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					                                                  Table ronde AIU/IAUP/EUA, Skagen, May 2001
                           Echanges d’expériences dans la mise en œuvre des TIC dans les universités
                                                                                  Communications (2)

Transforming classroom professors into virtual class mentors.
Fabio Chacón, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, USA


This paper refers to a training experience of the author with several groups of professors of three
traditional universities in Venezuela that have succeeded in readapting their skills from face-to-face to
distance or semi-distance education. The author analyses the key elements involved in this process,
which are not only technological in nature but also involve changes in their perception of the subject
matter, communication skills and interaction in learning communities. This experience can be useful to
any other higher education institution that faces a similar challenge of converting faculty from
traditional settings to Web-based education.


Few higher education institutions these days are delivering courses and programs only in a traditional,
face-to-face manner. Instead, they supplement their courses with some form of distance education –
among the variety of existing modalities: self-paced courses, correspondence education, self-
instructional modules, teleconferencing, Web-based instruction, etc. Furthermore, the ever-growing
coverage of the Internet has created new opportunities for enriching the offer of colleges, universities
and corporations, as it is evident through a rapid Internet search of online education. Two main drives
behind this extraordinary expansion can easily be identified: the institutions’ interest to tap new
markets, in terms of learners, and the acquisition of an international presence in an everyday more
globalized education. Many institutions participating in this new endeavour have also established
faculty development programs that encourage instructional improvement, including the use of
information technology tools. Considering all these advances, one can formulate a logical question:
What can be an efficient way of facilitating the transition of faculty from the lecturing and
conversational habits to the new technology-supported learning environments? This paper attempts to
provide an answer to this question based on a reflection on successful practices plus some theoretical
speculation. The answer is by no means definitive, but at least worth considering by any institution
carrying out the initial steps to "virtualize" the teaching and learning process.

The bulk of experience on which this contribution is based arises from the author’s experiences in
several Venezuelan universities, such as Universidad Nacional Abierta, Universidad Central,
Universidad de Carabobo, topped by a recent liaison with the Nova Southeastern University (NSU,
2001) where a considerable number of faculty from different universities are trained to be distance
educators in technology-enhanced learning systems.

Purpose of This Paper

This document aims to provide the institutions attending the Joint Round Table of IAU, IAUP and
CRE some guidelines for a successful training program, addressing faculty needs. The participant
institutions will be able to discuss the concepts and principles presented here and eventually apply
them. There is no such thing as a "fix recipe" for preparing the new educator that is required by the
emerging systems. However, the continuous interaction of faculty through national and international
meetings like this will certainly contribute to the creation of a renewed academic profession or –
perhaps more exactly – a number of intertwined academic professions in the realm of technology-
based systems.
Scope of Faculty Training in This Context

Distance technologies and the paradigms of distance learning created new possibilities for curriculum
tracks in Higher Education. Although universities have been hesitant to exploit these possibilities, a
number of options are clearly open. They can be classified into two broad categories: Graduate
programs dealing with distance education and/or instructional technology, and short-term training
programs that enable faculty to work in a distance education environment. The discussion in this paper
focuses on the later, as Graduate Education has to do more with faculty development goals that go
beyond the adaptation to a new model of work. Distance technologies include media that make
possible the accumulation and distribution of expert knowledge to proceed much further than
traditional books and papers. Video and audio recording, computer based instruction, telephone-based
audioconferencing, compressed video, satellite transmission and other media make expert knowledge
accessible to not only appropriately equipped classrooms, but thousands of remote sites, including
home and workplaces.

To achieve a high performance solution, it is imperative that a systematic approach is applied to the
planning and development of distance learning materials, instructional methods, and communications
infrastructure. All these goals converge in a single specific issue: the training of faculty in order to
upgrade their skills and knowledge with respect to the new educational models and accompanying
technologies. Traditional course preparation ranges dramatically among regular faculty. Many
professors prepare little more than a topical syllabus and allow lessons to emerge from classroom
interaction coupled with their personal expertise on the subject matter and communication skills.
Others prepare learning objectives, activities, and materials, taking an approach that is a little more
systematic to the facilitation of learning. However, independently of which category they are in, most
of them are ill prepared for a situation in which clients and faculty are physically apart. Then the
course structures and materials have to be developed in ways that reduce misinterpretation and

