Giving Faculty Back Their Time

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on Nov 10, 2021

Institutions and faculty are emerging from the pandemic with the realization that they must reframe their courses for an evolving, and here to stay, virtual learning landscape. Many online courses resulted from an overnight shift from in person to virtual. With little time to reimagine learning with pixelated faces and on screen white boards, courses that were developed for in person do not translate to the screen. 

Students are noticing. They crave classes that engage them the way social media can. A class that lights up the screen. Led by an instructor who is able to navigate an online community. If a student is zoned out, off screen, muted, or cameras off, they are not engaged. Faculty know that one, student engagement is imperative and two, they are the keystones to keeping engagement on high. 

As instructors simply repackaged in person learning, their courses were not designed to be engaging and humanizing for virtual learners. At O’Donnell Learn, we’re seeking ways to help equip faculty for this new world. So, we started asking questions. Questions that aimed to help our community discover ways to improve distance education from an experiential lens. 

First, we want to be clear that these are difficult and layered questions. There will be plenty of differing answers. Nevertheless, we’ve spent the better part of two years amalgamating previously undocumented research on the needs of today’s faculty as they seek to find a footing for their profession online. Through this research, we uncovered roadblocks inhibiting relational success between faculty and students. For us, success means providing faculty with meaningful avenues to evolve virtual learning, so that students return to class time and again.

How can we assess the quality of online classroom engagement? 

Research showed us that most instructors deeply care about their students’ success and are willing to put in countless hours over the summer and each term to create better learning experiences.  In our design panel of over forty college faculty, they told us that they spend inordinate amounts of time creating courses, putting content into the LMS, figuring out how to deliver engaging activities within the LMS, and ensuring accessibility. The busy work. These tasks prevent them from spending the bulk of their time figuring out how to engage students. 

Instructors seek content resources to support their learning objectives. And, as we have moved into the virtual learning world, faculty know they need to focus less on content and more on the student experience, which is something college faculty have not been trained to do. Another big issue instructors face is time management. We’re brainstorming ways to simplify their preparation time, which brings us to our next question. 

Are instructors provided with resources to seamlessly transition online? 

The engagement one finds with students face to face is not easy to replicate online. We need to free up time for faculty to think of ideas to effectively assess student learning and change learning activities for their online cohorts. We polled our faculty about hour allocation and found that the most time consuming weekly and monthly stumbling blocks in faculty preparation was modifying lectures for the screen. 

How much time should instructors spend preparing an online course? 

Our polling shows these faculty responses: 49 hours for first time courses, 23 hours for existing course, 30 hours per week, 20 hours defining courses, 8 hours adjusting and refining courses per week.

Above one can see there are eight weekly hours to course refinement that faculty do not have to give! This is where we see our first major opportunity for advancement: helping faculty repurpose this time from refining for the screen to engaging with students. 

How can O’Donnell Learn give faculty those 8 hours back? 

We’re developing a platform teachers can lean on to evolve and improve the learning experience, collaborate with peers, reduce preparation time, aid in course creation, refinement and more. In the past 6 months, the research team at ODL dug a little further into faculty pain points and their needs.  The following table shows the result of a survey of both faculty and academic leaders about the priorities for supporting faculty needs.

It is very clear that supporting and engaging students is the primary priority for faculty in today’s hybrid learning world. However, meeting the needs of today’s instructors is equally vital. O’Donnell Learn is strategizing ways to help. Schools can lean on our offerings to improve the teaching experience. As we develop platforms and resources for our clients, we will continue to encourage institutions and organizations to scale learning models to meet the demands of teachers and learners. Whether in person or virtual, we will continue to  work with clients to finesse how learning and teaching happens in the classroom. Stay tuned for more! 

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