SENATE COMMITTEE ON OUTREACH
Faculty Preparation for Online Teaching
Prepared by the Penn State Online Coordinating Council for the Committee on Outreach
Faculty preparation for online teaching at Penn State University assumes that, while good teaching is good teaching, unique skills, competencies, and understandings are required to teach online. These are not always intuitive; they must be taught. Online teaching preparation is implemented through various entities across the University, including college or campus-level units and resource personnel, the World Campus, and the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. While preparation varies, cross-university committee structures and informal collaborations promote communication, coordination, and commitment to research-based best practices for effective online instruction. For example, The Penn State Online Coordinating Council and two of its three subcommittees, Faculty Engagement and Digital Media and Technology, collaborate around online faculty development programming and resource development across colleges and campuses.
Increasingly, academic units are requiring faculty to receive initial preparation by enrolling in one or more of the courses offered by World Campus Online Faculty Development, such as “OL 2000: Essentials of Effective Online Teaching” and the four-course Faculty Online Teaching Certificate. Over a dozen online training courses are available through World Campus. Additionally, colleges and departments provide their own online faculty development opportunities. That said, there is no University-wide training requirement for faculty to teach online. Similarly, peer review procedures for evaluating the quality of online teaching vary from college to college and campus to campus. Some colleges have a formalized peer review system while others rely on more informal processes.
The trend in preparing faculty to teach online is evolving. Initially, it focused on introducing faculty to best practices such as improving student engagement, enhancing instructor presence, managing online discussions, managing courses and using technology meaningfully, designing courses according to learning theory, understanding pedagogical affordances and limitations in the asynchronous digital learning space, aligning student learning outcomes with assignments and assessments, and understanding the unique qualities of adult learners. Recently, the online faculty development community at Penn State has been reviewing unit practices related to online teaching preparation and development. Given Penn State’s position of leadership in online teaching, we are coalescing around the idea of preparing and supporting master online teachers across their careers.
Questions for the consideration and discussion of the Senate:
- How can the university assure high quality online teaching? What do we mean by “high quality online teaching”? We have several measures, such as Quality Matters for online course design and research-based instruction competencies that comprise best practices for effective online instruction. But, do we have other notions of quality unique to Penn State?
- Should there be a university-wide, specific training recommendation or requirement for all faculty who teach online? Many programs use the World Campus OL 2000 course (and additional courses), but others implement their own training. Should training be consistent across colleges, campuses and programs? Should this training be ongoing or is “one-and-done” sufficient?
- Are current procedures and practices for evaluating the quality of online teaching, such as the SRTE and faculty peer review processes, like the one used by Earth and Mineral Sciences, sufficient? What additional SRTE questions are needed to adequately address the online classroom?
- How can we support faculty to effectively teach an increasingly diverse online student population?
SENATE COMMITTEE ON OUTREACH
- Richard Brown
- Dennis Calvin
- Anne Douds
- Jill Eckert
- Renata Engel
- Brad Garrett
- Terry Harrison
- Alex Hristov
- Beth King, Vice Chair
- Lisa Mangel
- John Potochny
- Rama Radhakrishna
- Elizabeth Seymour, Chair
- Cristina Truica
- Craig Weidemann
 Originally funded by a FIPSE grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Quality Matters provides a research-based rubric of online course design standards and trains faculty reviewers to evaluate courses against these standards. Penn State is currently in the first year of a three-year pilot program to perform reviews of 90 online Penn State courses. Back to Footnote #1 in Text
 The Peer Review Guide for Online Teaching, developed by the Dutton Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is based on the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” and provides a faculty reviewer with a useful framework for evaluating a peer’s online teaching effectiveness. Back to Footnote #2 in Text