Second-Hand Courses But NOT Second-Rate Instructors (Issue 5)

Author and Editor: Dr. Kelvin Thompson


Perhaps you can help us. My colleagues and I are noticing a pattern. In some cases, the instructors who created online courses are no longer the ones teaching them. I’ve personally spoken with a student who complained about the bad experience she was having in an online course that I know was designed well. I was surprised to learn that the person teaching it was not the person who designed it. (As far as I can tell, the course itself hasn’t changed substantively.) Also, we’ve received inquiries from faculty who have been assigned to teach online using someone else’s materials. As one of these instructors said: “I’m not sure what or how much I can change, and this is my first time teaching online, so I don’t really know what the best practices are.”

What can we do to help these faculty be successful?

Perplexed by Patterns of the Poorly Prepared

Dear Perplexed:

Yes, this is a challenge that we see happening with increasing frequency across a wide range of institutions. While some colleges/departments understand that preparing faculty to teach online is important for faculty “inheriting” an existing online course, others see no reason to prepare them since the online courses are already developed and are, presumably, “good.” In our experience, to further complicate matters, most of the instructors of record of these “handed off” courses are adjunct faculty (or graduate students at the university level).

It is worth noting that the popular approach at some institutions of designing “master courses” (also called template courses or standardized courses) which are then handed off to adjunct faculty to teach does not completely address the problem you’ve raised. In such cases, while the course itself is solid in design, and the instructor is presumably skilled and knowledgeable, it is the combination of course and new-to-the-course instructor that is the potential problem. It seems to us somewhat like driving a friend’s car. There is nothing wrong with the car or the new driver. However, the car is customized for the old driver, and the new driver will need to 1) acquaint herself (e.g., look over the instrument panel and equipment) and 2) possibly make some adjustments (e.g., adjust seats, mirror, and sound system) in order to drive safely and comfortably.

Any faculty preparation that you do (and we would suggest that you do offer some preparation for these faculty) should focus on 1) understanding the design of the course, 2) being clear about what kinds of adjustments are within his scope, and 3) being equipped to carry out the course as designed/adjusted (e.g., LMS skills and facilitation tips).

Depending upon the culture of your institution and the types of faculty development that are accepted, the ways in which you address the above needs might vary. However, we dare say that, especially for adjunct faculty, the fact that you are offering any preparation at all may be perceived as a motivating incentive. Building upon this idea, if indeed adjunct faculty are the primary group “inheriting” online courses, please be mindful to time your offerings accordingly. That is, such instructors often do not receive course assignments until very close to the start of the term, and they may only be available to participate in offerings scheduled after hours, on the weekend, or in a self-paced manner online. Some possible venues for preparing faculty “inheriting” existing online courses, in increasing level of complexity, include:

  • Job aids/tip sheets written with inheriting faculty in mind
  • Open labs (multiple times) with personnel on-hand to provide “at-your-shoulder” assistance
  • A workshop in which participants are guided through the processes of course familiarization and modification
  • An actual “course” designed for “inheriting” faculty (Note: See a description of one such course: UCF’s ADL5000.)

One final strategy that some have found helpful as part of the course hand-off process, is encouraging the creation of “designer notes” that remain a part of the course (e.g., within the LMS file management area). Such notes may provide “message-in-a-bottle” type guidance from the original course designer to any and all subsequent inheritors. However, a modified approach might also include a brief note from each iterative instructor noting what modifications were made, what facilitation strategies were effective, etc.

We hope these suggestions are useful to all who need to prepare faculty to be successful in teaching online courses they did not design. However, you might have additional ideas or alternative suggestions. Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit community on LinkedIn! We would love to see them!

Until next month,