SLN Faculty Development Program – history
From, “Factors Influencing Faculty Satisfaction with Asynchronous Teaching and Learning in the SUNY Learning Network: Lessons from Faculty Development” August, 1999.
this section written by Alexandra M. Pickett
“…97.1% of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their on-line teaching experience”
Spring 1999 SLN Faculty Satisfaction Survey
This section discusses the evolution of the SLN faculty development and course design methodology as well as the technology used, and processes developed for these purposes. It will outline and demonstrate the sequential steps in the process developed by the SUNY Learning Network (SLN) that have been used to support faculty to develop and deliver over four hundred unique, completely Internet-based courses from forty-two different colleges in the State University of New York system. We believe that this systematic approach is a significant factor in the high levels of on-line teaching satisfaction that we have achieved in our program.
Beginning in 1994, traditional faculty were hired to create online courses for asynchronous delivery into the home via computer. Each faculty member worked with an instructional design partner to implement the course. From the fall of 1995 through spring of 1997, forty courses were developed and delivered, and the instructional designers conducted interviews, made observations and collected empirical data. Our objectives during this period were to identify best practices, synthesize scaleable and replicable processes, develop tools and resources, and implement production.
With the intention of supporting faculty and course development on a large scale with relatively limited resources, a scaleable and replicable faculty development process was synthesized based on the research conducted by our instructional designers. The results are a four-stage faculty development process and a seven-step course design process. Developed and piloted in February 1996, SLN faculty development and course design has been an iterative process. Though the original models remain essentially unchanged, each semester, working with an increasing number of “real” faculty and “real” students, our processes, resources, and support continue to evolve and improve. The SLN faculty development and course design processes are implemented through the SLN Instructional Design Team. The mission of the SLN Instructional Design Team is to “help SUNY faculty create technically and instructionally robust learning environments in which to teach and learn.”
This comprehensive approach now includes: an online faculty resource and information gateway, an asynchronous conference for all developers, an asynchronous faculty orientation, a series of workshops for new faculty, instructional design sessions for returning faculty, a comprehensive step-by step course developer’s handbook, a course template, a faculty helpdesk, online mechanisms for faculty evaluation of SLN services, and an assigned instructional design partner to support faculty development and course design.
A critical factor in our successes has been our ability to been to evaluate needs, conceptualize solutions, to implement these with active faculty and students, assess our success or failure, and to apply what we have learned as we begin this process again. For example, initially, wanting to model asynchronous instruction, we developed an online course to teach faculty how to develop an online course. This course was originally designed as a scaffolding mechanism for faculty through the course design phase between face-to-face trainings. Used for three semesters between 1995 and 1996, this course was evaluated by faculty and, based on their feedback, was divided into several of its component parts. It now consists of a printed “how-to” manual that follows our 7-step course design process, an on-line asynchronous conference for new and returning faculty that is moderated by an experienced faculty person, a on-line faculty orientation moderated by our helpdesk, and the SLN Faculty Center of online resources. The on-line faculty conference mirrors our 4-stage faculty development process and consists of facilitated asynchronous discussion on issues of asynchronous teaching and learning. This forum provides opportunities for networking between faculty and disciplines. Within the on-line conference faculty can access links that take them to “live” SLN courses for observation (used with permission) which act as models. We recently implemented a separate online asynchronous faculty orientation using the same template. This orientation is moderated by the helpdesk and is designed to introduce faculty to the online course environment and specifics of how students interact with the course materials.
Structure of the Faculty Development and Course Design program
Our development cycles are offered in a cohort model. Faculty developing courses for the fall term begin in March, and for the spring term begin in September. We now also have summer and winter terms, but allow only experienced instructors, with repeat courses and provided limited support.
Figure 1: Faculty Development and Course Design Process
SLN program uses a GroupWare application call Lotus Notes in conjunction with a Domino server. A course template was designed and developed specifically SLN using Lotus Notes and the Domino server technology. There were a number of significant factors that went into the decision in 1994 to choose this product. The nature of GroupWare in facilitating a collaborative working environment for network and remote users and the absence on the market of any other similar product was key. At the time, Lotus Notes was the only integrated product that offered remote use via replication. It also offered a WYSIWYG document creation and sharing. Ultimately, because Lotus Notes allowed relatively easy development and customization of applications and because it was a robust product supported by a reliable company we decided to adopt it as a platform for our template. We chose to develop the SLN Course Template because, at the time, there were no course management products on the market such as LearningSpace or WebCT. Later, as we moved to the Domino server for the delivery of courses over the web, the fact that faculty did not have to learn, understand or use html or other web page creation technologies, made the domino technology ideal. We began with the premise that faculty should be able to focus primarily on teaching and students on learning and that the technology must therefore be as transparent as possible. The relative simplicity of the SLN Template for course development and a web browser interface for course delivery allowed faculty and students to focus on teaching and learning, not technology.
