Learning Dialogue: Limits on Online Teaching Load?

There is growing interest and discussion regarding whether there should be limits on the number of online classes being taught by full time faculty members. I understand the Statewide Academic Senate is exploring this matter. Our Distance Learning Committee is beginning to look at this, as well. I will also be bringing the matter to the UFO CEER group for discussion soon. It's a topic that needs dialogue.

Here are some thoughts to prime the dialogue pump

There are a number of different ways to look at this. The District is responsible for making assignments when it comes to courses to be taught. However, a course taught in a online format should be the same course content as that offered in the traditional setting. One could argue that teaching online is a method or means of instruction, which would fall within the context of academic freedom. In other words, would be ever limit the number of courses taught using the group work method versus the lecture method? On the other hand, the accreditation commission does require substantive change proposals when more than 50% a program is going to be delivered online. Also Title V has special requirements for online classes.

To add to the mix, "What about hybrid classes?" And what is a hybrid class anyway?? Technology is requiring us to move into some unfamiliar territory (what else is new!?).

There is definitely dialogue needed here. Since it is related to workload, the UFO needs to be involved. But it is also an academic matter. The Faculty Senate, the Deans, the Curriculum Committee, the Distance Learning Committee, the academic community in general should have an active and open discussion. In fact, I encourage as much dialogue about this as possible.

Please use the “Comment” function of this posting to weigh in on the topic.

Thanks, jim


At 9/29/2006, Anonymous Kenney Mencher said...

Can you explain what some of the reasons for limiting the number of classes full time faculty can teach? Is it because of burn out or possibly because some people imagine that teaching them is easier. (It's not and I've actually limited myself to one per semester.)

I actually have found teaching on line classes to be much more labor intensive. Mainly because of all the reading and typing.

Just one example is, in my on-line classes the students turn in approximately ten pages of essay questions five times each semester. So grading an assignment with 30 student is equivalent to reading, editing and commenting on 300 pages of text.

At 9/30/2006, Blogger Sheldon said...

I agree with Kenny's points about the labor involved in online teaching, but I would add another point as well. Kenny's comments are based on an online class in which the instructor attempts to keep the content equivelant with a face-to-face environment. My fear is that instructors will (consciously or unconsciously) begin to narrow the content in response to the amount of work involved, thus robbing students of important learning opportunities.

I can hear the arguments against this point already: "But we're all professionals!", "Deans can keep track of that!", "Students will vote with their feet and report to administration when they feel a class is not worthwhile."

Some of those statements may be true some of the time. But Ohlone has already seen situations in which instructors did not live up to expectations, and I fear that online classes only exacerbate such issues.

I'd also like to add that I have very strong reservations about online teaching in general. I've heard (and read about) all of the benefits (stay-at-home moms get access, increased enrollment opportunities, etc.), but having been through two online classes myself this summer, I can tell you from personal experience that they are lacking in the most important aspect of education: personal interaction. The feeling of isolation, lack of motivation, and static nature of classes on a computer monitor make them highly suspect in my book. Perhaps we should, therefore, be asking ourselves whether we should limit their number merely based on whether they are an effective way to teach certain subjects?

At 9/30/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have any pure online classes, but I teach all of my classes as "hybrid" because of all the advantages. One of the most important of those is the 24x7 access to "discussions" with the other students and with the instructor. Essentially they are virtual office hours. Of course it isn't quite as good as face-to-face interaction and that is why I still prefer hybrid over online, but I can see the students really benefit from the convenience of getting feedback anytime. e.g. I check eMail several times every day, 7 days a week, from wherever I am and almost always have some questions to answer from students that may be working at any time day or night. I agree with comments made that it takes more time, but it is a new paradigm that isn't going to go away. The biggest disadvantage in my mind to teaching purely online is the loss everyone will have from personal interaction. The joy of seeing the other teachers and students in person as they discuss ideas with you can never be replaced by eMail or chat or iPod downloads or whatever is thought of electronically. I would say the percentage of online should be restricted to 50% just to keep that lifeline of live interaction from every going away. -Dave Topham

At 10/02/2006, Anonymous Kenney Mencher said...

I actually agree with everything Sheldon said. I still teach the on-line but I make it so difficult that only the really good students survive. The idea is that those who make it through have the gotten the equivalent of the in person students.

