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Teaching effectively online

Illustration by Cindy Dolan

Critical resources provided to UD faculty to help students succeed

With a rich history of research and practice in the field of online teaching accompanied by an extensive campus outreach program that ramped up when the pandemic first struck, the University of Delaware was well ahead of the curve when UD President Dennis Assanis announced the decision to deliver the majority of UD’s academic courses online for the fall 2020 semester.

Since the spring, thousands of faculty and professionals across all disciplines at the University have been working hard, reviewing course content, evaluating methods of instruction and sharing best practices to ensure that the University’s high standards are not compromised by the shift online. While this change inevitably means that the learning experience will be different, the University’s commitment to academic excellence remains strong, and the work to provide top-notch online courses is guided by more than 25 years of experience at UD in this field, and by extensive research on how people learn.

Over the last five months, UD’s Online Teaching Subcommittee of the Academic Affairs Fall Planning Committee has been rapidly progressing on its charge to coalesce and deploy UD’s strong online teaching resources as quickly and efficiently as possible to the approximately 2,000 faculty members who will be teaching this fall.

“The Office of the Provost is committed to helping faculty create high-quality online courses for the fall semester to help our students continue their UD education during this difficult time,” said Lynn Okagaki, deputy provost for academic affairs and chair of the Academic Affairs Fall Planning Committee. “We established the Online Teaching Subcommittee to ensure that we have the training programs and one-on-one consultations that best support faculty in the creation of valuable online learning experiences for our students.”

The new subcommittee had a wealth of knowledgeable UD resources to help take on this task.

“As soon as we began working together, my colleagues on the subcommittee taught me that in order to build a hybrid course [with face-to-face and online instruction], you need to build it as if it is 100% online,” said George Irvine, associate vice provost for Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS) and chair of the Online Teaching Subcommittee. “Because we have been helping faculty build courses that are 100% online, we did not miss a beat following the recent announcement about delivering the majority of the fall 2020 courses online.”

Irvine is joined on his subcommittee by several faculty members as well as representatives from Faculty Commons partners, including PCS, Academic Technology Services (ATS), the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning (CTAL) and the Library, Museums and Press. Subcommittee member Fred Hofstetter, professor in the School of Education, is an online teaching pioneer. Hofstetter’s first online class from 1997, Internet Literacy, is still taught to UD undergraduate and graduate students today as Internet Technologies.

“UD has done an outstanding job of moving our courses online in the midst of this terrible pandemic,” said Hofstetter. “I am so proud of UD for having the courage to keep the majority of our courses online until it is safe to fully open the campus physically.”

Student response

Many students have expressed their appreciation for the faculty’s work this past spring to transition classes to online formats:

“I had a great experience in each of the courses, with the staff, the institution and with any and all interactions with you along the way. Anytime I had a question, you answered it quickly and in the most helpful way possible. I greatly appreciate everything you do for the program and the students.”   –Dylan Marton, graduate student, College of Education and Human Development

“When it comes to the quality of my classes in an online format, I would say it was very high.” –Mira Warrier, junior, College of Arts and Sciences

“I actually came to appreciate different aspects of online learning and the biggest one I would say is everything is truly done at your own pace.” – Steve Armstrong, sophomore, Lerner College of Business and Economics

"I was able to develop relationships with my peers and my professors. We had that one-on-one face interaction; we were meeting every other day." –Christian Reilly, junior, College of Arts and Sciences

"It gave me so much flexibility with my classes … in the end I made the dean’s list because of it.” – Joy Gyan, junior, College of Arts and Sciences

Resources for faculty

To aid faculty members in their preparation, the subcommittee has assembled a number of resources designed to meet them at their level of comfort for teaching online. Operating on a different academic calendar than much of the University with seven- and eight-week sessions throughout the year, Monica Farling, academic development specialist, and her colleagues from UD’s English Language Institute (ELI) have been employing some of these resources.

“In many ways, online classes are not better or worse; they are just different,” said Farling. “As long as everyone goes in with a mindset that we are going to be flexible and find ways to make this work best, a lot of great things are possible. I know so much more about educational technology and online course design now than I did in March when the pandemic hit.”

For many instructors, their first step is to visit the Teaching Online webpage, which provides resources and guidance for designing learning experiences, engaging students, building courses and filling course content. The page also includes contact information for UD departments and divisions that can provide assistance, and it supplies links to self-paced and cohort-based online training programs, such as UD Online Faculty Resource Center, Getting Started with Online Teaching, UD Online Student Orientation, Teaching Online Together: SPOT ON, Delivering Learning Experiences Online (DLEO), and Wiley Online Teaching Strategies.

Farling and some of her ELI coworkers participated in a DLEO training program to redesign their classes.

“We were logging a ton of hours on Zoom, so we looked into which pieces of the classes can be asynchronous [self paced],” said Farling. “We reorganized our material to a blend of synchronous [real-time] and asynchronous content and are piloting about six of those redesigned classes this summer.”

Evaluating online learning

Another resource, the UD Online assessment system, provides multiple options to assess learning. Though the ability to operate the UD Online Testing Center in person this fall is to be determined, there are other ways to evaluate student learning, including a testing function in the Canvas learning management system, remote proctoring via the testing center or ProctorU, Zoom proctoring, ExamSoft artificial intelligence proctoring, paper-based exams via Zoom, and lockdown browser software. Instructors utilizing the assessment system are guided through the process of choosing an assessment instrument by a decision tree.

“We know there is not one perfect option for assessing online learning,” said Irvine. “We have expert staff at the UD Online Testing Center to give guidance on the best testing options or maybe even help determine that alternative forms of assessment can be used.”

Faculty are also encouraged to take advantage of digital and open education resources for their online courses, as well as other services, provided by the Library. Over the summer, many instructors have engaged in consultations with Library staff to integrate resources to make their classes more engaging.

“When the Library says, ‘We are here to help you,’ take them at their word and take them up on it,” said Farling. “They have been fantastic to work with.”

After meeting virtually with a group of ELI instructors to ensure their students have access to the necessary resources, Lauren Wallis, First Year Experience and student success librarian, worked individually with Farling on creating a research guide in Canvas that links to various news publications and automatically updates. Along with enabling Farling to keep her course materials current, this saves considerable time.

In addition to the UD Online Testing Center and the Library, one-on-one and department consultations are offered by ATS, CTAL and others. Consultations range from specific issues like how to embed a video into Canvas to assisting someone who has no idea of how to begin to build an online course.

“We are so fortunate having this technology to keep education functioning in light of the pandemic,” said Hofstetter. “E-learning is one of the most thoroughly researched fields, and we have learned a lot about what works.”

As of mid-July, approximately 1,400 courses have been positively impacted by the work of the Online Teaching Subcommittee, which has supported trainings or consultations by Faculty Commons partners with nearly 700 instructors in a variety of capacities. Faculty Commons partners are currently following up with over 700 more instructors who responded to a recent survey asking if they need help. While Irvine is proud of the efforts to date, he also acknowledges they are not at the finish line yet.

“We are very pleased with our progress, but we know there is more work to be done,” said Irvine. “Our faculty members are working really hard, and we are reaching out to them to see how we can help. Even if it is tough in the near term, this will enhance the value of a UD education.”

Whether they are looking for assistance in building their online courses or just want to check in to say they have everything under control, all UD instructors are encouraged to reach out to faculty-commons@udel.edu or respond to the “2020 Fall Faculty Request for Course Design Assistance” survey.

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