According to a faculty satisfaction study [DOC] conducted by SLN, a whopping 85% of their faculty reported that their experience as online teachers “will have a positive effect on their classroom instruction.”
Here is their explanation for their findings:
Why should we feel that developing and teaching an online course would have an impact on regular class instruction? What evidence exists to suggest a sustained opportunity for pedagogical reflection is allowed through this experience? One piece of evidence – previous surveys indicate that faculty spend a great deal of time and effort on the development and teaching of online courses. In the most recent survey, for example, the most common response to the question – “How much time did you spend developing your online course?” was “More than 120 hours.” We suspected that this level of effort might offer opportunities for reflection that would have a positive impact on classroom-based instruction. It should be pointed out that this development time is not spent alone. All faculty who participate in the SUNY Learning Network agree to participate in rigorous preparatory training, and receive ongoing support during the entire time they teach their courses, both from the trainers, multimedia instructional designers, and a faculty HelpDesk. Training begins with participation in an online all-faculty conference that mirrors the environment in which faculty will eventually instruct. Through participation in this online conference new faculty come together to experience firsthand what they and their students will do in this new learning environment. The all-faculty conference uses the same technology and interface that the new instructors will use, and provides opportunities to discuss a variety of common concerns, observe live courses, and “try out” many of the features and functions they will use in their own online courses, all from the perspective of the student.
Through this experience and through twenty hours of face-to-face training, faculty explore the idea that online instruction does not simply entail mimicking what happens in the classroom, but rather, requires a transformation: a re-conceptualization of their course and learning objectives given the options and constraints of the new learning environment. Common issues that arise include how to best create a sense of class community: an environment in which students get to know the instructor, each other, and have ample opportunities for quality interaction and feedback. In order to fully exploit the unique opportunities of online instruction faculty are encouraged to reflect on their instructional goals and then to investigate, with the help on an multimedia instructional designer (MID), how best to translate and achieve those goal online. The faculty HelpDesk provides continuous support to answer technical questions and make the technology as invisible as possible.
To sum up, (a) faculty have to invest a lot of time into developing online learning versions of their courses, (b) they do so (at least in the SLN program) with the active collaboration of other talented and experienced teachers, and (c) some of the gains from this effort can inevitably be translated back into the traditional classroom.
I would add that, particularly for gifted teachers, teaching online forces them to take their tacit skill (or talent) and make it explicit for themselves. Denied the abiliity to “wing it” that comes with a face-to-face class, instructors are forced to think about exactly what it is that they do to create those magic moments which seem to come so effortlessly in a live class. More often than not, they can (if they have to) articulate what it is that they do and why they choose to do it in a particular teaching moment. They have to do this in order to translate that magic into the online environment. But once the strategy is articulated and conscious, the instructor gains a new level of control and skill.