Added to the complexity of the task is the fact that distance education is not a single method of
education, but a collection of methods and techniques dependent on diverse media and approaches.
There are ways of teaching through videoconferencing that remarkably differ from teaching through
Web interaction, just to give an example. This means that preparing faculty for working in a variety of
distance settings, with a variety of communications media, requires a considerable effort both on the
part of the technologist who does the training and on the part of those that receive it. For the purpose
of this paper, the focus of analysis will be in the specific training required by faculty that work or will
work in Web-based education – this being one of the most widespread and integrative forms of
distance education nowadays.

Stating a Purpose for Training

The reasons why a particular faculty member becomes involved in distance education training can be
very varied in nature: Accomplishment of an assigned function by the department, desire to maintain
employability in times of change, love for innovation at any rate, pursuit of an international presence,
etc. At the start of training, it is important to inquire about these motives because they determine to a
certain extent the amount of effort and perseverance that the trainee will put in the process. Anyhow, it
is convenient to state at the very beginning the competencies that the program would develop. They
will serve as a kind of contract between the faculty and the administrators of the training program

Following is a list of competencies that will most likely form part of a training program conceived at
the beginnings of this XXI Century:

       Be able to apply course design for distance delivery
       Proficiency with the media to be used for course development and delivery
       Conduct student support – which involves advising, assessment and feedback- through
        distance media
       Provision of opportunities for collaborative learning among students and with other people’s
       Evaluation of the courses and the technology with appropriate strategies
       Be able to maintain course and program quality
       Be able to publish distance courses in the global web environment.

This list of competencies can be broken down into specific learning objectives, and supplemented with
others that the college or university deems essential for distance educators. It is convenient to state
also that these competencies do not mean an all or nothing compromise for faculty. There are different
combinations and degrees of mastery for each person, because the key for highly successful distance
education is the combined effort of faculty and supporting staff; it is never a solo endeavour.

The Training Curriculum

This core section of the paper is dedicated to presenting the elements of a training program addressing
the needs of faculty members who decide to update their skills to the new information-technology
paradigms of distance education.

1. Preliminary Competency Assessment

Prior to initiating training, it is convenient that the faculty members carry out an assessment of their
skills related to distance education. This can be done through a self-assessment instrument based on
the list of competencies discussed above. These competencies, and others considered important by the
institution, are detailed into more specific skills that in turn identify the items of this instrument. The
instrument by itself can be made available in the institution intranet, so faculty fills it when they
require training. It is important to make sure that the results of application remain confidential, as they
will be used only for planning appropriate training activities for each faculty member participating in
the program.

2. Instructional Design

This stage is a review of what the professors already know about planning a course, such as: defining
the audience, writing learning objectives, analysing content, etc. The idea is to establish a common
language that the entire group can understand. However, a new topic is in order here: How to design
interaction activities associated with each section of the course. The faculty members must think of
forms in which they will help the students learn the topics or units of a course through methods that do
not involve class presentation. Students will interact with knowledge instead of passively receiving
messages. This requires intervention of non-expositive instructional methods and can involve anything
from discussions to projects. Exercises must be conceived that break the long-rooted habits of
lecturing that so many professors have.

3. Overview of Course Development Model

The author of this paper uses a course development model (see model below) that is composed of ten
steps, grouped into four main processes: Planning, Production, Evaluation and Delivery. The key point
here is not that professors embrace this model, but that they have an overview of the complexity of the
whole endeavour of distance education and try to break it down in smaller, manageable, work units.
The author encourages the trainees to look at other models in the literature or even formulate their
own. A whole session of the workshop compares different models regarding their effectiveness and
efficiency. Faculty then come up with a set of steps that they can handle and replicate with any course
that they would like to transform from face-to-face to online instruction.
                              COURSE DEVELOPMENT MODEL
Planning                             1.Design course outline

                                     2. Write scripts for modules or units
Production                           3. Elaborate/select resources for the course

                                     4. Create assessment materials

                                     5. Define final interactive model of the course

                                     6. Transfer resources to the Web environment
Evaluation                           7. Quality review of resources before transferring to Web