At 10/03/2006, Blogger Sheldon said...

Dave brings up some good points that I think illustrate the difference between an "online class" and the practice of using technology in the classroom. I'm well known (I think) for using computer technology in my classes (a blog with numerous postings, handouts, links, video clips, etc.), PowerPoint lectures with video and images, etc. But, I always careful not to allow the fun of using technology to lead me to replace myself as a teacher. Students (being human) need a PERSON to teach them, not just someone to demonstrate their "brilliance" in using techology that just happens to be showing them Psychology information.

At 10/03/2006, Blogger jond said...

I for one would prefer teaching entirely online. But as learning online is not for all students, teaching online is not for *most* instructors.

There is a huge difference between a good online course and a bad one. Unfortunately I think that many can be bad and I am afraid that Sheldon got stuck with those.

The online classes that are good are those, which have constant lively discussions and where problems get solved in the course of the week.

I do way more teaching and learning online than in the classroom. Yes, with f2f, there is the personal relationship, but there is plenty of that going on in a blog, take this one for example. Can you determine that what we are saying here is less important, meaningful, or personal than if were now meeting for a couple hours?

Between the words, we can tell what your personalities are, what your passions are, beliefs, etc. I've had online students for 5 semesters, for whom I've gained great respect without ever meeting them in person. What's all this big deal about face to face interaction? Sorry folks, that is an arcane idea that you will have to take with you to retirement.

I teach many courses where students can do it completely online, f2f, or both, and I challenge anyone to tell me that the online students don't do as well or learn as much as the f2f. In fact, I find that f2f students are more baby like with a need to have everything offered to them on a silver platter, while the online students are self reliant, willing to do their own research, and mroe eager to share their finding with others.

The concept of classroom teaching once or twice a week and leave the students hang to dry until next time belongs to a couple centurys ago.

Like Sheldon says, let the students decide how many online classes an instructor can teach. These folks who don't know how will be forced back in the classroom soon enough.

Thanks :)

At 10/04/2006, Anonymous Rakesh said...

Hmmm...interesting. As mentioned here, I think it depends on the type of course or perhaps the type of content in a particular course. Is anyone teaching a developmental math or writing class or even regular math or English class online? I wonder how the pedagogical dynamics of showing how the working of a math problem can be easily or effectively taught in an online math class as opposed to a teacher going over a problem and students asking questions to interrupt and get clarification etc. in the process. I know it can be acheived using tutoring software with VOIP etc., but 24/7 availability for such types of explanation seems quite difficult. I teach in a classroom with computers and realize that developmental students love computers but a good percentage completely lack the skills or discipline to do academic things even after my directions and lessons on WebCT are detailed and near perfect. So, I think it depends on the type of course and the type of students taking those courses. As a writing instructor, I like working one on one on a student paper than being almost like a robot typing, editing, underlining, inserting, highlighting 30 papers per class. At the end of all that, I get questions from my students that they need to see me to go over everything! Therefore, maybe one such class online is good enough for me as a writing instructor or maybe it is not worth it.

At 10/04/2006, Anonymous Yong Gao said...

Teaching online is a new, innovative, paradigmatic method of education. Just like any other methods of teaching, there are always some pros and cons, and none of them is perfect. For students who never pay any attention at all, it does not matter if she or he seats in a face-to-face classroom; Students who take an online class may even come to see you in person if they feel that is necessary or sometimes just for person touch (this is another skill). In an online class, the student may learn the new means of communication skills, time-management skills, self-motivation and self discipline skills, in addition to the topics cover in the text. Those skills are vital to succeed for students in today’s society and workplace.

As one of twelve pioneers created online classes first time ever at Ohlone in 1998, I have been teaching online classes every semester since then. Teaching online class is not a “free ride” or “short-cut”; it involves additional work, pays incentive attention, and spends extra time to monitoring, guiding, and reminding students to follow class schedule and instructions, submitting homework assignments, and taking exams. Again, not all classes are good for online; not all students learn in an online class; and not all faculty members choose to teach online. Remember not long a while ago, the administrators faced faculty coming on campus every day, limited one online class per semester per teacher, for the purpose of better interactions. What happened? Does that achieve their goal? Answer is no.

