Editors Side Bar:
Amidst the swirl of controversy about ultimate proof of concept in online teaching, there is also a not so quiet under current about engaging faculty to join digital education. We focus on simplicity/convenience of technology to be used when perhaps the quality of human interface is the key factor. A most succinct and positive statement from Dr. Nancy Levenburg crossed our desk a few days ago. It is worth sharing. *
From Dr. Levenburg
I tend to feel that the best way to encourage faculty members to become involved in online education is to offer the rewards to them that will be most motivating. Whatever these "rewards" are will probably depend on the institution and its mission, the faculty members themselves, existing contractual agreements and policies, etc. I also believe that faculty members should be self-selecting, since some are more inherently interested in distance education and others are less so. Consequently, I would have some concerns about whether requiring faculty members (either old or new) to teach online courses would produce the best quality of instruction, particularly in a university setting where new hires may have other priorities (research/publication and tenure).
There has been some research done that applies the "diffusion of innovation" literature (Rogers) to those who have become involved in online education. For the most part, it seems to indicate that those faculty who are "innovators" in online education (less than 5 percent of all faculty) tend to be people who are risk-takers, challenged by the "newness" of online education, and intrinsically motivated. They have largely forged ahead on their own (with little support), teaching themselves to write HTML, etc. They are also largely *not* a part of the tenure-track process, meaning that they are either tenured already or are outside the tenure-track system (visitors/adjuncts).
The early adopters will be those who will need more support (versus the innovators) for teaching online, and they may be motivated to become involved either because of innovators' influence, because it is a good fit with how they do things now (compatibility), or because they perceive it might make life easier, better, etc. A bottom line, though, is that they need more support in terms of the nuts and bolts of delivering instruction online. As a result, no matter what the reward offered is, if it isn't accompanied by appropriate levels of support, it may not yield desired results.
Support might be provided through workshops/training on developing classes for online delivery (and appropriate incentives for participation, whether these incentives are internal [e.g., recognition] or external [e.g., money]). I think it is especially important that workshop facilitators are people who are viewed as "credible" by faculty--which probably means that faculty members will be more likely listen to and be motivated by people they view as their colleagues--other faculty members who are (successfully) teaching online.
About the Author:
*This comment originally appeared, Friday, February 18, 2000, in DEOS-L, The Distance Education Online Symposium, a service provided to the Distance Education Community by The American Center for the Study of Distance Education