Online Blogucation

Hallmark #6: Qualified Faculty & Effective Faculty Support

Of the 9 Hallmarks that we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks, this one is perhaps one of the most obvious yet challenging. I am often reminded of a lesson I learned when working at a grocery store in my teenage years. I was asked to stack 20-lb. bags of potatoes on a lower shelf, and so I just started piling them on. Before I knew it, they were sliding and falling off the shelf. My supervisor came over to me to help. He said, “How do you build a house? Begin with a solid foundation.” He then proceeded to stack the bags of potatoes in long rows, side-by-side, packing them so that each additional bag supported the weight of previous bags. Problem solved. (This may seem obvious to us “grown-ups,” but hey, I was a teenager!)

The same concept rings true when building and maintaining an online program — build a solid foundation. And in this case, that solid foundation consists of quality faculty members who are sufficiently trained and supported to do what they need to deliver learning experiences that meet all students’ needs.

Now, a bit of background — Hallmark #6 reads as follows, from the The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s (MSCHE) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning):

Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula and evaluating the students’ success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.

MSCHE provides six points by which institutions can provide evidence that they are meeting this hallmark. Let’s break these down one at a time.

  • Online learning faculties are carefully selected, appropriately trained, frequently evaluated, and are marked by an acceptable level of turnover

Hopefully, this is already happening in any institution’s on-ground program, and so applying the same principles here should be relatively easy. However, one must also consider the “appropriately trained” part of the statement. (See below, also.) It is not enough simply to know how to teach, nor is it enough to know how to use a Learning Management System. Knowing how to teach online is the key here. There are different methods for engaging students in online courses than there are in on-ground courses. Take the lecture, for example. Many on-ground instructors still stick to the time-honored 45-minute lecture format. However, video recording that same 45-minute lecture and presenting it in a sit-n-get format in the LMS is a quick way to turn students into zombies who would rather do anything other than watch an instructor drone on. Even the most exuberant of instructors loses something in the conversion from live to video. It’s important to acknowledge that we must train our online instructors on not only the appropriate use of video but also the whole host of methods for engaging students in the online world.

  • The institution’s training program for online learning faculty is periodic, incorporates tested good practices in online learning pedagogy, and ensures competency with the range of software products used by the institution

Clearly, this point follows directly from that above. A good framework to bear in mind when developing training for faculty is Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) “TPACK” or Technological-Pedagogical Content Knowledge. The authors ground their research in Shulman’s (1986) Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Shulman argues that teaching teachers how to teach (pedagogy) should not be separated from the content that they are teaching. To use a trite example, teaching one group of instructors how to lead discussions in a history course is different from teaching another group of instructors how to lead discussions in a biology course. Mishra and Koehler add to this by saying that learning to teach with technology — and specifically, in this case, online — also should not be separated either from the pedagogy or the content. TPACK is at the center of the convergence of three circles: technology; pedagogy; and content. By covering all three bases, we can meet this second point.

  • Faculty are proficient and effectively supported in using the course management system

If we meet the above two points regarding training, we’ve won half of this battle. The key here is support. It is not enough just to give faculty one training on the LMS and say, “Go forth and conquer!” An effective training program will include ongoing support, not just for technical question (i.e., a Help Desk) but also for questions around instructional design and best practices. Technology is ever-changing; therefore knowledgeable support staff who are up-to-date with new technological tools and systems are required for maximum faculty effectiveness.

  • The office or persons responsible for online learning training programs are clearly identified and have the competencies to accomplish the tasks, including knowledge of the specialized resources and technical support available to support course development and delivery

This point is fairly straightforward, and I interpret this to mean that having a few go-to faculty super users is not enough to be considered a “training program.” Unfortunately, this happens often at smaller schools that do not have the budget to run their own training program. Fortunately, Pearson eCollege has the Academic Training & Consulting team, who can be engaged on an as-needed basis for training as well as the faculty instructional support discussed above.

  • Faculty members engaged in online learning share in the mission and goals of the institution and its programs and are provided the opportunities to contribute to the broader activities of the institution

While this point may sound a little too general to be implemented accurately, it is fairly straightforward: keep faculty in the loop. Too often, institutions with online programs — especially those that use a lot of adjunct instructors — simply put their faculty in front of computers and have them teach. But there is no broader context as to why they should teach for this institution, why they should teach online, what principles of the institution are important within all courses (online or otherwise), etc. Therefore, a structured communication system, be it via email distribution list, newsletter, or whatever, is required and indeed useful to make sure that all faculty are a part of the institution and serve to meet the institution’s mission and goals.

  • Students express satisfaction with the quality of the instruction provided by online learning faculty members.

Regarding this final point, the reader can probably see that it addresses the value of student evaluations of instructors and ensures that the data from these evaluations actually matter. Like Brian McKay Epp’s previous blog post about formative and summative evaluations of student work, it is important to have both formative and summative evaluation of instructors’ abilities to teach online. Insofar as formative data are used to reflect proficiencies and deficiencies in instruction, the information can be used to tailor training programs that meet individual instructors’ needs.

In sum, Hallmark #6 is a valuable and well-thought-out list of measures that ensures that faculty are ready to be the solid foundation of your online learning program. Pearson eCollege’s Academic Training & Consulting team is ready to help your institution meet this hallmark!

Works Cited

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). (2011, February). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved Aug. 4, 2011 from

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 - 14.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D. | Training & Pedagogy Group, Academic Training & Consulting | Pearson eCollege

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