Focus Session 1: Support for Digital Education Teaching and Learning

Executive Summary of Participant Input from Focus Session 1: Support for Digital Education Teaching and Learning

October 28, 2015

Question 1: What kinds of instructional support do Purdue faculty need to improve their ability to incorporate digital technologies and solutions that enhance their instruction?  (Instructional designers, training, incentives, recognition, etc).

Digital Education instructors need a central resource for training faculty who want to teach online, including a help desk.  It should provide self-paced online training on teaching with technology and Blackboard, access to digital resources, examples of best practices and course templates.

Faculty need access to analytics on student engagement and learning (measurable outcomes) and support on how to use this information to enhance courses. Faculty also need specific support on accessibility issues in the online environment.

In terms of incentives, faculty look for sustainable revenue model for development and instruction; load reduction for course development; funds for faculty development; recognition of online innovation and the scholarship of teaching and learning in promotion and tenure decisions.  Financial incentives should include departments and colleges.

The university should provide reliable, user-friendly educational software.  It should also identify its strategic goals for online education to help departments and colleges identify appropriate directions for program development.  

Question 2: What types of communities do we need to support digital education (users groups, research community, etc.)?

Support for digital education must include supporting instructional designers; steps must be taken to retain them in a highly competitive market. There should also be a network of department or college-level advocates for digital education.  New online instructors could be trained in cohorts to create networks.  Experienced instructors could be recognized as Digital Education Fellows, which could serve as the base for a faculty mentor network.  Support groups for people who want to start new online programs or grow existing ones would also be helpful. Another community-based approach would be integrated communities of practice that would include faculty, designers, and educational technologists.  It was also noted that cohorts of graduate students could be engaged in research on outcomes and effectiveness of digital learning, and that advisors were critical to students’ success in online learning.     

Question 3: What support systems do we need to help students navigate digital learning environments and use digital tools?

A 24/7 online student support center with support for technical and academic issues would be helpful. Students should also be oriented to online to ensure they recognize how online learning is different; a self-assessment of how well online will fit their characters circumstances would help ensure success. Students should also be oriented to the use of various software tools used in digital education.

Students would also be better supported transparent and consistent labelling of digitally enhanced class sections and by advisors who can help students make the best decisions with regard to courses.  It was also suggested that Digital Education should be identified as a place students can go for help with digital education.

With respect to courses themselves, students would benefit from advanced access to course syllabi, in-course tutorials, strong course directions, discussion boards, and the use of course templates to lower the learning curve on course navigation.

If the university moves more aggressively toward digital instruction it has a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to adequate internet services.  The university should provide a portal where prospective students could become familiar with Purdue’s digital instruction.  The university also needs to recognize that off-campus digital learners have different needs from on-campus students and provide support appropriate to their needs.  It was suggested that campus Learning Communities be extended digitally to off-campus students.


Natasha Watkins
Clinical Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies

Dean Brusnighan
Assistive Technology Specialist Consulting and Training

Chad Mueller
Lead Instructional Designer


Note: These articles present faculty support issues in terms of online or distance learning.  We consider those issues to be applicable to all instructional innovation in the digital education space.

UPCEA Excellent Practice: Faculty Support

Authors: UPCEA National Task Force on Hallmarks of Excellence in Online Leadership: Jay A. Halfond, Boston University (chair); Andrew Casiello, Old Dominion University; Dave Cillay, Washington State University; Nancy Coleman, Keypath Education; Vickie Cook, University of Illinois Springfield; John LaBrie, Northeastern University; Mary Niemiec, University of Nebraska; and Witt Salley, Clemson University
Source: Hallmarks of Excellence in Online Leadership, University Professional and Continuing Education Association
Published: 2015

UPCEA’s Hallmarks of Excellence is intended as an aspirational guide for academic administrators of online learning.  This segment on faculty support indicates that faculty must be able to rely upon well-planned orientation and professional development, technical support, instructional design expertise, institutional quality standards in course design and engagement of faculty and students, and clearly communicated policies for compensation and workload.

Seven Strategies for Enabling Faculty Success in Distance Education

Authors: Scott L. Howell, Farhad Saba, Nathan K. Lindsay, Peter B. Williams
Source: The Internet and Higher Education
Published: October 2004

This article examines challenges faculty face in developing courses for online delivery and proposes seven strategies to help faculty overcome them. The strategies include: (1) enabling colleges and departments to accept more responsibility for distance education activities; (2) providing faculty more information about distance education; (3) encouraging faculty to incorporate technology into their traditional classrooms; (4) providing strong incentives for faculty; (5) improving training and instructional support; (6) building an online faculty community; and (7) encouraging scholarship and research.

Incentives and Obstacles Influencing Higher Education Faculty and Administrators to Teach Via Distance

Authors: S. Kay Rockwell, Jolene Schauer, Susan M. Fritz, David B. Marx
Source: Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration
Published: Winter1999

What are the incentives and obstacles influencing faculty and administrators to teach online? This article notes that intrinsic or personal rewards of online education were the most basic. The main obstacles included time requirements and support needs. Faculty were divided about the impact of online teaching on promotion and tenure.

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