In 2012, Morgridge College of Education doctoral student Angel Chi (now PhD) conducted her dissertation around the questions, “Why do tenured faculty members decide to teach online?” and, “What characterizes their journey?” She interviewed and created case studies of 4 tenured DU professors and shares some highlights from her study below.
The journey to teaching online: A case study of faculty preparation and experiences in online teaching
Excerpts of doctoral dissertation by Angel Chi, PhD
When Bill Gates published his book “The Road Ahead” (1995), he summarized the transformative implications of the personal computing revolution and described a future profoundly changed by the arrival of a global information super highway. Almost twenty years later, the tsunami of online programs and the MOOCs (massive online open courses) is impacting the structural integrity of postsecondary institutions and changing the competitive landscape of higher learning at an unprecedented pace. When Allen and Seaman (2013) asked the question of whether faculty acceptance of online education increased in their Sloan Consortium annual report, only 30.2% of chief academic officers believe their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. This rate is even lower than the rate recorded in 2004. With an apparent widening gap between institutional strategy and faculty acceptance, each organization needs to conceptually map its road ahead. However, only an institution as a whole can decide for itself what kind of change is needed and define what constitutes evidence of lasting change. This implies a unique transformation of institutional philosophy, culture, strategy, and reward systems for faculty members.
Thus, instead of trying to measure, evaluate, or categorize which faculty member fits into which stage of online faculty development under which framework, the intention of my study was to identify participants’ individual experiences on why they teach online, how they learn to teach online, and what factors influences their journeys to teaching online. Complex adoptive system (CAS) theory (Olson & Eoyang, 2001) suggests that the most powerful organizational transformations occur not at the macro level but rather at the micro level where behaviors and changes began to emerge. It is in this micro level where their subsequent behaviors changes and shared values may be interpreted through the complex adoptive systems lens categorized in three areas:
- Individual differences (competency, expertise, and educational background): the instructors have different levels of technical competency and online experiences but for the most part do not find technology an issue in teaching online. Their intrinsic motivations propelled them into teaching online. However, they all expressed needing extrinsic motivations to keep up the much-needed momentum in furthering their online teaching efforts.
- Transformational exchanges (meetings, educational events, and faculty development efforts): all participants felt the required Teaching Online Workshop and the experience of being an online student were extremely useful in helping them launch their first online courses. However, as they become a group of experienced online instructors, they would like to see more informal and formal peer support and recognition. In addition, they need more relevant pedagogical training and design support in developing additional online courses.
- Environmental (e.g. institutional culture and resources): the participants felt that in order to achieve meaningful institutionalization in teaching online, the institution needs to provide clear vision in commitment, reward, recognition, support, and flexibility in every level of administration including the APT structure. The faculty participants offered invaluable inputs on ways to promote online faculty transformation.
Their narratives painted a landscape of faculty acceptance in institutions and the online learning phenomena in our society. Ultimately, their stories are really about change. By studying the “change agents” in a changing organization in a changing industry, this study is not an exercise to identify the best practices. Rather, this study hopes to inspire new ideas for new ways to conceptually frame the problem facing the faculty, the institution, and the industry in their road ahead in teaching online.
Angel’s dissertation is available online through the Social Science Research Network.