Neil Hair—If you’re an instructor and you’ve not yet made time to visit Innovative Learning Institute’s Teaching and Learning Services in the Wallace Building, read this recent trends report, “Instructional Design: Demand Grows for a New Breed of Academic” from the Chronicle of Higher Education. (If you don’t subscribe to the Chronicle, RIT personnel can access the article at this link after March 29, 2016: http://rit.edu/4hpg8.) RIT’s instructional designers and academic technologists have been working extensively with faculty since the mid-1990s--helping create online courses, analyze and address classroom frustrations, and re-energize instructors’ approach to teaching.
Our mission is to serve all faculty. We do this by staying current on recent developments in teaching, pedagogy, and academic technologies, and providing a range of instructional design support services—through faculty development events, one-on-one consultations, or web-based resources. Recently, much of our work with faculty has been to help them design online courses.
Faculty who have not experienced online learning as an instructor (or even as a student) may not be familiar with learning strategies and models used to design effective online courses. Last year 23% of RIT students took at least one online course, comparable to other private, non-profit universities, and a 12% increase over the previous year. As this population grows, the number of faculty who will be teaching online must also grow to better serve returning and non-traditional students, students on co-op, and students working toward on-time graduation.
“A lot of faculty come to us and want to know ‘what does an online course looks like?'” says Marty Golia, an instructional design researcher and consultant (IDRC). “We’ll share examples of successful RIT online courses, but only as a way to start the conversation—our goal is to collaborate with each instructor on an online design and strategy that achieves their learning outcomes and is consistent with who they are as a teacher.”
Instead of looking at online courses as a standardized product in a rigid format, TLS strives to help faculty develop online courses that capture the tone and personality of their face-to-face classes. This isn’t always finding an “online equivalent” for a classroom activity—it can mean creating a new learning process that enables students to engage with content and demonstrate learning totally online.
In our work with faculty, we emphasize the importance of building into the course ample opportunities for faculty to interact with students, provide direct instruction and feedback, and foster an active learning community. It’s this focus on the student experience that is the key to creating a course that’s easy to navigate, that clarifies faculty expectations for the quality of student work, and that fosters ease of communication. In addition, we help build courses with an eye toward faculty workflow, scheduling assignments so faculty can provide timely grading and feedback without being overwhelmed. This enables faculty to focus on teaching, not technology.
“Building on work done by the Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence, we developed the Online Course Quality Checklist (OCQC) to help faculty apply best practices to their online courses,” says Michael Starenko, an IDRC. “The OCQC is written in general terms so faculty aren’t forced into a specific format, but are still able to discover how well the course can meet student needs and help them achieve learning outcomes.”
At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “The support for online courses is fine, but I have questions about my face-to-face course.” Excellent! We can help you with those brick-and-mortar teaching questions too. “We frequently consult with faculty teaching on-campus courses,” according to Rebecca Johnson, another IDRC at TLS. “Often faculty come with a specific problem in the classroom, but sometimes they’re just looking for a new activity or new ideas to make classes more active and engaging.”
You can find out more about TLS’s instructional design and academic technology and media production teams on our About page.
Neil Hair is the executive director of the Innovative Learning Institute at RIT. He is an associate professor of marketing at the Saunders College of Business and recipient of five of RIT’s teaching awards for excellence, including the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2006), the Exemplary Online Faculty Award (2008), RIT’s Executive MBA Faculty Recognition Award (2013), Saunders College of Business Alumni Award (2014), and RIT’s highest teaching honor, the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching (2012). His teaching interests include developing the world’s first program on the commercialization of virtual worlds, and the pedagogy of immersive online student learning experiences. In his role as executive director of the ILI, Neil has been tasked with leading RIT’s charge toward innovative teaching practices across the board, promoting faculty awareness of successful innovations, and executing RIT’s online portfolio of learning products.