Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Impact of Online Teaching Upon Campus Teaching

Some months ago, with help from Camille Funk and Patty Dinneen of the Teaching & Learning Collaborative, I surveyed faculty from George Washington University who had worked with instructional designers to develop and teach online courses during the summer over the last 15 years. Our research question: had this experience influenced their subsequent teaching on campus. In a word: it did.

Faculty who had been through the program once were influenced in many dimensions of their teaching.  For example these kinds of changes in campus teaching were reported by at least half of the respondents:

  • My syllabus, instructions and directions for students are more clear and complete.
  • Development tools I learned about for summer I now sometimes use for my campus course materials.
  • I've re-used or adapted materials from my online course.
  • I use images, animations or video.
  • I've started designing a campus course or assignment by first figuring out what students should be able to do as a result.
  • I assign online discussion among my students.
Faculty who had participated two or more times were influenced much more.

I've heard anecdotal reports of such influence for years but we got a 53% response rate. Of those respondents, 85% reported influence on their campus teaching in at least one dimension.

Here's my full report and the survey that was sent to faculty.  Feel free to use or adapt the survey; if you're doing so, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know (ehrmannsteve at

Note: One reason this program of developing summer courses has lasted 15 years, attracting both faculty participation and GW resources to support them, was that teaching online summer courses made money for both the university and for the participating faculty. As faculty interest in developing summer courses increased, GW had the incentive to hire more instructional designers to help them.  In effect, improving teaching on campus was being rewarded (via the intervening step of improving teaching, and increasing revenue, online).  That fact suggests a policy I'll describe in my next post.

Propagating Teaching Improvement by making it More Rewarding for Faculty and the Institution

For teaching techniques that are needed institution-wide, seek opportunities where those techniques can be incorporated in programs that can earn the institution, the department and the individual faculty some extra money (e.g., summer courses, new degree programs)  (Sharing revenue with faculty isn't automatic, but, to provide incentives for widespread teaching improvement, it's essential.)

For example, at almost every university and college, it's important to find ways to encourage students to invest more time and effort in assignments outside class.  Today's full-time students spend only about half the amount of time on assignments they did thirty years ago, and about half the time that faculty think students need to spend, according to Arum and Roska in Academically Adrift.

One of several mutually reinforcing ways to do that is by quizzing students online in ways that require them to reason about what they've been assigned to learn. These online quizzes and assignments can both (a) provide instructors with advance notice about students' readiness for class, (b) enable instructors to prompt students about what else they need to do to prepare for class, (c) enable instructors to call on students by name when they get to class, and (d) encourage students to be (even) more ready for the next class meeting.  If there is faculty-staff agreement about the power and flexibility of this use of online preparation of students (and instructors) for upcoming classes, then it makes sense to strongly encourage any new revenue-generating courses and degree programs to include that practice. Once faculty try out the technique in that new degree program or summer course, they may well begin using the approach in their other courses as well.  As these pioneering faculty use the technique, other faculty may follow suit. And the more often students see it in classes, the more likely they will be to accept it as a normal feature of studying.

Make sense? or not?