Online classes are getting popularity because students are used to them and have more experience in taking them. We as faculty have more experience now in teaching and improving courseware, and administration has also more experience to provide an accessible, stable, and user-friendly WebCT environment. Let students select what type of class they want to take. Let faculty decide what type of methods they want to teach. Don’t set up any limits how many online classes you can or cannot teach. It will be well balanced out. Traditional face-to-face classes, online classes, hybrid classes, or maybe some other ways of teaching – let faculty choose to teach.

Thanks our new administration - A World of Cultures, United in Learning. Without new means of communication technologies, distance learning, and academic freedom in teaching, no one could imagine how could we achieve this goal and bear with the slogan? Yong Gao

At 10/04/2006, Blogger From Travenick said...

Taking an all online course was areal eye opener for me last summer- My comments come from that experience and talking with my faculty classmates.

first- what is gained in convieence by online is paid for by a feeling of being totally issolated. If the faculty take the role of "guide by the side" which can work so well in the classroom, the net result for students is overwhelming. In my view faculty have to view themselves as much more engauged and involved in each students discussion board responses. I agree that ONLINE to be done well really does take more effort on the part of the faculty.

Second- once setablished, the organization and lesson plan for online can be VERY streamlined. But it is a teaching mode that demands some mastery, trianing and understanding. I have taken a second all online class that was transformative because the instructor realized that live discussions need to be replicated online by set posting deadlines. He also had virtual office hours so that the "class" could actually be in the same place at the same time.

Third- and more directly responding to the question "should teaching load ( online ) be limited, controlled....." Academic freedom says no- if Online teaching is a modality. If it is a location (virtual) it is more an issue of space, marketting and appitite of the instructor and Dean.

I think the answer is "both"
Here is a situation where the professional development and skills of the faculty, the needs and demands of the students and the overall quality of the experience all need to be considered.

It seems a natural place to brig our learninmg college together and not flex our academic or administrative muscles over who "controls". It seems that the discussion about the ramifactions, and outcomes of these decisions are.

At 10/04/2006, Anonymous Drlemon said...

As a student of and a past teacher of Online "classes" I must honestly say that I find such courses useful only for students who have No Other Alternative.
To create and monitor an online course well requires a great deal of effort and extra work on the part of the instructor - otherwise it becomes nothing more than online homework with a computerized final exam: i.e. self-taught. "A few emails does not a classroom discussion make."
My courses are Hybrid/Web-Enhanced which is tremendously helpful to the students in the sense they receive instant feedback on homework & practice. But the computer activities in no way replace the genuine communicative learning experience of an in-person group of students in a classroom. The computer is simply another Educational Tool and shouldn't be expected to replace genuine pedagogy. Were I in a remote Alaskan igloo with wireless access I am sure I would be grateful for any online courses I could find. But online education should not be seen as Equal To nor An Improvement On the face-to-face interactive classroom experience. We don't learn simply through words, we humans are a complicated radar/sonar/video-camera system that maps out all sorts of nuances & trace data that flesh out information.
I see technology as a fascinating method to enhance and to add new perspective to my classroom activites. Although I love finding new ways to integrate cutting edge technology in my classroom, I consider these new tools no more nor less important than my overhead projector or multi-colored scented dry-erase markers.

At 10/05/2006, Blogger Perri Gallagher said...

Great discussion so far! In thinking about the question I gathered some thoughts based on my experience teaching English online, taking courses online, and reading in the topic.

Why Limit? Everything that comes to mind has to do with work load issues, on the side of the instructor already putting a ton of time into the class, as has already been brought up. I’m currently teaching two sections of English (First Year Composition) and if I teach any more I will get carpal tunnel syndrome, and hasten my progressive blindness—both costly medical issues ;-)

But seriously, if good online teaching requires training and/or experience for instructors, then we could justifiably use limits to ease an instructor into teaching more than one, for example. Especially, if a course is insufficiently developed, or purchased (I don’t know if anyone here uses completely canned courses?) it would understandably difficult for the instructor to breathe life into it with their particular brand of teaching and intellectual rigor. In other words, teaching online is more than “converting” a traditional class.