In addition, we have developed a number of custom database applications to support our administrative, faculty, and student services including:
· A student gateway to prepare students for asynchronous on-line learning
· A “Student Commons” for accessing courses
· On-line (and printed) course catalogues
· An on-line faculty center
· An on-line faculty development conference
· Moderated faculty and student orientations
· Student and faculty help-desk report tracking
· Student and faculty survey data collection
Students access and participate in SLN courses on the World Wide Web using a web browser. Faculty work in two environments in our program:
1. They develop and teach their courses using the SLN Course Template, a custom Lotus Notes application created by SLN for this purpose. The Lotus Notes/Domino server automatically translates the SLN Course Template documents into HTML code. Our internal email system is also an important part of the way we communicate and work with faculty. Faculty work with local replicas of the server databases. The ability work off-line is often cited by faculty as an advantage to our system.
2. Faculty also use the web to preview their course from the students’ perspective as they develop their materials. Access to the web is also necessary to access our many online resources.
Features of the SLN Template
The SLN Course Template is designed to allow faculty to quickly and easily create and manage their course. The template contains a number of documents, forms, and views to create courses.
The template allows faculty to easily:
· Create an orientation and syllabus for their course.
· Manage online discussions, including private small group discussions.
· Exchange private documents with students, e.g., a written assignment, essay, or test.
· Create multiple choice and short answer quizzes and tests with automatic grading.
· Create and organize their lecture notes and other course materials.
· Create a bibliography of resources, including hot-links to web sites.
· Create hypertext within their own materials, as well as to other Internet sites.
· Evaluate, track, and grade students’ work.
· Make announcements.
· Create a course area where the instructor and students can get to know each other and chat about both course-related and non-course related topics.
The SLN Course Template is accessible to faculty on the web during their Course Design Process so that they can see how the course looks and functions from the web. It comes with pre-designed web navigation bars to help students navigate their course with ease. It also contains buttons so that students can ask questions and request technical help from any page in their course. Faculty are asked to complete a Faculty Orientation, which is an on-line course moderated by the SLN Helpdesk. This course uses the SLN template and orients faculty to how their course will function from the students’ perspective.
Faculty Development Process
The SLN Faculty Development process is a four-stage process that includes a 7-step course design process. It is delivered to a cohort of faculty that has prescribed start and end dates that directly precede the term targeted for delivery of the course. A full cycle for a new faculty person consists of a development and delivery cycle. All faculty must go through the faculty development process to participate in the program.
To participate in the program, the instructor’s campus must be a participating institution in the SLN program, and have officially proposed the course for development for a specific term. We also suggest that faculty meet the following guidelines.
New faculty should have:
· At least basic computer skills.
· A willingness to adapt their teaching style to the networked/asynchronous environment.
· Availability to participate in the SLN faculty development and course design program that includes participation in an online conference, observation of live online courses, attending three day-long training sessions scheduled throughout the development cycle at various locations around the state, and working closely with an instructional design partner.
· Time to fully develop and create their entire online course prior to the first day of class.
As course development can be time consuming, we recommend that faculty select a course that they have previously taught rather than develop a new one. It is SLN policy that faculty new to the SLN program develop a single course their first time through the SLN faculty development and course design process.
In our experiences faculty that have been most successful are those that have a passion for teaching, are willing to rethink how they teach and assess learning, are committed and have the time to develop the course completely prior to the first day of the term, and have institutional support for their on-line teaching endeavors. It is important to note that our program targets participation of mainstream faculty, not the technology early adopter. It is the comprehensiveness of our support and the robustness of our technology that enable us to have our high levels of success with mainstream faculty and that contribute to the richness of our growing community of online instructors and course offerings. Some of our finest instructors would never have made the cut had there been technology proficiency requirements for participation in the program. We have been successful in making the technology as transparent as possible so much so that faculty (and students) do not need to know how it works.
All new faculty begin together by reviewing our online course-developers gateway and resources including:
· Links to journal articles and papers regarding online teaching and learning.
· Recommended guidelines for course development for planning purposes.
· Information about the resources, support and services offered to new faculty.
· Access to the All Faculty Conference.
