Chapter 11: Ensuring quality teaching in a digital age

11.5 Step three: work in a team

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Figure 11.4 Work in a  team Image:

Figure 11.5  Work in a team

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One of the strongest means of ensuring quality is to work as a team. This is addressed at several points in the book, such as Chapter 8, Section 7, Chapter 9, Section 4, and Chapter 12, Sections 3 and 5.

11.5.1 Why work in a team?

For many teachers and instructors, classroom teaching is an individual, largely private activity between the instructor and students. Teaching is a very personal affair. However, blended and especially fully online learning are different from classroom teaching. They require a range of skills that most teachers and instructors, and particularly those new to online teaching, are unlikely to have, at a least in a developed, ready-to-use form.

The way an instructor interacts online has to be organized differently from in class, and particular attention has to be paid to providing appropriate online activities for students, and to structuring content in ways that facilitate learning in an asynchronous online environment. Good course design is essential to achieve quality in terms of developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age. These are pedagogical issues, in which most post-secondary instructors have had little training. In addition, there are also technology issues. Novice teachers and instructors are likely to need help in developing graphics or video materials, for example.

Another reason to work in a team is to manage workload. There is a range of technological activities that are not normally required of classroom teachers and instructors. Just managing the technology will be extra work if instructors do it all themselves. Also, if the online component of a course is not well designed or integrated with the face-to-face component, if students are not clear what they should do, or if the material is presented in ways that are difficult to understand, the teacher or instructor will be overwhelmed with student e-mail. Instructional designers, who work across different courses, and who have training in both course design and technology, can be an invaluable resource for novices teaching online for the first time.

Thirdly working with colleagues in the same department who are more experienced in online learning can be a very good means to get quickly to a high quality online standard, and again can save time. For instance, in one university I worked in, three faculty members in the same department were developing different courses with online components. However, these courses often needed graphics of the same equipment discussed in all three courses. The three instructors got together, and worked with a graphic designer to create high quality graphics that were shared between all three instructors. This also resulted in discussions about overlap and how best to make sure there was better integration and consistency between the three courses. They could do this with their online courses more easily than with the classroom courses, because the online course materials can be more easily shared and observed.

Lastly, especially where large lecture classes are being re-designed, there may be a cohort of teaching assistants that may need to be trained, organised and managed. In some institutions, part-time adjunct faculty will also need to be involved. This means clarifying roles for the senior faculty member, the adjunct or contract faculty, the teaching assistants, and the learning technology support staff.

For many teachers and instructors, developing teaching in a team is a big cultural shift. However, the benefits of doing this for online or blended learning are well worth the effort. As teachers and instructors become more experienced in blended and online learning, there is less need for the help of an instructional designer, but many experienced instructors now prefer to continue working in a team, because it makes life so much easier for them.

11.5.2 Who is in the team?

This will depend to some extent on the size of the course. In most cases, for a blended or online course with one main faculty member or subject expert, and a manageable number of students, the instructor will normally work with an instructional designer, who in turn can call on more specialist staff, such as a web or graphic designer or a media producer, as needed.

If however it is a course with many students and several instructors, adjunct faculty and/or teaching assistants, then they should all work together as a team, with the instructional designer. Also in some institutions a librarian is an important member of the team, helping identify resources, dealing with copyright issues and ensuring that the library is able to respond to learners’ needs when the course is being offered.

11.5.3 What about academic freedom? Do I lose it working in a team?

No. The instructor(s) will always have final say over content and how it is to be taught. Instructional designers are advisers but responsibility for the content of the course, the way it is taught, and assessment methods always remains with the faculty member.

However, instructional and media producers should not be treated as servants, but as professionals with specialized skills. They should be respected and listened to. Often the instructional designer will have more experience of what will work and what will not in blended or online learning. Surgeons work with anaesthetists and nurses, and trust them to do their jobs properly. The working relationship between instructors and instructional designers and media producers should be similar.

11.5.4 Conclusion

Working in a team makes life a lot easier for instructors when teaching blended or online courses. Good course design, which is the area of expertise of the instructional designer, not only enables students to learn better but also controls faculty workload. Courses look better with good graphic and web design and professional video production. Specialist technical help frees up instructors to concentrate on teaching and learning. What’s not to like?

This of course will depend heavily on the institution providing such support through a centre of teaching and learning. Nevertheless this is an important decision that needs to be implemented before course design begins.