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Institutional and Self-Directed Support for Transitioning Faculty

By Valencia Gabay, Diane Roberts / November 2015

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We recently attended a local conference for online education. In an early morning information session devoted to graduate level instruction, a professor stood up to voice her opinion about being forced to teach an online section in her discipline. Teaching at a brick and mortar school for many years, she found this request distressing. But then she shared the following analogy: If she did not get "off the platform" and deal with this untimely shift, she would be left behind and "miss the train." These comments resonated with us.

Being full-time online instructors, we began to think about the reluctance faculty have about adapting their skill set to a new teaching environment. Was there any real support for "transitioning" faculty who have to "get off the platform and get on the train"?

What Are the Concerns?

The transition to online teaching has unique challenges. A study by Hiltz, Shea and Kim uncovered "responding instructors identified organizational change and administrative support structures as their main concerns, and also identified lack of technical expertise and social interaction difficulties as important problems" [1].

Can faculty overcome these transition challenges with an open mind? We decided it could be accomplished by first understanding the culture of online learning. What does teaching online look like and what do you need to manage the online classroom and engage the learner? Next we looked at our own journey, and attributed fostering community to our career happiness. We believe transitioning faculty need the support from their peers to be successful. Transitioning faculty should also consider professional development opportunities as a way to strengthen under-developed skill sets and build confidence. Finally, to maintain better online classroom performance and meet the needs of today's learner, leveraging digital application is a must.

The Culture of Online Learning

Online learning can be a lonely space. According to Aragon, social presence helps reduce feelings of isolation and builds a sense of community between the instructors and students [2]. So how does an instructor strike the balance between the quality of teaching, the quantity of students and classroom maintenance? In a study by Cavanaugh instructors found teaching online to have more of a commitment than teaching face-to-face, listing heavier "workloads" as a main issue [3]. Time logs used to document these time commitments showed a majority of time was consumed with instructor and student interaction.

In short, there are long hours of typing, grading papers and answering emails. Most full time faculty can facilitate anywhere between two to six courses at one time. All of this can lead to burnout and lack of motivation. But executing successful time management, setting a steady routine, and avoiding procrastination are the ways faculty can tip the scale in their favor:

  • To manage the long hours of grading, take breaks in your schedule to stay focused and eliminate procrastination.
  • Work ahead and prepare for future classes to help you save time.
  • Schedule automated messages/reminders and communicate office hours and time frames for delivering feedback to your students [4].
  • Consider online file storage to aid you in tracking multimedia assets, announcements, and the organization of written communications to your learners.
  • Finally, follow your institution's best practices to ensure you are upholding policy and staying abreast of changes to learning content.

Fostering Community

Puzziferro and Shelton remind us students stay engaged in their learning through instructor teaching presence and student-to-student interaction [5]. Instructors need the "same support" in order to feel connected to their new setting. Therefore, building a sense of community is paramount for those who transition from the traditional setting to the virtual classroom. When an instructor's main concern is limited interaction with others and lack of support from administration, how do they find it?

Teaching online can be isolating without the support of faculty in the same setting.We suggest instructors seek help from administration to create faculty forums within their department and across discipline. For example, the development of lounge spaces can be a place where instructors express concerns, ask questions, or share effective teaching practices. Other spaces that could be created for faculty are blogs, chat rooms and private social networks.

It is also recommended that instructors make a habit of attending any monthly or quarterly faculty meetings. This is a good way to introduce yourself to administrators and forge relationships with other instructors within your teaching program.

Professional Development

We believe there is a decrease in burn out and lack of motivation when we stay curious. Professional development creates an avenue for you to "stretch yourself" and explore more about who you are as an instructor. For example, professional development opportunities that include coaching on navigating e-learning platforms and multimedia resources help instructors successfully manage their classroom, save time, and strengthen faculty presence. Therefore seek out any professional development workshops and training programs offered through your institution. If none exist, inquire about starting training or mentorship initiatives. If your institution is limited on professional development programs, there are free online professional development courses delivered by OpenCourseWare. Do not forget to join professional organizations and attend annual conferences. This is a good way to connect with peers across discipline and take advantage of research and scholarship opportunities.

Leveraging Digital Applications

We mentioned earlier that "lack of technical expertise" was one of challenges faced by faculty in the online setting [1]. We have witnessed many veteran online instructors struggle with incorporating new digital tools in their classroom. Some believe applying these new digital tools will take up too much time; after all, the time commitment to teaching online is proved to be longer than those of teaching face-to-face. Then there is the question of whether the use of digital tools in the classroom really helps engage the learner.

The truth is we are in digital information age and we have to be ready to meet the needs of the millennials to be successful. Having said that, it is worth discovering the digital tools that are available to you.

Here are a few wonderful tools that will engage the adult learner and, not to mention, fit easily into any teaching style:

  • Animoto allows you to use photos and text to create a professional documentary where students can visually see how the material is related to their readings.
  • Voki helps you create, upload, clip, manage and publish your work. Using an avatar that records your voice, you can upgrade to a more multimedia-structured classroom or use a Voki presenter and have a teaching assistant.
  • Kaltura lets you to set up blogs, design announcements and submit feedback audio-visually rather than using text.
  • ManyCam is a video creator that records you talking to the students. With ManyCam you can use a white board behind you to simulate an actual a brick and mortar classroom.


To summarize, become familiar with the culture of online learning. Find effective time management strategies to mitigate heavy workloads. Investigate professional development and mentorship opportunities before teaching at colleges and universities with online education programs. Finally, evaluate your digital literacy skills. Consider what digital tools you can use to enhance the engagement of the adult learner. More and more ground campuses are requiring online courses as part of their graduation requirements thus pushing faculty to design and teach in virtual platforms. It is our hope that the institutional and self-directed supportive measures described here can make the transition easier.


[1] Hiltz, R. S., Shea, P., and Kim, E. Using focus groups to study ALN faculty motivation. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 14, 1 (2010).

[2] Aragon, S. Creating social presence in online environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 2003, 100 (2003), 57-68.

[3] Cavanaugh, J. Teaching online: A time comparison Journal of Distance Learning Administration 8, 1 (2005).

[4] Handlos, D. Finding balance: 4 Great time management tips for new online instructors. GetEducated. 2013.

[5] Puzziferro, M. and Shelton, K. Supporting online faculty-revisiting the seven principles (A few years later). Journal of Distance Learning Administration 7, 3 (2009).

About the Authors

Valencia Gabay is an instructor in core learning for American Public University System. She holds a master's in student personnel and higher education from the University of Florida. She has been teaching online since 2008 and working as a student affairs professional since 1996.

Diane Roberts is an instructor in core learning for American Public University System. She holds a M.B.A. degree from Anna Maria College. Roberts has been in education for more than 25 years and has been teaching online since 2002.

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  • Wed, 03 Aug 2016
    Post by Andres

    Excellent article, those who are older, we started with the time of the first computers did not feel so lost, if we had technology studies and so we find it easier to learn online. But for those who did not have that approach with computers and the Internet, and more in underdeveloped countries, learn online, it is an opportunity that has not yet been taken advantage of. It would be great that the courses had in mind people who have not come to technology but want to learn. regards Andres / From Chile Posicionamiento Seo