                                     8. Pilot test of the course prototype
Delivery                             9. Program course in the service environment

                                     10. Final delivery of the course

5. Pedagogical Tools

This section is perhaps the most creative aspect of the training process, because the professor uses
accumulated knowledge and skills to create a new model for teaching a course. Under guidance of the
training facilitator, she or he will be involved in using a number of technology devices to work with
course content in order to generate make-ups of instructional materials in digital form that later will be
revised and refined. In order of complexity, these pedagogical tools are:

             1. Conceptual Mapping: using a mapping program (e.g., MindManager), the professor
                generates a branching graph that represents his/her view of the conceptual structure of
                the course. This map transforms automatically into a series of linked web pages.
             2. Interaction Mapping: Based on the conceptual map, the professor selects the most
                appropriate learning "path" that a novice student would follow when learning the
                course. Then he indicates what kind of interaction activities can go on in the Web
                pages, corresponding to knowledge units of the course.
             3. Use of Learning Templates: The professor reviews a number of predesigned learning
                activities that correspond to best practices in Web-based instruction. They include, for
                instance: brief introduction of a concept, demonstration of a procedure, guided
                practice about a procedure, discussion of an idea with multiple views, dialogue in a
                forum, problem-driven sequence and so forth. These templates function as the
                building blocks of successful instruction.
             4. Script Writing: Based on all former learning activities, the professor writes a script
                for each one of the units or lessons of the Web-based course. She/he will receive
                advice of the training facilitator during the whole process. A flexible format is used
                for script writing, so the different sections can be presented in column form, as a
                conceptual map or as storyboard. In addition, faculty must take into account three
                important criteria during the whole process: optimum sequence of content, inclusion
                of multimedia elements, and maintaining permanent activity of the learner.

6. Student Assessment in eLearning
Student assessment must form part of the learning activities of a course. However, assessment has
certain technical aspects that require separate treatment, such as formative and summative evaluation,
question-writing techniques, and assessment through projects, marking assignments and providing
feedback. These aspects form part of a discussion with the faculty, so they can develop a clear idea of
the assessment plan for the course.

7. Techniques for Advising Students Online
A necessary complement of assessment is student advising, which in this case is mostly accomplished
through online interaction. In great part, the techniques for advising at-a-distance form part of the
interactions in which faculty participate during the course, so they learn them by direct practice. In the
training program, there is an intensive use of forums, chat sessions, E-Mail messages and collective
product critiques. Some readings are added to help develop the conceptual foundations of
collaborative learning.

8. Technical Tools
Although it is not expected that faculty members become versed in all types of multimedia instruments
and techniques, it is convenient that they have some hands-on experience with basic media because
then they will be more likely to be inclined to use them when they develop courses. They receive
orientation for using a few media and accomplish hands-on experiences with them. The products of
this activity are analysed in peer-review discussions. The media that receive more attention in this
program are as follows:

            1. Digital Photography: basic photography techniques, illumination, study of the
               different types of shots and a few effect techniques.
            2. Teleconferencing: The emphasis is in techniques that make this resource more
               effective. The most important are developing a careful sequencing and timing of the
               topics, and ways of activating the response from the audience. Computer-based
               conferencing for asynchronous delivery is preferred over synchronous conference, for
               cost reasons. However, the faculty receives orientation for both of them.
            3. Digital Audio Recording: The professors learn how to register good audio quality for
               delivery through the web.
            4. Digital Video Recording: Videotape for asynchronous delivery involves some kind
               of studio or field production of a presentation, electronic field trip, or demonstration
               and variations on these themes for delivery to clients to view at their convenience. The
               workshop participants watch initially several examples of high quality video, to begin
               conceptualizing the kind of production they require. Next, they create several simple
               samples of on camera work, listening carefully to the instructor's advice. The samples
               are peer-reviewed and the group generates recommendations for future work.
            5. Multimedia Presentations: One of the best forms of realizing how to integrate
               different resources into a learning unit is to conceive a multimedia presentation, using
               one of the presentation packages available in the market. Therefore, the faculty
               designs a product in which they have to include at least two more media besides the
               presentation program by itself. This is a highly constructive experience in terms of
            6. Internet as Learning Environment: Most professors are accustomed to use Internet
               as a tool for research and exchange of messages through E-Mail or forums. A brief
               section of the course shows that there is much more in the Internet than that:
               Interactive databases, virtual display environments, object simulations, collaboration
               spaces, virtual museums, and so forth. The idea is to allow professors to become
               versed in a variety of Internet resources that they can apply within the framework of a
            7. Instructional Platform for Web-Delivery: The final step in the learning of technical
               skills is the actual integration and deployment of instructional resources in a course
               delivery platform, such as WebCT, Blackboard, Manhattan or Prometheus. The
               professors learn the basics about how to build a course in one of these environments,
               and how to administer it during delivery.
In the explanation of this whole training process, it the author has intentionally avoided the term
"course" to describe it, because this will lead to think that the only way of training faculty is to pack
them in a course. This process must be rather conceived as a general training plan that can be delivered
as a long course, a set of short courses, a distance education program, a set of tutored sessions, or
combinations of these strategies. The author has tested all of them and the experience is that they can
be equally effective. The intensive course may take two full weeks. The short courses may take a
comparable period, but spread over a longer time. The distance education experience took about three

