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March 19, 2021

ElevatED (S2:3): Raising Faculty Confidence and Competence with Delivering Synchronous Online Learning

Graduate programs at University of Denver’s University College are specifically designed to provide students with skills that can be immediately applied to their career. In order to meet that mission, professional practitioners are tapped as instructors in each graduate program to bring real-world, first-hand experience into the classroom.

In order to ensure our industry-practitioner adjunct instructors have the skills, support, and resources to effectively and confidently engage students in synchronous, online courses, the Online Teaching Ambassador (OTA) initiative was formed to provide robust instructor training across all disciplines in the fall 2020 and winter 2021 quarters.

This episode of the ElevatED Podcast features University College adjunct instructor, Bridget Arend, who specializes in higher education and adult learning, as well as spearheads OTA. She shares what spurred the program, the vision for the training, and the success it has achieved.   

Embracing and Supporting Online Learning

Higher education found itself having to change almost everything when the pandemic hit, particularly when it came to shifting to online learning. While University College already offered a wide range of virtual classes, there were several on-campus classes that had to restructure to synchronous online.

“Fortunately, for us at University College, it wasn’t a huge pivot, but we did need to accommodate those students who were supposed to be taking classes on campus. We shifted those courses to online synchronous sessions, via Zoom, and in doing that, we realized that there was a lot more support that we needed to offer to our adjunct instructors,” said Bridget.

 In order to ensure adjuncts had the resources they needed, OTA recruited existing faculty members to serve as ambassadors to help navigate synchronous online teaching. Ten faculty ambassadors were chosen from a field of applicants, and they joined Bridget in creating the training.

“One of our goals was to inspire, excite and build community. This is perhaps the way that we’re going to probably be teaching courses for a long time, at least in some capacity.” said Bridget. “We wanted to share this excitement around online learning and not make it something that was a requirement that you had to learn, but rather something that was fun that we could explore together.”

Teaching the Teachers

After about six weeks of development, the ambassador group designed several sessions revolving around learning, practicing, and troubleshooting Zoom tools, as well as just connecting on common issues. The idea was to help instructors be familiar with online delivery, become familiar with engaging students virtually, and get other faculty feedback into day-to-day teaching challenges.

“Honestly, a lot of what we ended up doing in our sessions was going back to the basics type of ideas. Like lesson planning and little things like letting students know what you’re going to be doing in the synchronous session and sending out an agenda,” said Bridget.

The sessions were well-received and participants have expressed interest in continuing this type of training on some level, whether online learning remains the normal or courses return to the classroom.

“We had a lot of excitement and a lot of interest. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive in terms of building community, getting to know other faculty, and being able to brainstorm their particular questions with each other because we left lots of room in these sessions for open discussion and for small group discussion. People were really able to talk about things that were meaningful to them right then and there,” Bridget said.

To learn more about how OTA came together to design the adjunct instructor training sessions and more, Listen to the full interview with Bridget on the ElevatED Podcast below.

Catch up with the entire ElevatED Podcast.

The ElevatED podcast is a space for conversations around the intersection of industry and higher education for adult learners. Brought to you by the University of Denver’s college of continuing and professional studies, University College.

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