Instructional Designers’ and Faculty Learners’ Experiences with Online Course Development Program at a Jesuit University.
Abstract: The use of instructional technology in higher education has been growing at astounding rate worldwide, attracting students from diverse geographical locations, beyond the traditional reach. Considerable research exists that explored the strengths and challenges associated with online education and the desirable faculty skills related to online teaching. However, no published research has addressed the potentially unique challenges related to online education for universities that, because of their mission, offer small on-campus classes, easy student access to faculty, and mission based professional formation of students. One example of such institutions is Jesuit owned Seattle University (SU) in Seattle, United States.The purpose of this study was to investigate (a) the instructional designers’ experiences with teaching an online course development program to faculty and (b) to investigate the participating faculty’s experiences with learning an online course development. Permission to conduct the study was granted by the Institutional Research Board at SU. Yrjö Engeström’s theory was selected as a theoretical framework to guide the investigation. A mixed methods design was employed to conduct the study. In-person interviews were carried out with three instructional designers who teach the online course development program at SU. An online survey was administered to assess the participating faculty’s perceptions of the program. A sample of 38 faculty completed the survey. Summative content analysis was used to conduct qualitative data analysis obtained from the instructional designers’ interviews and narrative comments provided by faculty in their program evaluations. SPSS #18 statistical software was used to calculate means, percentages, and frequencies of quantitative survey data.Data analysis was guided by the selected theoretical framework. It revealed that instructional designers at Seattle University are highly committed to improving students’ access to education, teaching effectiveness, and assisting faculty to expand their skills and knowledge of online teaching tools. Instructional designers are committed to meeting the faculty “where they are” and work collaboratively toward common goals. Tensions resulting from interactions of3instructional designers’ with faculty are related to the lack of many faculty’s buy-in of online education, low educational technology skills among some faculty, and divergence in the understanding of teaching excellence in the context of SU mission by instructional designers and faculty. While most faculty recognized that teaching online or hybrid courses is congruent with the university’s mission, some disagreed, creating tensions relating to teaching “rules” stemming from not only the communities of faculty and instructional designers’ understandings but also from broader cultural context of Jesuit educational traditions in which these interactions are taking place. The majority of faculty acknowledged they lacked sophistication in technological skills to properly administer online courses prior to taking the online course development program and saw the new knowledge as beneficial for both online and face-to-face teaching because of the technological tools they could subsequently use. Still, others, regardless of what they learned, had continued to have doubts about the equivalence of online and face-to-face education and thus, were reluctant adopters. In short, while all participants in the study had as a desired outcome provision of excellent education to students, some experienced tensions relating to the understanding of teaching rules in the Jesuit institution, relations they had with instructional designers and others who didn’t share their beliefs, and the “division of labor” related to teaching itself. Although complete transformation of faculty attitudes toward online and hybrid education at SU has not yet occurred completely, as the university’s senior leadership desires, findings of this study support the Yrjö Engeström’s theory that expansive learning and transformation occur gradually as a result of tensions and contraindications between the members of various activity systems that share common goals but experience tensions resulting from diverse understandings of rules, community relations, and responsibilities that are resolved over time and create a new, altered reality.In conclusion, the tensions identified within and between the two activity systems studied (relations between instructional designers and faculty learning how to create online or hybrid course offerings) are consistent with the Engeström’s proposition that tensions and contraindications are natural part of institutional change and growth. Instructional designers at SU are concerned with the buy-in and development of faculty’s skills to use diverse educational technology tools to offer online, hybrid (blended), and face-to-face education, while many faculty have concerns with changing the course structure from face-to-face to online or hybrid because of how they understand Jesuit pedagogical traditions. In spite the enthusiasm of some faculty it is essential that instructional designers assist many others with improving their educational4technology skills and knowledge, and developing common understanding that the online and hybrid education are congruent with the Jesuit education mission and values, just a different way to live it.
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