Improving the Student Experience Through Professional Development

Appalachian State University
“We want the student experience to be excellent whether a class is face-to-face, blended or online.”Tom Van Gilder, Director of Learning Technology Services

As the recent exploratory study “Award-Winning Faculty Online Teaching Practices: Roles and Competencies” highlights, online instructors assume many roles, each with its own responsibilities. So, how can online instructors best prepare themselves to fulfill those roles and responsibilities? That’s a question that Appalachian State University found itself asking recently. “This past November our Provost made the commitment to invest in our faculty and their efforts for quality online teaching and learning,” said Tom Van Gilder, Appalachian’s Director of Learning Technology Services. “After researching what was available and thinking about whether we could build this ourselves, we chose Quality Matters Teaching Online Certificate (TOC) program. We liked the fact that the content is evidence-based and provides a solid scaffolding approach to online course content and delivery.”

Currently, a cohort of 16 Appalachian faculty members and two instructional designers are working their way through the seven TOC workshops. The University finds the dedicated cohort approach very beneficial. “Not only are we piloting the TOC format with faculty, but we’re also making use of the course forums to talk through a range of ideas we’re considering for our campus,” shared Instructional Designer Rachel Clark. “It’s like having access to an ad hoc test group every day for an entire semester as we think through new ideas for our campus. We can tell right away where we have good buy-in and where we might need to build some.”

While the cohort approach is facilitating important group discussions, individual learning is also taking place. Rachel and fellow Instructional Designer Emory Maiden agree that takeaways from the workshops vary from person to person, with each participant finding value in different topics. However, Rachel noted that everyone’s interest was piqued with the Exploring Your Institution’s Policies workshop, which, according to Rachel, “raised faculty awareness around the need for being very deliberate and detailed with course policies as well as the need for refinement of institutional policies.”

The benefits of the TOC, though, go beyond the workshop participants. As Emory explained, “Much of the coursework in the TOC is designed to have the faculty examine their course through the perspective of their students. Having faculty experiencing the courses as online learners and focusing their attention on their own course design and considering how learners might interact with the course resources and activities will likely yield better experiences for our students.”

At the end of the day, that is what matters most — the student experience. “Appstate is renowned for quality teaching. It is a point of pride for us. We want the student experience to be excellent whether a class is face-to-face, blended or online,” expressed Tom. “The TOC program ensures that our faculty are going through a rigorous professional development program and they will take these skills to develop quality courses for our students.”

In addition to the TOC, Quality Matters offers many professional development opportunities to help online instructors develop or refine their online teaching skills. Take time to review all of our available professional development options and find the one that that is right for your team.