Teaching the Teacher: Distance Ed Instructors Aren't Born, They're Made. Then They're Quality Controlled. Is This Any Way to Run a University? (Training/Online Education)

Article excerpt

Mark Zupan, Dean of the Eller College of Business and Public Administration at the University of Arizona, is facing a bit of a quandary. The school's Department of Management Information Systems (MIS) ranked fourth in the country in U.S. News & World Report's annual evaluation of graduate business programs--certainly, good news for Eller. It's not surprising, then, that Zupan wants to maintain the school's strengths. But he also wants to meet the graduate students' need for flexibility. That flexibility, however, means meeting the students' demand for online classes--and there's the rub.

"I'm skeptical that you can deliver high-quality business education via the Net," says Zupan. "Case studies, teamwork--that's all a part of the MBA, and if you don't have that, you miss out. I'm just not a fan of distance learning." But Zupan is no Luddite either, and as a university administrator, he's a realist. So, in 1999, the graduate program added a modified distance class for students in the Silicon Valley as well as for those in its home Tucson market.

Yet, as Eller committed to the virtual classroom initiative, Zupan and his colleagues began to realize that instructors needed directions to get on the Information Highway. The professors' mastery of their chosen subject matter wasn't the issue, but it soon became apparent that many of the teachers needed technological coaching. It turned out that the very faculty who had helped make Eller a U.S. News Favorite also needed handholding in tech basics. They needed a tech support capability to help define and create a topical course listserv; the ability to develop a sense of community among virtual classmates; the facility to establish schedules for revising and posting class notes to Web sites (so that all students would have the opportunity to download them before class); even the sense of knowing where to stand during a video-recorded lecture.

Until the distance learning venture, Zupan hadn't imagined that stage direction would be part of his job description. But with the increased interest in distance learning programs, a recessionary economy leading laid-off and career-concerned workers back to school, and heightened IHE interest in new revenue streams, issues such as video-cam stage presence were suddenly be coming important to university administrators. In addition to the other online concerns now facing them (concerns such as maintaining sufficient bandwidth availability; quality control; and consistency of curriculum, online, and other distance courses), there was a new concern: how to train the trainers.

No matter the subject or educator, say distance ed experts, the basic truth of e-learning is that a good classroom lecturer does not necessarily make a good online teacher. College administrators like Zupan now admit that ignoring the necessity of training faculty for virtual education could leave them out in the cold.

TRAINING FOR A NEW KIND OF PEDAGOGY

According to Brian Nueller, VP/C00 of the for-profit adult education giant University of Phoenix, "Teaching an online course requires a special skill set: not only that of knowing how to deliver content, but of knowing what content is most effective online. You can't present the same material in the same way to a learning team in a threaded online conversation as you would in a traditional lecture."

With 17,000 total faculty members--5,500 of whom teach online courses (a number that has doubled since 2001 and is estimated to double again in 2003)--UOP claims it is the industry leader in developing faculty training initiatives. In fact, the UOP system trains an average of 600 new faculty every month, through its online prep program, which was developed in-house.

The program starts with an unpaid four-week online session, administered asynchronously, so that prospective faculty--who come both from other universities as well as industry--can log on whenever they have the time, rather than at set hours. …