What do I need to Know to Teach an Online Class?

Rio Hondo College

At the Academic Senate's first ever Teaching Institute, I had the privilege of facilitating a lively conversation regarding online teaching. I refer to it as a "conversation" because interaction was encouraged and the discussion was as much a part of the presentation as the guiding PowerPoint (available at www.asccc.org). With the able assistance of Elizabeth Fremgen from Glendale College, we covered a wide variety of issues related to online teaching.

The presentation began with an overview of what type of teacher would be best-suited to the virtual environment-and an acknowledgment that online is not for everyone. When moving online, some teaching approaches can be modified effectively and employed online, while others just won't work. While the attendees had varied levels of online experience, all understood something that many people don't always appreciate about online teaching-doing it well takes effort, planning, patience, and some level of ESP. Doing online teaching well is not easy and one of my goals for this session was to do some myth-busting (which was not needed due to well-informed nature of those in attendance). Teaching online is certainly not a means of lightening one's load, but rather a means of having a more flexible schedule and, possibly, a more casual wardrobe and fewer miles on the car.

No conversation about teaching online is complete without mention of curriculum processes, accessibility, local training requirements, evaluation processes, and "hybrids".

Throughout the presentation there were various questions asked of the group-indicating the ongoing need for conversations regarding online and the current activity regarding online at all of our colleges. The questions that came up were generally not new ones, but ones that different colleges are facing on different timetables. There seems to be an ongoing need for information on how to do things well with regards to online. Few colleges have in place all the policies and procedures that are required in order to ensure that all aspects of student, faculty, and infrastructure needs are addressed in a timely and on-going manner.

Curriculum processes for distance education vary widely, but it does seem that virtually all (no pun intended) of our colleges do have them. The matter that is still being debated, however, is how to determine what is `distance education' when it comes to curriculum. Despite the fact that this may seem to be pretty simple, it is something that has sparked controversy. Per a resolution passed this past fall, ASCCC has taken the position that a course should undergo your curriculum distance education review process whenever any percentage of face-to-face time is regularly replaced by online time. Your local senate has the authority to make that a part of your local curriculum approval process. Debate has emerged about how to define distance education as a consequence of the System Office definition of distance education for reporting purposes. The March 2004 Distance Education Guidelines clearly state that a given section is defined as "distance education" when student and instructor are separated for 51% or more of the instructional hours. Elsewhere, however, distance education is defined more broadly. Title 5 55205 states simply that "Distance education means instruction in which the instructor and student are separated by distance and interact through the assistance of communication technology.", making it clear that the "51% rule" is just that-a rule created by the System Office for apportionment/reporting purposes and not for curriculum purposes. It should be noted that based on this "51%" definition, many of us have classes that we call `hybrid' to communicate their online and on-campus make-up, but that are actually "online" or "distance education" for the purposes of reporting. Hopefully we are making our local curricular decisions on what makes sense in order to ensure the quality of our course offerings-regardless of how much time is spent in the classroom versus online.

Local requirements for teaching online vary markedly, as well as local policies for how much of a load can be taught online.

And while some colleges have effective evaluation processes for their online offerings, such oversight is nonexistent elsewhere. There appears to be a real need for a comprehensive best practices repository where local senates can "shop" for approaches that have served others well. In this electronically-enhanced world, there is certainly no need for us all to be reinventing policies, procedures, and practices related to online.

It's impossible to summarize all that was discussed-my goal here is to provide you with a flavor of what was covered-and to hopefully get the reader thinking about many of the topics that we addressed. An individual online course and your entire online programming both benefit greatly from the proper care and planning. No one should venture into the virtual world with giving its many facets the appropriate care and consideration.