Stand out in online education once again

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The online instructor was once a unicorn. They delved into professional development and obsessed over learning every new update to a learning management system. They could engage students miles away at any hour of the day. They had a specialization that stood out in the adjunct pool, but that all began to change in March 2020. At that point, they were prepared — perhaps even shared course material and experience with colleagues to get through those tough first few months.

Now it’s several years later and that expertise is not as niche as before as more instructors have embraced online learning. For better or for worse, nearly every educator today can say they have taught online in some form. How can online instructors regain unicorn status?

 Here are several professional development options to add some magic to your CV.

Get involved

As an adjunct, it can be difficult to stay involved with every campus you work with, but making connections is worthwhile. Take advantage of institutional training and workshop offerings. Not only will this provide opportunities to learn above and beyond the basics, but it will also show how the online division is promoting consistency in course design. Your course will be in tune with how other instructors are developing their courses for that particular institution. This can also bring a new perspective to courses on other campuses.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the Instructional Technology Council, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

 Innovation starts with teamwork and departments are continually developing projects that will need instructor insight and experience. Your department could be discussing new assessments and experience at other colleges could be valuable. In addition, many departments and even online divisions will often run pilot programs for new course designs or technologies; getting involved could lead to innovation in courses and stronger campus relationships.

Certificate programs for your students and you

Certificate programs are huge right now so look for more online class opportunities outside of the department, and look into continuing education or workforce development departments to see how they have shifted into the online classroom for the long term.

In addition, certifications may be a great route for personal development. These programs are usually shorter than a degree program and provide career-related perspectives — they get to the point. Penn State World Campus offers several certificate programs such as distance education, e-learning design, and educational technology integration.

MOOCs like Coursera offer something more affordable and even more flexible. Enroll in courses such as inclusive online teaching from Johns Hopkins University or delve into digital storytelling from the University of Houston. Many of these courses are free, but they also offer certification programs or online degrees for a monthly subscription fee. Upon completion, Coursera offers a certificate or digital badge.

Micro-credential courses are also becoming very popular in professional development, like the Instructional Technology Council’s (ITC) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Humanizing Online Course or Assessment Strategies/Measuring Student Learning in Online Courses. Like MOOCs, such as Coursera, ITC’s micro-credential course is self-paced and provides a digital badge upon completion.

Identify the online course tools that are licensed through your institutions and see if these products have mastery courses or boot camps. VoiceThread, a multi-modal discussion platform, offers regular workshops and a certified educators program that combines learning the tool’s functionality through a pedagogical lens. Web conferencing tool Zoom has curated its virtual training to develop a series of mini-courses designed specifically for education that includes topics like collecting classroom data and engaging your students. Even the popular online quiz tool Kahoot offers various levels of training where you can earn diplomas or digital badging.

Course evaluations

Many campuses offer course review options using industry-trusted evaluation processes like Quality Matters as a requirement for new courses or a volunteer option. If your course is automatically Quality Matters (or another respected evaluation process) reviewed, make sure it is listed on your CV. If it is a volunteer process, consider getting your online courses reviewed. Even experienced online instructors can benefit from a course review, this process can open a conversation on how to make improvements, ensure you are meeting institutional guidelines, or get creative with people who are also passionate about online course design. If you enjoy course evaluations, Quality Matters offers several different professional development options that includes becoming a QM reviewer.

With so many options for professional development, it can be overwhelming to get started. A good place to start would be an institution’s Center for Teaching and Learning or a similar department. Its focus is professional development so its staff may provide some insight and may have even participated in a few of these options so you can get a qualified review on whether your time will be wisely spent. Professional development can be time-consuming, but the end result is always magical.

About the Author

Brooke Litten
Dr. Brooke Litten is an instructional designer for Rowan College of South Jersey. She is the Northeast regional representative for the Instructional Technology Council, (ITC). Along with working as an instructional designer, Litten teaches critical thinking online with Mercy College and first-year writing courses at various New Jersey community colleges.