In addition, it takes particular time and effort for instructors to teach students to be online learners while teaching-- something not unlike teaching community college students to be students, in general, but with a twist. Maybe particular to English, I’ve also found that building interactivity and a creating learning community, in the broadest sense, into an otherwise flat text-based medium (purposefully so) will take its toll (read: there are only so many hours in the day).

Finally, I could see limits if it would curb the appetite for online course offerings simply in hopes of building enrollment, without good planning and evaluation processes, and an effective feedback loop from students (something the DL committee is working on, as Jim mentioned). Perhaps also this could be the starting point for a discussion on refiguring the load of online courses themselves (so that limits would come naturally with fewer classes with more weight—having accounted for all I just outlined)?

Why should we not limit? Online teaching is an art, one that many of us got into by some level of “immersion,” so limiting that opportunity might limit the development of this faculty skill. We need also, in an increasing number of cases, to get up to speed with students; for example, those coming here after virtual high school education (middle school, elementary school…). “Is higher education ready for these students?” is a valid question. Limits might artificially, or arbitrarily, discourage those instructors for whom it works well. We might even go so far as to bring in the other thread on sustainability. Instructors and students alike are likely driving less while taking online courses. Often, though not predictably, less paper is being used.

In sum, I would not want to begin making policy on the basis of subjective, qualitative interpretations of what online teaching is. There is a growing body of research out there that needs to be brought into the discussion (and maybe is at the Senate level, thus far).
Ultimately, if we are to be concerned with retention and building our online offerings we need to be more concerned that if courses are not taught well, and students do not have a good experience, they may go away and not come back.

At 10/05/2006, Anonymous Darren Bardell said...

Hello everyone,
I enjoyed reading all your comments about online education and would like to contribute some feedback as well as suggestion. I teach several courses online and have received lots of feedback from students regarding what worked and what didn’t work.

Student/Professor interaction: The number one issue concerning online students is interaction with the instructor. This interaction can and should take many forms, but it must be there. No surprisingly, they appreciate and enjoy “live chats” and “instant messaging” the most because (I believe) it gives them a sense of belonging or participation or connection in (and with) the class. Every other week (per section) I hold a “live chat” session using the web ct site. And this might surprise the critics of online education: these have been some of the “best” (most thought provoking, interesting, controversial, emotionally charged) group discussion I have ever conducted. I know there is something lost when we only communicate with each other electronically and I very much enjoy seeing my students in class and hearing their voices (and I trust they feel the same way), but we must also acknowledge what is gained via electronic communication. The relative anonymity of live chats, instant messaging, or electronic posting boards seems to boost the confidence of otherwise socially (person-to-person) shy students. This is especially true of ESL students as well as students from families (or cultures) where expressing oneself publicly may not be common or acceptable. Furthermore, that students who never stops raising his/her hand trying to answer all our questions is not as much a deterrent to increased student participation in these online forums. Finally, writing requires far more thought than speaking so students who must type a response to a question are more inclined to articulate their ideas with greater care. I am continually blown away by the sophistication of online students posting and real-time responses to discussion questions.

Conversely, online students do not appreciate absentee instructors. Since the issue of standard or “limits” (thus rules) has been introduced into this discussion, I would like to suggest one regarding office hours. We all must conduct 5 office hours on campus per week (so one per class). I think the same should hold true for online courses. Online students should have the same type of virtual access to their instructors as their on campus counter parts. A student taking my course from Bakersfield cannot attend my office hours so I should provide a means for him/her to attend virtually. I propose that instructors teaching online provide one online office hour per week per course. If they only teach five courses, then one of these hours should go toward their required 5. Thinking “outside the box” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for a moment . . . these virtual office hours could be open to any student, not just the ones enrolled in the instructors online course (s). I don’t know about any of you, but no one comes to my office hours. I sit there steering out my wall and go online and start checking emails. I suspect that I would have better office hour participation if I conducted an open office hour chat session or some variation thereof (maybe even in the evening). Of course, this virtual office hour could be conducted anywhere and using web cams or iChat, we could actually come (image of ) face-to- (image of) face with our students. Which brings up another point.

