College faculty, Required - Written by on Friday, July 22, 2011 15:08 - 0 Comments

Five Hard Lessons for Online Educators

photo: flickr user: Zach Klein

by Elbert Chu

There’s been quite a lot of research, discussion, even books about online learning students. Not so much attention paid to the teachers. Over at Faculty Focus, there’s a good summary of a panel held by the Instructional Technology Council at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nev. Fred Lokken, chairman of ITC, convened with colleagues to discuss the challenges for online education administrators. The highlights:

1. Learning curve and lack of historic place

“Distance education administrators face a different set of challenges than [do] any of the other administrators,” Lokken says. He explains that most universities’ senior administrators are uncertain about how to handle distance education, and part of this is due to the lack of historic precedent about how distance education fits into the larger academic scheme.

2. Campus politics and lack of power

Traditional departments often decide their future course offerings well in advance. However, some distance education departments don’t know which courses the departments wish to have offered online until they pick up the printed schedule for the upcoming semester.

This is a problem, because distance courses require “a longer planning cycle than almost any other kind of course on campus.” The lack of lead time leads to “train wreck after train wreck,” he says. These disasters happen when the departments want the distance courses taught by faculty members who are untrained or inexperienced in distance delivery, or who are unprepared for its particular challenges.

3. Loss of autonomy

Success threatens some of the traditional departments, and they respond by pulling back some of the autonomy of the distance education department and dividing this authority between the traditional departments and the deans. The distance education department’s success in one case led to its being rendered less powerful by the traditional departments.

4. Staffing concerns

Distance education can also present staffing challenges, as it is particularly vulnerable to damage from changes in personnel. Lokken notes that a single change in administrators can mean the loss of a champion of distance education, something that has a far greater impact on these programs with shorter histories than it would have on a traditional department with a long history of operation and success.

5. Student concerns

Campuses also need to be aware of student concerns and demands, particularly in a climate in which higher education options are plentiful and sometimes seem to have few differentiators. “Students don’t have to be loyal to your campus. If you’re not offering [the desired classes] online, then they will find another option,” Lokken says.


Read the full article at Faculty Focus.

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