The purposes of stage one are to get the faculty online as soon as possible, so that technology and access issues are addressed right away. It also serves to familiarize the faculty with the program, the components of the faculty development process, and with our web resources for new faculty. Stage one also begins the “reflection” period for faculty where they can begin to think about teaching and learning online in general and about things specific to their discipline and course. From developer gateway, they are instructed to participate in the online All Faculty Conference. This is a facilitated asynchronous resource for all SLN faculty in which they can “meet” colleagues who are currently developing or preparing to re-teach. An SLN veteran course developer facilitates the conference and it includes a Faculty Lounge/Bulletin Board area where faculty can “chat” asynchronously with other faculty. Other highlights of the conference include private small group areas that can be used by the instructional designers with the assigned group of faculty they support, web links to a variety of Internet resources relevant to teaching and learning online, and “live,” model SLN courses for observation.
The conference has a variety of objectives:
· Provides opportunity to network with new and experienced faculty.
· Introduces new developers to the SLN web course interface.
· Models the role of “student.”
· Models effective instructional/course design and moderation of asynchronous discussion.
· Provides an opportunity to participate in asynchronous discussion as students do.
Stage 2 is the “conceptualization” stage in the faculty development process. Faculty continue to participate in the All Faculty Conference and the emphasis is on course design issues. Faculty focus on student expectations, how students will interact and navigate the course materials, the need for consistency, redundancy, explicitness in design and instructions, designing learning activities, and completing the structure of the course prior to teaching the course.
The most important component of stage 2 is the observation of “live” online courses. Course observation is essential for new faculty for a variety of reasons. It allows new faculty to see what a complete course looks like. Through observation, new faculty see how a variety of courses are structured and how each course is unique and defined by the content area and instructor in spite of the use of a template. They also learn about the wide variety of online and offline learning activities that make up a wide range of courses and how courses are organized or “chunked” into modules. Finally they are introduced to different methods of evaluation as different instructors carry it out, and to witness how a course grows and unfolds with the participation of active students.
Courses for observation are selected as model courses. For the fall 99 cycle 18 courses were selected to show a variety of disciplines and approaches to course design. Undergraduate and graduate courses from a mix of SUNY institutions were represented. Among the criteria for selection are:
· Effective instructional design: complete and explicit orientation and syllabus area, consistent module structure, explicit, consistent, and redundant instructional cues for students, well-named modules, sections and documents in the course that convey content or instructional information to the student, clear overviews and expectations for every learning activity, completeness of course.
· Effective teaching strategies: timely responses from the instructor, built in opportunities for interaction with the instructor and other students.
· Effective use of the technology or the Internet.
· Effective collaborative learning activities: discussion, small group activities.
· Effective off-line activities:
· Innovative “work-arounds” for common problems such as science labs or testing
· Model use of any of the features of our course template.
· Various and effective approaches to the structure of the learning materials and activities: by topic, by chapter, by steps in a process, by metaphor.
· Personality of the instructor.
Stage 3 marks the beginning of the 7-step course design process and begins with the first of three face-to-face trainings for new faculty. At the first workshop faculty are given their user names and passwords to our system, and introduced to the course development GroupWare application used by the program including our course template and our email system. In addition they are given their individualized course template, our course developer handbook, and assigned an instructional design partner. Faculty are asked to bring their syllabus with them to the training. The first and third trainings are scripted and led by one of our veteran course developers. We have found that new faculty respond very well to these workshops led by another experienced peer. We suspect that a peer instructor who can speak from experience adds elements of trust and the voice of first hand knowledge to the experience.
The objective of the first training is for each new developer to create the main modular structure of their course in their individual template to take with them when they leave. We call it ‘chunking’ their course. Specifics about the program support and services are reviewed and their next steps are outlined. Though benchmarked by the series of 3 face to face trainings with faculty (each now conducted in five locations regionally to accommodate the numbers of faculty being trained), the course design process is proactively facilitated by the instructional designer according to specific program guidelines and milestones.
During stage three faculty continue to have access to the All Faculty Conference and the courses for observation. In addition, they are given access to the SLN Faculty Center, a password-protected website that builds a personalized web homepage for each faculty person including links to:
· Send and receive personal SLN and Internet email.
· The SLN Faculty HelpDesk.
· Get and submit information such as submitting course descriptions and materials order information.
· Download the SLN course template database.
· Check SLN program announcements.
· The All Faculty Conference, including live courses for observation, a sample course, and a best practices examples area.
· Access link to the individual’s course on the web.
