Skill Building Opportunities for Distance Learning Professionals

As with any profession, distance learning instructors have a range of options to develop new and different career skills and maintain efficiency in the classroom. In this industry, technology consistently evolves and instructors must refresh teaching methods in order to reach students effectively. If you’re unable to slip away for a conference and are searching for something more engaging than a standard teaching manual, skill building with colleagues on your own campus provides timely and convenient educational opportunities.

North Lake College in Irving, Texas, is doing just that. Faculty-led efforts include training sessions for online course development, a collaborative support program for instructors and implementation of a teaching approach from a nationwide distance learning organization.

Patricia Thompson, chemistry professor at North Lake, has taught distance learning for the past six years. She says her biggest struggles are keeping students engaged with online courses and dispelling the myth that distance learning is easy.

“Online courses have a bad reputation because students think it’s going to be easier,” Thompson said. “We want North Lake’s distance learning courses to be of high quality so students put forth as much effort and receive as much education as they do in our on-campus classes.”

Before North Lake instructors create online courses, they must go through an internal training process that introduces online teaching software as well as pedagogy. They’re also introduced to Quality Matters (QM), a national program that certifies best practices for distance education through established guidelines, peer reviews and continuous improvement. Following this process, North Lake instructors develop their courses.

“It’s easier to design the online course from the ground up rather than having to go back and recreate it,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to bring all our online courses up to Quality Matters standards so we will be a campus with effective online courses for students.”

QM provides a rubric for instructors to follow when designing their online courses. It includes learning objectives, assessment and measurement, instructional materials and more.  Instructors may apply for QM certification and undergo a review process after teaching their course for several semesters.

One other skill building opportunity that North Lake and other campuses across the country use is the Teaching Squares program. Originally established at St. Louis Community College, this philosophy enriches teaching through a structured process of classroom observations and shared reflection.

A teaching square consists of four faculty members from different disciplines who spend several weeks visiting one another’s classrooms, sharing teaching materials, discussing classroom observations and reflecting with colleagues at lunch meetings. In the case of North Lake, Thompson and her colleagues enroll in one another’s virtual courses instead of visiting classrooms.

In addition to the skill building tactics utilized at North Lake College, you can also develop skills in the same manner that you teach your students – through the Internet. Webinars are just one effective way to learn. The U.S. Distance Learning Associationmaintains an archive of its previous presentations. Hands-On Labs also provides a wealth of information on its website and in the Online Science Educator.

As an instructor, you have the ability to continuously improve your teaching methods. Whether you are collaborating and growing with other teachers or listening to tips from industry experts, it is possible to stay on top of the best practices to provide quality education to your students.

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