Conference Objects

Supporting Successful Live Online Classes: Good Instructional Design is Not Enough

Marquart, Matthea S.; Fleming, Michael P.

Online Learning Consortium International Conference 2014 Session -- Even the best-designed online course faces a make-it-or-break-it moment when the live online classes begin. Successful execution requires support and coaching. This session will describe how Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education (CU SCE) promotes the successful execution of live online classes, which are a key component of CU SCE’s online course offerings. Session participants will come away with best practices and practical tips for implementing similar strategies at their own universities, with a range of staffing levels and budgets. Once a semester begins and live online classes launch, online faculty face many barriers to a successful semester. Technical issues can easily derail an online class. Individual students may need support with connection issues and equipment setup, while faculty need to focus on teaching the whole class. Interactive activities such as polls, videos with debrief discussions, and breakout groups require preparation. Chat conversations require constant monitoring. Student attendance and participation require tracking when they impact grades. New online faculty need to develop online instructional skills over time, and can feel confused by the many tools and overwhelmed by the many differences from face-to-face classroom instruction. At CU SCE, live online classes are a key component of the online courses we offer. They are weekly classes hosted in Adobe Connect for 90-120 minutes for the duration of the semester and led by a course instructor with a teaching assistant facilitator. Every class is supported by a dedicated webinar specialist. Prior to the start of the semester, every new online course goes through a rigorous 16-week instructional design process with a team that includes the course faculty and an instructional designer, course developer, media producer, educational technologist, and webinar specialist. This team creates a highly interactive, social, and rigorous online learning experience for our students. As part of this design process, each live online class is carefully planned, with storyboards for each class session that include details of what students will see, hear, and do. The classes include compelling content, dynamic visuals, moments of interaction every five minutes, initiation of reflective dialogue in the chat, and creative use of tools. By the time the semester arrives, all of the asynchronous activities and assignments have been set up in the course site on Canvas, and all of the live online classes have been scripted. In order to set online faculty up for success, CU SCE dedicates a webinar specialist to each course. The webinar specialists come from a pool of full time employees and freelancers. Their role is to meet with the instructor every week, attend every live online class of the course, provide real-time technical support to the students and instructor, prepare the Adobe Connect classroom with all lecture materials and activity assets, and write a report after every live online class, detailing student attendance and participation and also offering written coaching for the instructor, in the form of describing what went well and what could be improved next time. The written coaching in the weekly reports and the verbal coaching in the weekly meetings focus on the instructor’s strengths, in order to help the instructor identify and build upon these strengths and develop confidence with online instruction. The webinar specialist also proposes solutions to fix any issues that may have come up in the previous class, and suggests new instructional strategies the instructor may be ready to try. CU SCE has found that this support and coaching model has facilitated technically smooth live online classes that are continually improving. Instructors say that they could not have done it without their webinar specialist partners – with this support, they are able to focus on instruction and engage their students. Students say that they appreciate the responsive technical support and ability to focus on their learning rather than extraneous technical issues, and they rate their online courses and instructors well. This interactive session will engage participants through the use of polling questions, Q&A, and a brief activity and discussion to help participants plan how to modify strategies from this session in order to fit their university’s unique circumstances. Whether participants are looking for solutions to make live online classes more engaging for students, techniques to support online faculty, or ways to improve the execution of well-designed live online classes, this session will offer applicable ideas. ***Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education offers a variety of online courses to attract a broad demographic of working professionals, move beyond geographical limitations, and reduce costs. The online courses enable the school to offer fully online and low residency degrees and professional certificates that integrate knowledge across disciplinary boundaries, combine theory with practice, leverage the expertise of our students and faculty, and connect global constituencies. Online courses are a pivotal part of CU SCE’s mission to transform knowledge and understanding in service of the greater good: a just, sustainable and compassionate global society. Keywords, separated by semicolons: Faculty development; faculty coaching; faculty support; online faculty; online classes; web conferences; blended learning; online courses; Adobe Connect; technical support; instructional support; student engagement; continuous improvement


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More About This Work

Academic Units
School of Continuing Education, Online Learning
Published Here
November 11, 2014


Presentation at the International Conference of the Online Learning Consortium, Orlando, FL.