Are you a university professor wishing to move on to online degree teaching? Offering distance education and online degree courses requires both a preparation phase and an implementation phase. The time spent on these phases differs depending upon the format of the prepared content (text, audio, multimedia, etc.) and the tools used to teach the online degree course. Fortunately, strategies are available to decrease your time commitment while increasing the potential for learning, student satisfaction, and student success.
Typically, online degree instructors take one of two routes when offering courses. Either they prepare course materials in a variety of formats while they are teaching the course or they try to design a complete course before they implement it. A third approach would be to initially develop a basic online degree course (using primarily text-, audio-, and video- based elements) that you could implement fairly easily. Then, periodically upgrade some of your original activities and lessons with interactive content. This approach, described more fully below, has the advantage of allowing you to begin delivering your online degree course sooner rather than later and in a way that reduces the time crunch usually associated with preparation.
Begin early. Digitize some of your course materials that you consider appropriate to the online degree course as well. Your course syllabus, schedule, and lecture notes are probably already in digital format. Review the various delivery options available for distance education and choose the educational technology that suits you and your course best. Take advantage of professional development opportunities in your faculty environment.
Next, as you have time, begin redesigning your course activities into a format that takes more advantage of the technology. Translating materials from a traditional delivery format to one that is more effective for distant learning by online degree students.
As your experience with teaching via distance progresses, you can refine content and activities and add multimedia support for them. Pacing the design and development of your course will allow you to reflect on effectiveness thereby making improvements suitable to optimal learning in an online degree environment.
Online degree courses frequently depend on asynchronous communications to engage students and a common concern is that this will take a lot of time. Many instructors using web-based asynchronous tools such as discussion boards feel the need to respond to every single message posting. This strategy does indeed take much time. Experienced distance education faculty will tell you not to reply to each student every time. Instead, your posts should focus on facilitating discussions in a way that highlights key academic concepts that may have been overlooked by students, poses thought-provoking and critical thinking questions, or keeps the online degree students on track in their discussions. This strategy will save you time while also fostering your online degree students' learning.
Other time-reduction strategies include assigning different students the role of facilitator each week, therefore requiring that the online degree students respond to one another, and assigning small group discussions that will then be synopsized by each group for you.
If you still have doubts on whether the quality of your teaching and that of your students' learning will suffer, don't be afraid. Past research has indicated that there is no significant difference between distance and face-to-face learning. Some current research indicates that there are significant differences and that students in online degree and distance learning courses have more effective learning experiences, improved grades, and a greater sense of satisfaction with their learning.