Online learning ‘new ballgame’ for many academic instructors

Sophia Voight, Co-News Editor

Over 130 instructors completed the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Summer 2020 Online Initiative that provided instructors with tools and strategies to teach effective online classes.

“Online learning is a new ballgame for many instructors,” Instructional Designer Sarah Bradway said. “I think that having the summer training has really helped to get instructors up to speed.”

CETL and Information Technology teamed up over July and August to provide 21 different courses designed to help instructors teach engaging and successful online courses during the pandemic.

UW Oshkosh instructors spent the summer preparing for a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction. (UWO Flickr)

Courses were divided into five categories including planning, selecting materials, building and facilitating online courses as well as implementing inclusive online teaching practices.

Instructors in the training course were able to choose from a variety of classes in each category based on their own needs.

To complete the program, instructors had to submit a two-page action plan detailing how the instructional training would be implemented into their own courses to create a high-quality online experience for students.

CETL Director Jordan Landry said the focus of the program was to make students feel supported and engaged in the online classroom.

“We developed trainings that focused on how to build community and to be more visible to students in the online space,” Landry said.

The spring Remote Instruction survey found that 64% of students reported feeling isolated from their instructors and classmates.

“The spring taught many instructors that one of the most effective things they could do to support students was to be authentic about what was happening,” Landry said.

A portion of CETL’s online initiative focused on helping instructors be more present and engaging in classes, where they might not get to see and interact with their students as much.

CETL’s online facilitation classes emphasized consistent communication between instructors and their students through one-on-one discussions and having plenty of available office hours.

Landry said a lot of instructors started using new innovations like the FlipGrid app to allow students to visually interact and connect with their peers in online classes.

“They created ways for students to connect in groups online and connect with peers about group projects,” they said.

Landry said instructors dedicated their summers to learning how to implement interactive technology into their synchronous and asynchronous classes to help students feel involved.

“Many instructors learned how to produce videos and caption them to make them accessible,” they said. “They dedicated themselves to learning how to use features of Collaborate Ultra, like polling and groups, to increase the level of student engagement in the course.”

Bradway said the summer program gave instructors more opportunity to become familiar with Canvas and learn how to use it for online courses.

“It really helped to get those instructors who are novices more up to speed, and those who were intermediate got better,” she said. “Everyone just got a little bit better over the summer.”

Bradway said one of the biggest challenges the CETL program addressed was how to deliver lab classes online.
In CETL’s “Labs Online?? Is that Possible?” course, instructors were taught to combine online resources, like live video demonstrations and virtual experiments with at-home lab kits, to ensure students have a quality lab experience.

Landry said STEM instructors worked together to create their own lab kits and videos of step-by-step processes of completing lab experiments.

Bradway said the summer training session was necessary to prepare instructors for teaching online and combating common issues instructors and students had with spring online classes.

“I think in the spring everything happened so quickly that all we could do was react,” she said. “And over the summer, everyone really had time to think about what they were doing.”

Landry said the online initiative gave instructors the tools to ensure students will have a better online experience this fall.

“Instructors came back ready to teach in ways that would lead to greater success for their students,” they said.