Lessons Learned

The whole experience of training several groups of professors in the process of becoming virtual tutors
has been very rewarding. Many specific issues and ideas arise from these experiences. However, the
format of a conference paper demands concision and concreteness. So, a few of the more salient points
will be recalled here for the benefit of other people engaged in a similar endeavour. Each point is first
stated and then explained. There are ten of them, but they are not to be read as "Ten Commandments";
only as elements of advice that every faculty would combine with others from their own experience.

        1. Start with a topic that is well known to faculty
        A tendency of many professors and trainers of Instructional Technology is to ask the
        faculty to do exercises and assignments based on the content of this discipline. This
        may frighten many of them who are not specialists in this field and add little value to
        learning. The technologist must recognize that the professors have been learning and
        teaching a given discipline for years; so, it is better to ask them to propose a topic in
        which they want to work for the training period, and start from there. It will take more
        effort on the part of the technologist, but she/he must recognize that instructional
        technology is in part learning from advisees about their specific content areas.

        2. Create a very detailed concept map
        Once the faculty has chosen a certain topic, one of the first exercises must be to develop a very
        detailed concept map, using a mapping application such as Mind Manager. This exercise
        reveals many aspects that are useful for designing instruction; among them: the expert’s view
        of content, linkages among topics, difficult points that demand extra support, connections with
        external sources and the recommended sequences for acquiring learning.

        3. Brainstorm learning strategies
        When professors come to the point of choosing a strategy for teaching something on the Web,
        they often go back to the old habits, and produce a lesson that is quite close to the process of
        browsing pages in a book. One way of avoiding this is to ask the opinion of others that have
        not taught the same course or belong to another discipline. After a little time of group
        discussion some fresh ideas start blooming. According to the criterion of permanent activity,
        stated above, the Web-based lesson must be an opportunity for learning by doing, not only

        4. Interactive script-writing
        At a certain point during training, the professor must write a script for an interactive lesson
        that the students will take on the Web. This is not an easy step, because most professors have
        never done such thing – except when they have come from the Communication Sciences.
        Therefore, instead of asking for the full script on a certain deadline and having do a lot of
        corrections to this preliminary product, it is better to do the correction process interactively.
        For instance, the instructor demands from the faculty that they present their scripts as
        attachments in a discussion forum. Then, anyone can make comments and suggestions. If this
        sounds quite sophisticated, then the script drafts can just be sent by E-Mail and the author
receives a response in a day or so. All this depends on the amount of time available on the
instructor’s side.

5. Early "translation" of script to Web
Do not wait weeks in order to see the professors’ scripts transformed into active pages
delivered on a Web server. With the aid of appropriate software, the scripts can be almost
automatically transformed into Web pages. Nowadays, many wordprocessors and presentation
software come with a HTML export function that allows for such transformation. Teach the
professors how to do this, and they will be able to see an approximate version of the final
product as they progress in writing the script. This involves learning also some critical skills,
such as keeping record of different types of files in the computer, transferring images and
video clips to web pages, using tables on the Web, etc.

