Digital Education Strategies (DES)

Preparing Instructors for Effective Online Teaching

The Digital Education Strategies team showcase their award-winning professional development program Teaching Adult Learners Online (TALO).

COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives – and also how we teach and learn. The Chang School’s Senior Advisor, Tony Bates, foresees that post-pandemic “a move to 70 or 80 percent hybrid learning, and 30 percent online, [which] means that almost all post-secondary instructors will need to know how to teach well digitally.”

Rising to the challenge, The Chang School is providing meaningful support and continuous professional development for our online instructors to ensure our students have a good learning experience. It’s not a new initiative for us. Back in 2013, the Digital Education Strategies (DES) team undertook a comprehensive needs assessment that resulted in an award-winning professional development program, Teaching Adult Learners Online (TALO). Launched in 2014, TALO received the Faculty and Staff Development Program Award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Mid-Atlantic Region in 2016.

The needs assessment included surveys and focus groups with online instructors at The Chang School. The team asked about their experiences and perceived challenges teaching online courses. A thorough review of the most recent literature on skills necessary for successful online teaching and learning was also conducted. Based on what we learned, we developed TALO to meet the specific needs of our online instructors. 

TALO focuses on learning and practising strategies that support engagement and effective learning experiences for our students. These strategies include:

  • Developing meaningful activities and assessments anchored in universal design for learning principles.
  • Selecting tools and technologies purposefully.
  • Facilitating dialogue and group discussions to demonstrate online presence.

“The course content provided many new ideas and sharing between participants provided even more,” said a July 2016 participant. “The assignments were very enjoyable and challenged me to come up with ways to incorporate new ideas into my current online course content.”

A winter 2015 participant added, “Upon completion of TALO, I gained two perspectives: one as the instructor and one as the student. As an instructor, I was able to observe varied instructional practices of the TALO facilitator. As a participant, I took on the role of a student thus gaining insight into a student’s online experience. I strongly recommend TALO for new and seasoned online instructors to further enhance their online instructional skills.”

Integrating evidence-based principles of online pedagogy, TALO strategically incorporates technological tools to support learning. Additionally, TALO models what it teaches. Participants are involved in very practical activities that are designed to provide opportunities to experiment and apply learning through completing tasks that are expected of an online learner. They engage in discussions, hands-on assignments, and peer-to-peer mentoring as they experiment with technological tools within personalized sandboxes and are supported by assigned technical staff. 

TALO is cohort-based and fully facilitated to ensure that participants receive expert guidance and peer support throughout the five-week program. It is designed to facilitate exchanges of experiences and ideas and promote a community of practice. It also follows the format of online courses at The Chang School, where the expectation is for online instructors to engage in teaching activities with students for exactly the same amount of time as if they were teaching an on-campus course. 

TALO facilitators are seasoned online instructors who bring their experience and perspective to the learning community.

Participants must meet three requirements to complete their training: 

  • Participate actively in online discussions and activities,
  • Develop a communication plan for the course they are teaching.
  • Develop one learning activity/media component or planning an online learning module – including content, learning, and teaching strategies and resources.

Participants are also asked to evaluate the program through surveys so TALO can be continuously improved to meet the needs of our online instructors and students.

To date, more than 240 online instructors have successfully completed the program. Due to increased demand in the time of COVID-19, there are two cohorts running this semester. Upon their completion of the course, even more online instructors at The Chang School will be primed to enhance their teaching practice and support our students in their learning journey.

About The Author

Leonora Zefi is Manager, Course Developments and eLearning Initiatives at The Chang School. She is passionate about experimenting with new approaches and creative initiatives that support learner engagement.

Bates, T. (2020, May 11) Online enrolments after COVID-19: some predictions for Canada, University Affairs.