching four hours of TV a day. He suggested a number of reasons for this extra free time, including that people get married later in life, have fewer children and have more technological advances.
False; eating turkey does not make you drowsy. Tryptophan in turkey can make you sleepy, but you would have to eat 12 to 15 pounds of turkey to become drowsy. And interestingly enough, tryptophan also appears in eggs, fish, cheese, beef and beans.
False; swallowing gum is not dangerous and should not be avoided. Gum passes out of your system in 12 to 13 hours. It would take a large amount of gum and other objects to cause problems.
He didn't go into too much detail on these last three points, but they are:
10. Offer quality student support services to online learners.
11. Treat online, blended and face-to-face equally.
Instead of creating separate procedures for these different types of learning, it's important to make them consistent.
12. Have an online course review process in place.
For more resources from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, check out uwlax.edu/online.