UMass Lowell Online Teaching Institute Engages Faculty

August 25, 2004

Online Courses Open to Anyone

These OTI online faculty development courses are also available to any faculty or staff member from any higher education institution.

Since going live with OTI in 2002, about 350 faculty have taken two of these online courses: “Introduction to Online Teaching Strategies” and “Teaching Online with Intralearn” (the course management system used by UMass Lowell). Both courses are four-weeks in length, and all UMass Lowell faculty who teach fully online courses offered by CSCE are required to take them. The requirement is part of a course development contract, which has a financial incentive, that UMass faculty enter into when approved to create their course for the fully online environment.

Faculty interest for taking OTI courses has grown substantially. Currently there is a waiting list of UMass Lowell faculty who want to enroll.

Teaching Strategies

The Introduction to Online Teaching Strategies course is an instructor-led, asynchronous online course. As noted in the course description, this course introduces faculty to “the main pedagogical principles, skills and strategies necessary for effective online teaching and online course management. . . Participants in this course will begin revising course content for the Web and will develop activities and assignments appropriate for specific disciplines. The end product of this course will be a revised course syllabus that can be used in a Web-based course.”

A look inside a Spring 2004 section, shows that the course is broken up into five primary categories: online lectures, online interaction, online assignments and instructional activities, and pulling it all together inside a syllabus. It’s noted that upon completion of the course, participants will:

1. Create course content for one week of an online course.

2. Organize and write an online course syllabus.

3. Write the logistical aspects of course assignments, including assignment expectations, guidelines, grading criteria, and feedback policies.

4. Discuss the differences and appropriate uses of chat and discussion tools.

5. Design interaction and communication guidelines for an online course.

Interspersed throughout the course are numerous examples of online course components provided by experienced UMass Lowell faculty who share their online experiences and pieces of their online courses.

For example, in one module of the course there’s a 10-minute video clip of Professor Stuart Freedman, chair of the UMass Lowell Department of Management, talking about his perspectives on strategies for instructor-student communication in online education. Freedman is one of a number of faculty who are designated as “Cyber Celebrities” who are featured in online video presentations sprinkled throughout the course.

Another module of the course provided a good number of tips and strategies related to managing online assignments.


Professor Bill Harp, who is a new teacher in a new fully online Master’s Degree in Reading and Language Program, says that prior to taking the required OTI courses, he had some “guarded skepticism” about teaching and learning online. In particular, he felt that the “thrill of interaction” he frequently experienced in his face-to-face classes could not be replicated online. He said he has not reached a complete conclusion yet, because, at press time, he was only three weeks into his first experience of actually teaching online. However, he said, “I am discovering that a lot more dynamic discussion can happen online that I had not thought could happen.”

In relation to his experience taking the OTI courses, Harp said that the ability to click on a link and watch and listen to a campus colleague (via the aforementioned Cyber Celebrity videos) talk about the successes and challenges he or she encountered teaching online “helped me, as a student, to understand that I really needed to pay attention as I planned the development of my course. It also was affirming that it could be done.”

Harp also explained that taking the two OTI online courses has helped him take a closer look at the way he teaches face-to-face and has brought about “significant changes” inside his traditional classes. “I’ve also been able to bring lots of the things I do in the face-to-face environment into the online environment successfully.” Plus, he adds that he is truly enjoying the live chats he has thus far held in his new online class on Monday evenings from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. “The students seem to think that this is a magnificent way to get questions answered and things clarified.”

Learning How to Teach and Manage an Online Course

by Being an Online Student

Steven Tello, CSCE’s associate director of distance learning, explains that giving faculty the opportunity to train as a student online in these OTI courses helps them to better understand what it’s really like to be an online student, which is something novice online faculty typically don’t think through. However, “after they have gone through two or three weeks of training, and they start to experience some of the technical challenges, they start to say ‘well, now I know what my students feel like.’”

Other Success Factors

Jacqueline Moloney, dean of CSCE, adds that in addition to getting faculty to feel like students, the OTI courses were designed in a way to show the next level of faculty of UMass Lowell – i.e. those who were not the early adopters – that online teaching and learning is indeed very doable. Also, from an administrative point of view, the issue of scalability is very important. It isn’t just getting their courses up online, it’s providing faculty with ongoing support, says Moloney.

“Our approach working with faculty is to give them the support and skills they need so they can, first off, actually develop the course in the way they want to, and, secondly, so that they can actually teach the course,” says Tello. One of the overriding aims is to not let technology get in the way of teaching. “Technical support for students, operation of the server, registration problems – we separate all of those other things from them. We peel those off to another layer of support, so that all the faculty support work is focused on course development or teaching.”

Next Steps

All this effort by UMass Lowell has resulted in the beginning phases of moving this internally-successful online faculty development program to branch out into generating revenues from outside UMass Lowell. Several local community colleges, for instance, have entered into training contracts with OTI, and individual enrollments outside of UMass Lowell are starting to trickle in. Plus, CSCE has recently entered into a NSF-funded partnership with the University of Massachusetts Amherst to provide online training to middle school science teachers in how to develop courses and teach online.

Says Moloney: “I think there is tremendous evidence to suggest that there are multiple strategies for engaging faculty in meaningful training and development for online education.”

UMass Lowell Online Teaching Institute

UMass Lowell Online Learning