When training and developing new faculty, words like best practices, pedagogy/andragogy, student engagement, and retention are bandied about quite a bit. While these things are important and certainly need to be addressed, I find new faculty also need to know more practical aspects of what it means to teach for any given college or university. No matter the subject matter taught, navigating various collegiate landscapes can become difficult and confusing, especially when adjuncting at a variety of institutions. So, what do new faculty need to know during this time of adjustment?
Who Does What
Whether working as a “full-time” adjunct at quite a few institutions or teaching at one or two to supplement income, knowing the correct contact person can mean the difference between having questions answered in a quick and efficient manner and feeling adrift in a sea of contact information listed on the faculty and staff directory.
As a faculty developer, I field many calls and emails about who to contact regarding various situations, sometimes having to do research on my end so I can properly help a new faculty member. I am in the process of creating a set of “Who Does What” materials to post within our new faculty orientation and continuing development courses. Have a payroll question? Contact Sue at ext. 555. Need to order a new edition of a desk copy? Contact Frank at the bookstore via email and he will find the publisher information. Having an updated list of who does what at the ready will eliminate me as the middle man and will also cut down on a lot of confusion, especially for new faculty.
Who to Turn to When in Crisis
I love teaching online. Working from home, having a flexible schedule, and possessing an ability to adapt well to new educational technologies are just a few reasons why I see myself working in a remote capacity for the duration of my career. However, teaching at a distance does present its share of issues, especially for recently hired faculty. These potential problems pose a question as well. How can institutions create crystal-clear instructions that serve as a “cheat sheet” of sorts to help frantic faculty find what they need? An obvious answer may be to feature this information in an easy to access area of the online portal or website but when a faculty member loses his or her Internet or cell connection altogether, that may not be the best option. The instructions should be available for download as a PDF so instructors can refer to them offline. If an institution does not have this type of resource, ask the head of the department what should be done if an emergency occurs.
Many online colleges and universities require faculty attendance at synchronous sessions. What happens if someone cannot make their live classroom meeting due to an unforeseen issue? I advise all faculty to print off a list of critical numbers such as tech support, department chairs, and fellow faculty who teach the same discipline. Emergencies by their very nature come up without warning and a sub or even a class cancellation may be desperately needed.
How to Easily Navigate the Learning Management System (LMS)
Despite detailed information contained within new faculty orientation and continuing training courses, making their way around a new LMS can be intimidating for many faculty members. The institution where I train faculty is a very old one, steeped in its traditions and impressive history. One of my primary duties is to combine forward thinking and technologically savvy views with those traditions without ruffling too many tenured feathers. This, coupled with our recent move to a completely different LMS, can present challenges for everyone involved. For instructors, no matter if they embrace or abhor innovative technologies, effectively using the tools within an online platform is very often a daunting prospect.
If an institution does not have a faculty development professional or instructional support team, who does an instructor contact when issues come up during a big grading session or when posting to the discussion board? Try the college or university’s help desk, of course, but I highly recommend asking if they have a specific phone number for platform-related questions so that direct contact can be made with the individuals who work with the LMS. I also strongly suggest utilizing YouTube videos. Most companies, like Blackboard and Desire2Learn for example, have their own channel with a host of videos that go into great detail on a variety of topics from how to get started to using more advanced tools. If faculty do not know their way around the online classroom, they will not be very effective and, ultimately, their students will suffer.
Where to Refer Students
Today’s online courses are designed to not only educate students but to allow instructors to better connect with those listed in their course rosters. That said, even the most engaging online instructor has most likely encountered a situation where teaching at a distance has made helping confused students or students in crisis difficult at best. As I tell the faculty I train, always look for the most informed source when seeking support and this rule also applies to their students.
If students are experiencing technical problems that instructors cannot trouble-shoot, send them to the help desk, but ask them to report back when the situation is resolved so they can confirm they are no longer struggling. In addition, be aware of other institutional resources. Most online colleges and universities have dedicated online centers, writing, math, science, etc., that students can visit to receive additional help with their assignments. Encourage students to log into the online library for help with resources for a research paper and be familiar with the easiest way to contact a student’s advisor if he or she is struggling or unresponsive to offers of assistance.
Finally, if a student has indicated that he or she is in need of emotional support, it is important to refer the student to the appropriate department or area of the website. Is there a dedicated counseling line or is there an office students can call to speak to someone when in crisis? All instructors should be proactive in finding out this information just in case immediate help is needed.
If faculty understand the resources available to them, most experiences in the online classroom will be smooth, productive ones. Their students will undoubtedly benefit from this as well. Combining these practical tips with sound online pedagogical principles will surely create a satisfying learning experience on both sides of the virtual desk.