6. Playful learning of multimedia technology
If someone over 25 or 30 and has not learned photography, sound recording or video shots
with a hand camera, there must be strong reasons for that, as these media are available for the
public consumer. It might be that this person dislikes anything that has to do with handling
such devices, or did not have the opportunity before to use them. So one must be careful when
teaching adults how to operate hardware devices as sources of multimedia instruction. One
good way is to make it a pleasant experience, by designing open and flexible workshops in
which each one has opportunity for expression. In every group, it is possible to find people
that already have some skills in these areas – so they can be monitors to others.

7. Embedding artistic criteria in multimedia
It is not true that educational multimedia can be dull and sloppy if content is good, while
commercial multimedia must be always interesting and snappy. These two worlds are finding
many points of encounter nowadays. It is important for the instructor to stress also aesthetic
criteria in every aspect of multimedia design and production. It is out of the scope of a
workshop for faculty to explain the artistic elements of photography, sound, animation and
video – but at least the instructor can analyse basic elements, and point to other sources for
relevant criteria whenever the topic comes into discussion.

8. Conception of the Web page as a dynamic structure
The Web has been functioning for a little less than a decade and one can already say "In the
beginning, it was HTML; today, it is XML, Java, JTML, interaction with SQL, and so
forth…" Without going into technical details, one can say that the Web has undergone a
change from static to dynamic, from passive to active, from command-driven to data-driven.
The professor that designs instructional programs does not need to become expert in all these
languages, but at least must know what the functions they can provide and how they add value
to educational programs. In other words, the faculty must be able to make articulate requests
to the computer engineers.

9. Create learning communities with faculty involved in distance education
One basic tenet of today’s emergent discipline of Knowledge Management is that any
knowledge existing in an organization will be lost in a short time, unless people share it and
make it available through the electronic media. The faculty that begins to create distance
education programs in an institution is, at the same time, creating acumen of knowledge from
which many people can benefit. Then, it is convenient to create virtual communities among
these people that will allow increasing and preserving this knowledge. This principle is the
same that urged the creation of libraries in the beginnings of universities, but the technology
has evolved so much that now virtual libraries can grow and multiply like living organisms.

10. Capitalize collaborative learning
This principle is a consequence of the former. With the creation of learning communities, and
        sometimes without them, the members of a university or college can have a highly positive
        influence on themselves. The training model described in this paper encourages in every
        moment the use of collaborative learning, through chats, forums, peer reviews,
        teleconferences, collective web pages and other devices that can foster communication among
        the learners (which means everybody).


The institution that provides online education must determine the kind of training to provide to the
faculty based on: 1) the particular model of distance education chosen by the institution; and 2) the
technologies that are in place. Faculty are likely to be more confident and effective if they understand
what they are being asked to do, and why. They need to know the capabilities of the technologies
available to them so that they can use these tools effectively to meet their instructional objectives.

The people responsible for training must present a schedule of workshops and advisory hours well in
advance of the beginning of the semester; giving faculty sufficient time to redesign, modify, or adapt
their courses and assignments specifically to the new delivery mode. The professors can engage in
different models of training, depending on the time available and the urgency of the distance education
process. Some will prefer a formal course, some others short workshops and a few will wish for
distance education experience by themselves.

Traditional higher education institutions have few internal incentives to encourage faculty to become
involved in distance education activities, although this panorama is changing due to the emerging
competitiveness about marketing to distance learners. The traditional reward structure, with its
emphasis on research and publication, may actually discourage many professors who might otherwise
be interested. Institutions should establish then incentives that explicitly recognize the additional time
spent in training and in planning an effective distance education course. There is also an intrinsic
reward in terms that the professor who adapts a course to a new mode of delivery has access to a wider
variety of resources and to technical support; the institution must make this clearly evident. Among
these types of support, one might find the following: advice in instructional design and technology,
video production, graphics production, access to authoring tools, and other computer-based resources.
Faculty who volunteer to participate in new modes of delivery are usually more successful and
experience greater satisfaction than those who are assigned to participate; however, it is imperative to
find supporting faculty for each course being offered in the system. The training program then
becomes an attraction point for both previously interested faculty, who usually become distance
mentors, and less interested faculty that opts for the rewards offered by the system. If an institution
achieves both goals over a sustained period, it can reach high levels of success in the distance
education endeavour.