The second face to face training generally takes place about a month after the first training. This provides time for the faculty to begin working in their template. The Instructional Design Intensive brings the faculty back together to discuss issues in the development of online courses and is devised to address the instructor’s specific questions related to the creation of their learning activities. There is a roundtable component of the workshop to identify and brainstorm issues and solutions and a hands-on portion to demonstrate or implement solutions that emerge from the discussion. Tips, recommendation, guidelines, suggestions, and checklists are collected from the participants and existing information is disseminated. Milestones and next steps are outlined as well as programmatic issues so that faculty continue to understand and feel part of the program.
The remainder of stage 3 involves the faculty working on the design and development of their course. The role of the Multimedia Instructional Designer (MID) in this stage is to help the faculty develop technically and instructionally robust teaching and learning environments that are appropriate to the instructor’s style of instruction, content area, level of the students, and technology being used. Faculty work closely with their MID and endeavor to complete the development of the course prior to the final face-to-face training. Using a series of checklists the MID conducts an instructional design and technical review of the course to insure its readiness for delivery. The objective of stage 3 is to complete the course development steps so that during the delivery phase faculty can concentrate on students and teaching the course and not on developing components of the course or dealing with issues of design and technology.
The Seven-Step Course Design Process
Faculty use these steps to guide their course development beginning in Stage 3 of the faculty development process. These steps are followed and supported by all our resources and services including the course developer handbook, the trainings, MID procedures and guidelines, and throughout the SLN Faculty Center of online resources. We believe that our ability to achieve consistent, successful results with faculty is due to the comprehensive structure and integrated nature of our process, resources, support and services for faculty.
Create Course Proposal
Fill out Course Profile
Create an Orientation for your Course
Edit/Create orientation and syllabus documents in your SLN Course Template
Chunk your Course into Modules
Set up Modules in your SLN Course Template
Create Learning Activities in your Course ModulesAdd Learning Activities to Modules in your SLN Course Template
Walk Through Your CourseReview and walk through your course
Getting Ready to TeachLearn and practice course management skills
After you Teach – Evaluate and Revise your CourseEvaluate and revise your course
The Multimedia Instructional Design Partner (MID)
The fulcrum of the SLN course design process is our use of the multimedia instructional design partner (MID), not as a collaborator in the design of the course, nor in a clerical support capacity, but as a guide to the faculty. The MID’s role, though part editor, part technical support, is primarily as an expert in instructional design and online teaching and learning. They are also experts our templates and technology and can guide the faculty to the most effective and efficient ways to achieve their instructional objectives. All MIDs are given an orientation to the program and trained in our technology and the SLN faculty development and course design process. They observe courses, complete an online orientation, participate in course design reviews, review and familiarize themselves with our guidelines, tips, recommendations and our course developer handbook. They are also encouraged to take an online course, given a practice template and encouraged to develop an SLN course. They become members of the program’s instructional design team and participate actively in bi-weekly meetings. As part of their training, new MIDs carry a reduced load of faculty, partner with the lead instructional designer for support, and assume progressively responsible roles at the faculty trainings.
The relationship with faculty is a delicate and negotiated role that, in addition to technical and instructional design expertise, requires diplomacy and high level interpersonal skills. We have learned that graduate assistants, experienced faculty, and staff may have pre-existing relationships and roles on campus that can inhibit carrying out the role of the MID successfully.
Currently the SLN instructional design team consists of 4 full time MIDs and 6 campus-based MIDs. The development of the campus-based MID model grew out a combination of reasons that included, limited program resources to add staff and growing numbers of faculty on individual campuses. The programmatic shift from scaling the project to institutionalizing and sustaining the program added logical rationale to a move in this direction. Building a locally available campus resource facilitates campus ownership and investment in the and makes access for faculty convenient. Campus-based MIDs are trained by the SLN program and function as members of the SLN instructional design team.
The MID functions as a single point of contact between the instructor and the program. The MID team is kept up to date on the latest programmatic information, procedural changes, technology or instructional design issues, and provides a forum for designers to share information and tips, and the opportunity to brainstorm and problem-solve solutions to design and technology issues with each other. Working so closely with their faculty and having the SLN Instructional Design Team to rely on puts the MIDs in an advantageous position to share information, strategies, and solutions with their cohort of assigned faculty and with each other. The instructional design team uses a common GroupWare database to post questions, document common issues and solutions, disseminate documentation and share information between meetings. The ID team is geographically dispersed across the state and communicates and shares information asynchronously. Each MID is assigned a maximum of 30 – 40 new faculty to support per term and is responsible for follow-through on the development of their assigned faculty as online instructors and the course design process according to programmatic guidelines and schedules. The MIDs participate in the training sessions for their regional locations.
