Online education continues to grow; Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman (2014) reported more than 7 million students enrolled in online classes. The increase of online courses demands that educators are prepared to teach in this format; however, in the past, training for online courses has traditionally been limited or non-existent (Hewett, 2013; Hewett & De Pew, 2014; Hewett & Ehmann Powers, 2005). According to the 2011 the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Committee for Best Practices in OWI Report entitled, “The State-of-the-Art of OWI,” a survey of online teachers and programs across the country, many teachers remain unsure of “pedagogy-specific theory and practice for teaching” in hybrid and online environments (Hewett et al., 2011, p. 8). In addition, the survey noted that instructors feel dissatisfied with the amount of support they receive while teaching online. Our eComp program, with its various paths to training (see Pedagogy Course and Instructional Assistants) and ongoing mentoring opportunities, seeks to rectify the problem of inadequate training practices for online teaching.
Teacher Training in Online Course Delivery
Barry Maid and Barbara D’Angelo (2013) indicated that in the early days of online education, many educators simply took what they did in the f2f classroom and transferred it online. Through a description of the initial phase of the online Technical Communication program at Arizona State University, the authors illustrated how the department’s first online courses “followed the familiar pattern of traditional on-site classes” (p. 14). Citing Kelli Cargile Cook, Maid and D’Angelo described their courses as “first generation distance courses constrained by technological boundaries” (p. 14). In fact, they noted that many teachers often attempt to use what works in the traditional classroom within the online realm, only to find that their students are not achieving the course outcomes. Or, teachers experience frustration when students lose focus and disengage with course material or the online community in general. Sanford Gold (2001) cited many reasons for this failure, including lack of quality curriculum development and materials used to teach in an online format, as well as improper training to teach online. Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt (2001) supported Gold’s assertions, positing that faculty most often need training, “which few campuses offer” (p. 7). When training is offered, many faculty assume that it will focus on technology, or learning the tools used to deliver the online curriculum (Jaramillo-Santoy & Cano-Monreal, 2013).
With the evolution of online education, scholars suggest that instructors need more than just basic learning management system (LMS) instruction (see, e.g., Hewett and Ehmann, 2004; Schneckenberg, 2011; Starr, Stacey, & Grace, 2011). Unfortunately, according to The CCCC State-of-the-Art of OWI Report (2011), in most institutions, “’writing’ and how to achieve strong writing and identifiable student results are left out of online writing instructional training” (p. 7). Gold (2001) suggested that “[w]ithout proper pedagogical training and online experience, teachers will continue to replicate their best existing practices onto the online medium” (p. 36). He posited that what works in the traditional face-to-face (f2f) classroom with a “stable cohort of learners” communicating synchronously is qualitatively different than the learning that takes place in the asynchronous online environment (p. 36). To address the differences between face-to-face and online pedagogies and instructional approaches, Beth Hewett and Christa Ehmann (2004) argued that training should include a pedagogical aspect, which the authors indicated should include complete immersion into an online class so that the teachers can gain a similar experience to that of their students. Without pedagogical training, educators may feel unprepared to teach in the online realm (Gabriel & Kaufield, 2008), remaining unsure of how to encourage social interaction and establish communities, aspects of which are all integral to online students’ success. They may not understand how to create an online persona or form relationships with their students; therefore, structured training of online pedagogy can encourage instructors to learn new skills that will help them design their courses around new methods of instruction—methods that may feel unfamiliar to them beyond the f2f setting.
Developing Standards in Teacher Training
Perhaps partly due to the lack of standards or consistency of training practices across universities, the CCCC recently published “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI)” (2013). This statement gave universities a better sense of how they could implement and sustain online writing programs, and the document was complete with not only the principles of how to do so, but it also included a rationale for and example of each principle. While our program seeks to address all of these OWI principles, specific to our argument in this article, we attend to Principle 14, which indicated:
For OWL tutors to model technology use for students, it is crucial that they be trained through and with the settings, modalities, media, and technologies in which they will tutor. Further, they should receive individualized mentoring as well as any group training. All tutors should be trained to interact with students using diverse media—print and electronic text, audio, and video—and they should be prepared to work with students with diverse abilities and learning styles (p. 28).While this principle explicitly addressed tutors in online writing labs, it is applicable to our program because graduate students can first work as tutors embedded in an online course before then becoming instructors themselves. Working as an Instructional Assistant (IA) in the model allows graduate students to become familiar with the LMS, as well as the various software included in the courses. For example, because our courses place high emphasis on multimodal composition, we include tutorials throughout the course on software programs such as iMovie, Windows MovieMaker, and Google Sites. While working as IAs, the graduate students receive instruction regarding using this software and in giving feedback to students who are creating multimodal texts with these various programs. Before the course starts, we hold an intensive orientation that familiarizes the instructors with the LMS, the assignments, and the overall structure of the course. We also offer a workshop on giving feedback using Jing, as this particular software seems beneficial to students when assisting students through the writing process of a multimodal text.
In terms of individualized mentorship, the lead instructor of the course typically meets with the IAs at least twice a month to hold “norming” sessions, where they discuss assignments and give feedback to a sample student project. After students turn in their projects and IAs provide their feedback, the instructors and IAs hold another meeting to discuss how the responses could be improved. During these meetings, they discuss common student issues and any problems encountered by the IAs, both in giving feedback to multimodal texts and in navigating the course software. These meetings are imperative, as they help to ensure students’ needs are met, as well as the IAs’ needs. In addition to Principle 14, our program adheres to Principle 7, which stated:
Teachers—especially novice teachers (e.g., graduate student teachers) and contingent faculty—should not be placed into OWCs until they have received appropriate training by their WPAs and institution. Although such a requirement places restrictions on the teaching pool, institutions should establish some way of training teachers and having them demonstrate their ability to teach writing online before they do so with an OWC (p. 17).It is important to note that Principle 7 indicated the need to train graduate student teachers. Jane Zahner and Sabrina Sterling (2005) echoed the importance of training this specific population, arguing that graduate students who enter the job market seeking teaching careers will most likely be asked to teach online, whether in K-12 settings, community colleges, or four-year institutions. They also suggested that many graduate students currently enter the working world without the proper training to teach online. Practica for new teaching assistants (TAs) abound across the country when it comes to facilitating instruction in traditional f2f classes. Instruction regarding online teaching may be scarce, however, with these courses mostly focusing instead on helping instructors become more adept in utilizing technology in the f2f writing classroom in order to encourage multiliteracies (see, e.g., Bourelle et al., 2013a; Kress, 2003; Selber, 2004; Shipka, 2011; Taylor, 2007). Specific to training graduate students to incorporate a computer pedagogy in the first-year classroom, Barbara Duffelmeyer (2003) offered advice to professors regarding integrating technology training into various seminars. Duffelmeyer advised professors to guide TAs into understanding why and how to integrate technology into their classes, as well as the best approaches to using technology to facilitate learning. The inclusion of computer pedagogy and TA training provides an important start for a much-needed conversation—that of how to train TAs for teaching in a solely online environment.