5 Best Practices For Transforming Faculty Into Fully Online Educators

5 Best Practices For Transforming Faculty Into Fully Online Educators
Summary: It is no easy task to train faculty to become teachers of fully online courses. This article presents a few tips for helping develop and prepare faculty to design, develop, and deliver engaging online courses to the students they teach.

How To Transform Faculty Into Fully Online Educators 

I am an Instructional Designer who teaches a fully online professional development seminar that focuses on Instructional Design principles for developing and delivering fully online and blended courses. As the 6 week seminar wraps up, one of the final assignments I require faculty to complete is a reflective learning journal. With permission from the faculty who participated in the seminar, I present a few excerpts from their journals that support and highlight best practices I have developed at my university for faculty development.

1. Provide Opportunities For Collaborative Learning From Peers. 

Design your training so that faculty are engaging in learning experiences that they can implement into their own online courses. For example, one of the projects in the seminar requires faculty to develop a learning unit that they will actually use in their own fully online or blended courses. All participants are required to submit this assignment to their respective group’s discussion board and provide peer review for each other’s work, using a rubric that I developed. The quotes below explain what insights faculty can gain by this kind of exercise.

One instructor’s journal entry states:

"I appreciated the openness of the class members to gently criticize each other and make suggestions to improve the quality of our assignments and understanding of those assignments. This really reinforced the use of the discussion forum and the ability to provide peer-review to each other regarding what had been submitted."

His classmate reveals an initial feeling of uneasiness but saw the benefit of the activity when she discloses the following:

"As for the peer review exercise: I admit that I was a little nervous about having others critique my work. However, my classmates —neither of whom I knew before this class— both offered constructive feedback that was right on target. I found the whole exercise so useful that I plan to use a similar approach in my own graduate classes."

This assignment gave faculty a hands-on example of how they could integrate online groups within a course as a means for peer review. It also functioned as a nice way for faculty to experience how students could provide instructional scaffolds to each other in an online learning environment, so that online discussions can be more engaging.

2. Train Faculty Online: Place Faculty In The Seats Of Students. 

Insight into the student experience is gained when professional development is given fully online. This is summarized by a participant who notes the following:

"I think the best faculty development workshops require us to view our courses and practices from a student’s perspective. Many of the assignments in this course challenged me to rethink my approach to moving course content online and how this approach would impact students of diverse skill levels and experience."

His peer reflects on the importance of instructor feedback. She states:

“I really valued the feedback I received on my assignments and again, being in the student’s seat, I really could see how crucial descriptive and appreciative comments from the teacher are!”

In my experience as an Instructional Designer, faculty are sometimes trained in group settings in a room with multiple computers and a teacher workstation. Although faculty are developing skills for using the various features of a Learning Management System, they are not truly experiencing online teaching and learning. The implications of the above quotes are tremendous; when faculty are placed in the seats of students for professional development purposes, it can influence the design, development, and delivery of their courses.

3. Develop Faculty’s Multimedia Skills.

Instructional Designers teach faculty about how to use multimedia resources, such as YouTube, for the enhancement of online courses, using video created by others. However, we should provide faculty with training on how to create their own media. This Instructor writes about his blended course and how he was able to immediately use what he was learning about podcasting from the training seminar I teach. He states:

"Practicum Assignments: These gave me a very good opportunity to develop rudimentary skills in each of the areas that were covered. (...) An additional bonus with the podcast was that with the snow days that we had, I was able to utilize that with students in one of my courses this semester."

His colleague concurs, whose course was also not fully online:

"What I particularly found helpful were the practicums. (…) This course introduced several new options. In fact, following the most recent snowstorm, I used Camtasia to create a lecture [capture] for a course I was supposed to host. As this course had been repeatedly canceled [due to inclement weather], this program was a phenomenal option. Having immediate access to this program made it so easy for me to solve a true problem in my course."

The professors’ comments make it very clear that assignments given in professional development sessions should not be busywork. In each example, these instructors were able to develop their own multimedia to meet the specific needs of their respective classes. Although it is convenient to use multimedia developed by others, an instructor may not find a video or podcasts that thoroughly covers the topic and of course. By having gained multimedia authoring skills, these participants are no longer reliant on what others have produced. They can now make contributions to various online multimedia repositories.

4. Modeling Examples Of Teaching Presence.

A common term in eLearning is teaching presence, which is “The design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson et al. 2001, p. 5). As the facilitator of a professional development seminar, model good online teaching presence through your engagement with faculty. I did this by providing video feedback to faculty using Jing and Camtasia Studio screen capture software. This faculty member reflects on the feedback I gave her as an example of instructor presence:

"I really valued the feedback I received on my assignments and again, being in the student’s seat, I really could see how crucial descriptive and appreciative comments from the teacher are! I liked, especially, Sabrina, getting feedback from you in Camtasia and being able to access it. I think this would work super well in my writing classes to go over student drafts and I am considering doing some of this semester!"

Students can experience isolation in an online environment by not seeing an active teacher presence. By modeling how one can give video feedback, I provided an example for the instructor of how she can make her presence felt by her online students.

5. Provide Faculty With Practical Skills For ADA Compliance.

Technology can meet the needs of busy adults, by providing eLearning opportunities in asynchronous formats. However, the development of these courses can sometimes form barriers for those with disabilities. A necessary ingredient to faculty development is not only helping faculty to understand disabilities and ADA compliance, but also giving them skills to make their courses more accessible. This need is exemplified in the two journal excerpts below. One instructor writes:

"Part of the challenge with accessible courses is creating them; easy access to the technology and support staff to teach us how to use it helps alleviate those challenges. This course gave me some new tools that I am enthusiastically using as a result of the instruction I received."

This is elaborated by the instructor’s classmate who states:

"The course materials and activities really raised my consciousness about practices that faculty can undertake to improve accessibility for all. It was a bonus to learn through first-hand experience that it's actually quite easy to create ADA-compliant Word documents, podcasts, and other course content that helps make classes truly accessible."

As faculty across the globe are asked to integrate technology into their teaching practices, more and more there will be a need to pair this integration with compliance so that all students are given an equal chance to learn.

Professional development can stimulate instructors to reflect on their pedagogy and become more self-aware about their engagement with students. It is not an arduous hurdle that administration directs faculty to leap over but is actually a useful vehicle to the educator for developing a new set of instructional strategies.


Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2).  Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Anderson_Rourke_Garrison_Archer_Teaching_Presence.pdf