The comprehensiveness of our processes, resources, support and services facilitate the MIDs in their pivotal role and allow them to do their jobs in a well-documented, organized manner. The unique role of the MID in the SLN program is a distinguishing factor in our faculty development and course design processes and we believe, based on our high degrees of satisfaction with both faculty and students, critical to our successes in both faculty development and course design.
Stage 4 of the SLN Faculty Development Process begins with the third face-to-face training. The Teaching and Managing your Course workshop marks the transition for faculty from the course development phase to the delivery phase. This training prepares them for students entering their course. Program staff explain to faculty how students access the system and access their course and discuss any questions faculty may have. A roundtable discussion with veteran faculty caps the development cycle at this training. This roundtable provides an opportunity for new faculty to meet and talk with experienced faculty, to ask questions, and for our experienced faculty to share what they know and what to expect with new faculty.
Stage 4 is the “pilot your course” stage. New faculty and their new courses are closely monitored during the first 3-4 weeks of the semester by the MID. Weekly check-ins, phone and email communications, and intervention when necessary take place behind the scenes. Faculty are asked to take notes on what is working and what needs improvement as they teach the course to make evaluations and revisions easier the next time they teach the course.
Stage 4 ends with an online survey to assess faculty satisfaction and to help us learn more about teaching and learning online and to help us improve our services, support and resources for faculty.
Faculty performance is not assessed at the SLN program level. SLN does not have academic oversight over courses nor is it in a position to evaluate the instructors or their courses. Campuses deal with these issues on individual basis, most often in ways traditional courses and faculty are evaluated. The program does however have a formal instructional design review process conducted at the end of the course design process and conducted by the assigned instructional design partners. With a series of checklists available both to the instructors and the MIDs, the MIDs conduct the ID review to “pre-flight” the course in anticipation of the first day of class. A formal review report is written and given to the instructor and any recommended revisions are discussed with the instructor and implemented. The ID team marks success by faculty who want to teach again and do, by those that continue to develop new courses, and by those that recommend teaching in the program and by this method to colleagues.
SLN Best Practices – What we’ve learned and what we know:
· Good online instructional practices are independent of software.
· Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
· A well-designed course creatively leverages the options AND recognizes the limitations of the online learning environment.
· Assume nothing.
· If you do something, and it doesn’t work (or it breaks something) . . . Don’t do it again.
· Just because a course is online doesn’t mean it ALL has to be online.
· Asynchronous distance learning doesn’t mean “self-paced.”
· First make it work, then make it pretty.
Specific SLN Best Practices –
· Create opportunities for interaction with students and between students.
· Create/use activities that build a sense of class community.
· Think literal.
· Talk, don’t write.
· Use the structure of the course to convey information about the course, content, task.
· Provide explicit instructions cues and signposts for students.
· Be flexibly firm.
· Be consistent, redundant, and complete in the structure and creation of your course.
Comprehensive support to develop effective on-line faculty includes the following elements:
· Faculty-driven course design– pedagogy must not be imposed by the course management application or the instructional designer.
· Faculty must develop the course themselves.
· Opportunities for reflection, evaluation and revision.
· Opportunities for participation in online courses or discussion.
· Observation of live on-line courses.
· Access to experienced faculty, opportunities for interdisciplinary networking, peer support/training.
· Individual instructional design support and technical support.
· Reliable stable network & technology.
· Template that makes technology transparent.
· Collecting and sharing best practices.
· Resources and support in a variety of media.
Some of our current challenges include:
· Enhancing support and services for our returning faculty -now the majority. Providing the next level instructional design support, evaluation & revision, and providing opportunities for discipline-specific networking and best practices.
· Training faculty at a distance.
· Out -of -term development.
· Training faculty to deliver courses that they did not develop.
· Campus-based MIDs: Transferring our models and processes to the campus. . . Loosing control of the faculty development process and influence on course design.
We have now gone beyond our initial questions of what works? Will it scale? And how do we institutionalize and sustain this program? Our questions now include what specific elements of instructional or course design are most effective? What specific on-line teaching strategies are most effective? Does teaching on-line affect/change/improve how you teach in the classroom? And, can our processes, models, generic resources be successfully implemented by individual faculty, departments, or campuses –outside the context of the SLN program? As we continue to grow and evolve we will continue to learn from our faculty and share with them what we learn.
Successful, satisfied on-line instructors have effective course designs and effective teaching practices. SLN has been able to achieve high levels of faculty satisfaction efficiently and consistently on a large scale with a comprehensive approach to the support of SUNY faculty, their development as on-line instructors, and effective support and attention to the instructional design of their on-line courses.