Professors' Transition to Online Instruction

Article excerpt

A new generation of graduate student is seeking access to educational leadership degrees without using the traditional pathways to the knowledge base and experiences required for the master's degree and administrative certification. Potential students are drawn to the convenience of completing coursework online to receive certification. The online format removes the difficulties of attending a traditional 3-hour class, driving to a campus location, and "giving up" one or more nights a week in an already heavily committed schedule. Most of these learners and potential higher education candidates are full-time teachers with numerous responsibilities for young children. In addition, many of them are required to attend and supervise night activities at school as a function of their employment. And, many of them live a considerable distance from a university campus. It is not surprising that the attainment of a master's degree with administrative certification has been completely out of reach for many teachers and public school employees. Many qualified candidates for higher education training programs find it difficult to incorporate the demands of their lives into the programs' traditional constraints. These constraints may have inadvertently deprived public schools of some potentially outstanding leaders especially if they live in more rural areas.

Web-based and online delivery systems of instruction have opened a new avenue of access to potential students in educational leadership training programs throughout the United States (Dabbagh, 2005). Many schools of higher education have begun to utilize these media in their master's and doctoral programs, often not from personal choice but because of external influence. The Web-based approach, in addition to online instruction, often includes a given number of traditional instructor led face-to-face classroom meetings which assist students in accessing and understanding the expectations of the class. However, these required face-to-face classroom sessions still present the same constraints of the traditional preparation program; namely, the student must adjust his or her schedule in order to be physically present in class even though the number may be reduced. Subsequently, students faced with travel costs, home demands, and other constraints have fueled the demand for totally-online instruction in master's level coursework.

Sam Houston State University began offering a Web-enhanced master's level administrative course online that included a limited number of face-to-face classes. This course was used for approximately 8 years and was well accepted by the faculty, if they were not asked to teach the course. Only those professors who were comfortable with the online environment willingly accepted the assignment. No additional effort was made to advance online offerings resulting in full acceptance of the initial course by the faculty. However, the faculty was alert to any further mention of online course work or even the mere suggestion that faculty would be asked to learn how to teach in this environment. Needless to say, there was a quiet, underlying discussion among faculty that did not surface to the dean or the chair.

By 2005, the university's expectations increased for implementing fully developed online degrees. The classes and degree programs were perceived in a number of interesting ways by veteran professors and created perceptual barriers for considering online course development. The notion that master's level students could receive the quality or instructional rigor from an online experience as opposed to the tradition curriculum was viewed as doubtful. There was a strong feeling that the department was acquiescing to the desires of students at the expense of the learning they would receive in a traditional setting. The concern that the professor was being replaced by technology was also verbalized, as well as the strong feeling that the computer online experience could never take the place of meeting in a traditional classroom with an experienced professor of educational administration. …