Q&A: Building a Quality Online Instruction Model for a Positive Student Experience
Every year, Wiley Fellows collaborate on specific projects that advance teaching and learning across higher education. The Fellows are a group of distinguished faculty, program directors, and administrators who lead innovative learning initiatives at their respective schools from Wiley's network of partner universities.
Wiley Education Services sat down recently to talk to the members of a Fellow's project team, Laurel Schrementi, Senior Learning Designer at Wiley Education Services; Dr. Lisa LoBasso, Director of Graduate Academic and Student Services at the University of Scranton; and Dr. Jennifer Wilson, Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work at Sacred Heart University, to discuss their project, Measuring Quality Online Instruction for a Positive Student Experience.
It was during an update to Wiley’s course, Online Teaching Strategies, that they found inspiration for this project. “As we were working on updating the course, we started to think more about what the overall message should include,” said Schrementi. “We decided to start with a unified model of what good online teaching is, and from there, the project grew.”
Wiley: Can you give an overview of the model of quality online instruction?
Wilson: The model is based on the idea that there are five components needed to provide quality online instruction. The foundation is quality course design. The next layer focuses on faculty and student comfort in the learning management system (LMS). The next two tiers support the way faculty and students develop a community of inquiry together through social presence that one, reveals the instructor and two, recognizes the student. The pinnacle achievement focuses on faculty’s positive disposition, where they develop their own style—their relationship with the content and with the students.
Schrementi: A significant concept of this model is a focus on upskilling. Everyone has something they could build on, regardless of the phase of their online teaching career. Early on, you might need to develop your comfort in the LMS before you focus on other parts of the pyramid. Over time, you may decide to focus on creating a classroom culture with your specific personality and your disposition. The self-assessment tool we developed helps faculty look at where they are now in the model and how they can make improvements and develop a stronger course. It's not enough just to have the model exist. We wanted to make sure there was a practical takeaway for faculty.
Wiley: Let’s get into the five tiers that you outline in your model. Can you discuss what quality course design looks like?
Wilson: Well, content is key to an online course. It should be varied, meaning that it should include a nice mix of videos, readings, interactive activities, and group work that helps bring the content to life. Faculty should be aware that just loading content from their on-ground course into the LMS isn’t the same as developing an online course. This is especially true when you're talking about asynchronous classes. Additionally, all content should be engaging, relevant to the field, and tied to the learning outcomes. The students should understand how content helps them meet their learning objectives.
LoBasso: Also, a quality course needs to be easily self-directed. We need to make sure that when the student enters the course, they're not at a loss for what to do. The design should intuitively guide them to their syllabus, resources, instructions, and so on. There needs to be guidance so that students can easily self-direct. They need graphics and text directions that are easily understood. If students feel lost in an online course, they start to feel frustrated. They need direction.
Wiley: Many faculty have not worked in an LMS. Do you have any tips on how these faculty members can become LMS pros?
Wilson: There is so much training available! I’d start with the university or college where you teach. Most universities have a department dedicated to technology. Be sure to attend webinars and training sessions, and ask about possible one-on-one instruction. Faculty can also do their research and watch one of the many YouTube videos available.
Wiley: Establishing a human-to-human connection in the online environment is so important, it appears on two levels of the pyramid. What techniques can instructors use to establish their social presence?
LoBasso: The goal in both tiers is to establish a real connection, and there are several ways to do that, even though you're online. For instance, it's important to use a student’s first name when you speak with them, especially when you’re providing feedback. Making interactions personable allows the student(s) to feel included and part of the class. Additionally, holding live office hours is also incredibly important so you can have face time with students. This helps to develop familiarity and the relationship between faculty and students.
Wilson: During on-ground programs, you see a student's face, and you learn about them. Instructors should put that same level of investment into the relationship with their online students. One simple strategy is to remember something a student said last week, or learn something personal about them, like where they work. You can help build a community among students by offering opportunities for group work, and then meet individually with the groups. Also, make yourself available. By responding to their emails and texts quickly, you’re showing a high level of support that’s very important to them.
Wiley: In the model, you also talk about instructors sharing personal anecdotes and humor as a way to establish a collaborative relationship with students. What other techniques have you used to create real communication with your students?
Wilson: Students want to hear their professors’ real-life stories. They want to hear about your clients. They want to hear about a job that you had. They want to understand how you used the strategy that you're teaching in the classroom in a real-life scenario. We have to find ways to bring our ‘selves’ to the classroom–and sometimes that means relating to their challenges of work-life balance.
Wiley: Can you explain the ways educators can create positive instructor disposition?
Wilson: Faculty should be empathetic and understanding of the fact that students who are learning online are doing it while juggling other responsibilities, so they may need some additional support. I think that when we view our investment in student success as an investment in our field, we are able to model professionalism in a way that translates to the field.
LoBasso: It is important to set clear expectations for your students. Even though most of them are busy full-time employees or parents, they should be held to the same high standards in their coursework as a campus-based course. That said, I do think it's important for the instructor to be empathetic and to help students find a balance between home and school life.
Wiley: How have these five levels and their techniques benefited your students and your institution?
Wilson: The School of Social Work at Sacred Heart University has been implementing most of what is in this model in our online courses. We also have a substantial advising component, and our retention rate is now very high. Wiley is responsible for a large part of that because they have helped us develop high-quality courses and support our faculty and students’ comfort in the LMS, which are two tiers of this model.
Wiley: Can you talk about your experiences being a Wiley Fellow?
LoBasso: Wiley has really been supportive. Working directly with Laurel has been amazing. She's been our foundation. Jen has also been a great person to work with – so intelligent and has such great experiences being an online instructor. I also think the opportunities Wiley provided for us to collaborate and come up with new ideas for what could be effective in online teaching have been beneficial. I can't say enough about Wiley and their support through this project. They allowed us to do what we need to do and follow our research wherever it took us.
Wilson: I have enjoyed being a Wiley Fellow. It’s wonderful to interact with faculty across the country and disciplines. The projects are meaningful, and this project particularly has been such a joy to work on with these two brilliant women. It has also given me some great opportunities. I’ve been able to share our model with faculty at Sacred Heart University and the broader education community, including giving a presentation at OLC Accelerate and presenting a webinar. I feel like Wiley is always there to be supportive and to help with our professional development and connections to each other.
For more information regarding the Wiley Fellows program and their individual projects, click here. Or, visit our Resources page to read other Fellows’ insights, opinions, and experiences with online learning.