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Online Teaching & Learning: Administration

Navigating the Current Moment in Online Teaching & Learning:
Pedagogy, Program Administration & Professional Development 

The current and rapid migration of writing classes offered online, which will not be reversing course in the foreseeable future, offers a range of choices, opportunities, and trade-offs for writing program administrators, those interested in writing pedagogy, and those responsible for faculty professional development and support. 

Program administrators and teachers who are trained and grounded in print literacies, books, and traditional campus culture often perceive this migration as an intrusion into thoughtful, rigorous, pedagogically sound writing instruction; proponents of online courses also claim that teaching and learning online can be thoughtful, rigorous, and pedagogically sound as well. 

These kinds of conflicting claims can provide rich explorations and reflection on the current state of writing instruction, the sites of instruction and production, and opportunities for student success:

Programmatic Assessment of Online Courses:
Local & Contextual

In the spirit of “ask a question first, then deal with the data”:

  • Integrate Quality Matters criteria: Are learning objectives described to help students understand what they will be able to do upon completion of the course? Do the learning outcomes establish a foundation upon which the rest of the course is based? Are course outcomes described in terms that are measurable?
  • What is the level of engagement in our online courses? (forums; portfolios)
  • What is the level of interaction — student-to-student and student-to-faculty — in our online courses? (forums; portfolios)
  • How is our “Process” outcome (editing and revising, say) being enacted and accomplished in our online courses? (forums; portfolios)
  • What educational modalities are being employed in our online courses?  How are they associated with learning outcomes? (course review; portfolios)
  • How do teachers reflect on their course design in the context of learning outcomes and technology use? (faculty reflective statements)

Working notes on observation & assessment:

With online teaching, observers have many more streams of information they can observe for evidence of teaching effectiveness, and there aren’t clear boundaries about what “counts” as teaching behaviors—or even how much time an observer should spend performing an evaluation.


In the typical evaluation of the face-to-face classroom, feedback from students, peers, and administrators is based on in-class performance only. Often, this occurs in response to a one-time observation designed to represent typical teaching behavior. Pre- and post-work (both by the students and by the instructor) is not observed or evaluated. For example, communications that take place outside the face-to-face classroom (e.g., office hours, e-mail messages) are not observed.

For online teaching, however, the lines between “in class” and “out of class” are blurred.

Given the limited scope of our online WRD offerings, we can focus on developing local & contextual approaches to assessing online courses:

  • Ask the instructor if there are any course design vs. teaching concerns
  • Review instructor’s Statement of Interest in teaching online courses 
  • Decide on an outcome in collaboration with the instructor
  • Consider enlisting a FITS representative as a “sherpa”
  • Conduct course observations toward the end of the term, when there will be a more complete set of materials and interactions to observe
  • Focusing on Chickering and Gamson’s principles allows administrators who may not have taught online themselves to look for evidence of effective teaching interactions throughout the online environment: 
    • Encourage student-faculty contact
    • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
    • Use active learning techniques
    • Give prompt feedback
    • Emphasize time-on-task
    • Communicate high expectations
    • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning
  • For either teaching observations or program assessment — or both — solicit narrative statements from instructors, inviting them to reflect on methods, outcomes, materials, and contexts that you are prioritizing in your review
  • For program-assessment activities, consider inviting students, alumni, and industry partners to participate.

Some of these materials are adapted from Warnock, “Studies Comparing Outcomes Among Onsite, Hybrid, and Fully-Online Writing Courses” (WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, No. 21) and  Tobin, et al., Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices (in press).

Online Teaching Observations 

WRD202 pilot, Summer 2015 (.docx)

From the Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI):

OWI Principle 7: Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) for OWI programs and their online writing teachers should receive appropriate OWI-focused training, professional development, and assessment for evaluation and promotion purposes.

This principle establishes an environment in which WPAs and their online writing teachers can develop, thrive, and meet OWI students’ needs. Prior to supervising OWI teachers, WPAs need to have training and experience in OWI. Regarding faculty, OWI-teacher candidates should be selected first from a pool of experienced and proven writing teachers. Teachers—especially novice teachers (e.g., graduate student teachers) and contingent faculty—should not be placed into OWCs until they have received appropriate training by their WPAs and institution. Although such a requirement places restrictions on the teaching pool, institutions should establish some way of training teachers and having them demonstrate their ability to teach writing online before they do so with an OWC.

WPAs and OWI teachers need proficiency in three specific areas. (1) They must be able to teach writing. (2) They must be able to teach writing specifically in a digital environment. (3) They must be able to teach writing in a course in which text is the primary communicative mode. Similarly, WPAs and OWI teachers need support through regular professional development opportunities and mentoring. As professional knowledge and theories change regarding OWI, active OWI teachers and WPAs who supervise them need to be educated and given opportunities to enact new ideas in their teaching and programs. Additionally, OWI programs and teaching should be assessed regularly and appropriately for the environment and in a manner comparable to traditional courses/writing program in the institution or unit.

Example Effective Practices for OWI Principle 7