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Involving Faculty From Square One Is Critical to Launching New and Innovative Programs

The EvoLLLution | Involving Faculty From Square One Is Critical to Launching New and Innovative Programs
Understanding that both students and educators require support when introducing new technologies and technology-enhanced offerings is critical for the success of new and innovative programs.

Higher education leaders often face a great deal of pressure to launch new and innovative programs that make use of emerging technologies coming into the higher education environment. However, these programs are often launched under great internal scrutiny with minimal input from faculty, staff and students. In this interview, Judith Pirani discusses some of the common misconceptions that tend to accompany new and innovative online programming and shares her thoughts on what post-secondary leaders can do to get buy-in from faculty.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are a few of the most common misconceptions leaders face when trying to expand online programming or introduce online courses?

Judith Pirani (JP): I don’t know if these are misconceptions, but here are some things that have struck me about online learning over the years:

One thing is all the planning and work entailed before the student even begins to take the course. Online learning is really a different learning dynamic, and launching an effective online course or program isn’t just a matter of posting content on an LMS. There are all these issues tied to institutional and department objectives, learning outcomes, pedagogy and course creation, faculty support, teaching and technology proficiency, adequate technology infrastructure and IT security, administrative service support and policies for online students. I think institutions are much more cognizant today of that upfront time, planning, and investment, but it has been a real learning curve.

Another is that students are automatically well suited to take a fully online course. A student may have the technical skills to take online courses, but there are also the issues of course expectations, time management and discipline to make sure the student keeps pace with the course.  Some students are drawn to the convenient, 24/7 aspects of online courses and programs, but crash and burn because they don’t realize the commitment involved.

Finally is the whole issue of faculty and technology. I have always been struck by the really innovative online courses and tools that early faculty adopters developed for online learning. I can remember several years ago, a geology faculty member demonstrating a GPS-related teaching tool he developed for his students’ PDAs. It’s been interesting to witness the evolution of technology, tools, pedagogy, as well as teaching and learning centers over the years to support mainstream faculty adoption of online learning. I can only imagine the time and effort it took that faculty member to develop his teaching tool, and today, students can probably deploy a app on their smartphones.

Evo: How valid are these misconceptions and concerns?

JP: Well, I think these issues are still valid, but as higher education and institutions continue to gain experience with online learning, solutions and practices emerge to deal with these issues. Institutional leaders recognize online learning’s strategic role in higher education and they have to address these issues in order for online learning to reach its potential.

Evo: What can administrators do to help faculty separate myth from reality when introducing new, tech-enhanced approaches to education?

JP: I think the most important thing is to directly engage the faculty. For example, when I studied the success factors for the Next Generation Learning Challenge’s Building Blocks for College Completion Program, one thing that really stood out was the importance of faculty involvement. The more successful programs featured face-to-face contact with faculty, especially early in the program’s development or deployment to explain the technology’s benefits and to answer any concerns or questions. Other programs featured ongoing face-to-face or online training programs and support resources to reinforce the program’s benefits, to help faculty develop the required technical/teaching skills and to adapt pedagogy to incorporate the tech-enabled approaches in their teaching, and to support them during the program.

Evo: How can a negative faculty reaction impact the launch of a new or innovative project? 

I think it can have a huge impact on the project’s success. No matter how innovative the project is, it is won’t realize its potential if faculty don’t embrace it or understand to incorporate it in their teaching. That is why faculty involvement and engagement is so important.

This interview has been edited for length.