This is not for everyone so not everyone should be asked (or maybe even allowed) to do it. A strong candidate . . . : people who know how to use computers, who understand basic website navigation and design, and most importantly who have a computer at home (like the people taking online courses). It is our responsibility as faculty (and staff) to set the standards and improve the reputation of online education at Ohlone. If we set the bar high, the quality of online education will continue to rise and the reputation of Ohlone College with it. I think the worst case scenario is if we jump into this willy nilly citing “academic freedom” as a rallying cry. I’m all for that, but there is a process I must go through if I want to develop and teach a new course, we might want to consider adopting a similar procedure (or amending the current one) when a department wants to create an online section for an existing (CAPAC) approved course. Currently, It is a “minor revision” requiring very little oversight or approval. Just a few clicks in the dreaded CurricuNet and off it goes for approval. I’ve done this myself three times. I don’t think we have to re-invent ourselves to become effective online teachers. Instead, we can simply utilize what we already have to create a better online learning environment.

For example, most instructors teach courses online that they have already “perfected” in the classroom. With the current state of technology, it is relatively easy to recreate an in-class experience online. Start by recording your lectures and posting them for your online students. If you have an iPod, you can plug an iTalk mic. ($39.99) into it and upload the mp3 file into your web ct site. Now students can hear your lecture and not be distracted by “cell phone girl” or “I’m surfing the web” boy. Seriously, this is easy and requires very little extra time. Once all these lectures are uploaded into your web ct shell, simply copy them over each term (if they don’t change much) or start fresh (if they do). We can post our PowerPoint presentation online and even sync them with lectures so students can listen and see. We can direct them to the movies or documentaries we show in class either using the library’s holding our they can get them via (Net Flix). We can form students into smaller learning groups and they can use chat and posted discussion boards to work out group activities. And so on. . . .

My final point (I could go on forever, but I suspect I’m starting to ramble). There already is a limit for how many courses we teach (percentage of overload above 100%). I believe this limit is sufficient regulation and online education should not be singled out and limited separately. If an instructor want to teach all his/her courses online then we should be open to allowing that as long as there are some checks or regulations on and regarding the structure and curriculum (a la CAPAC) of online courses. Furthermore, if we are serious about growing in this area, all job descriptions should include something about teaching online sections and hiring committees should screen for these competencies.

At 10/11/2006, Anonymous Rick Arellano said...

The amount of time an instructor spends delivering an online class depends on the following factors:

A: Commercially-created course
Is it a commercially-created course that consists of nothing but readings from textbook chapters and automated multiple-choice tests? An example would be the “e-packs” supplied by the textbook publishers. In this environment, an instructor spends very little time delivering the course.

B: Course created by the instructor
It is more time consuming if the course is created by the instructor from scratch; it would take even more time if the instructor included course materials in many formats such as audio or video-based web programs.

C. Online course structure and activities
Does the course include discussion forums, group project and activities using chat, wikis and blogs?

D. Iinstructor’s experience
An instructor who is not highly trained in the use of computer technology and the Internet will spend more time than one who is comfortable with technology and has online teaching experience.

The quality of a course, whether traditional or online, depends primarily on how it is delivered by the instructor. All of us have had good and terrible traditional classes; the same can be said of online classes; I’ve taken graduate-level online classes that were excellent; I’ve also taken some that were terrible; the excellent classes were delivered by instructors who checked in the discussion board daily, who used different class activities, who responded timely; I sensed that they really enjoyed what they were doing.

Based on my experiences teaching online classes and taking a great number of online classes I believe that it takes a lot of the instructor’s time to deliver a good quality online class. I believe that a full time instructor should spend no more than 50% of his/her load teaching on line.

At 10/16/2006, Blogger jond said...

I don't know about the rest of you who teach online, but my daily schedule, 7 days a week, consists of 3 hours, first thing in the morning answering emails and all discussion boards, then another 3 hours of the same thing before I go to sleep.

So far this semesters, there has been 2200 messages on my discussion boards and I don't require posting, onlyl reading.

That translates to about 44 messages per day. I have to answer at least half of them, which can can take at least 5 minutes each on the average, some can take 2 hours of research.

Of course, this online support applies to both my online and f2f, it does not make much difference.

If I were to have the normal life of a strictly f2f instructor, I suppose I could get rid of the discussion board for half of my classes or teach only one online class per semester, but I feel that online students need this and where would they go if I didn't offer it?

At 10/31/2006, Anonymous Rakesh said...

Here is a link to a university that decides not to pursue internet/online courses. Makes good reading and a different perspective.


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