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Rising to the challenge to meet the needs of students and faculty

A person sitting at a table and typing on a laptop, with an Oregon State University water bottle in the foreground. K-12 remote instruction resources

COVID-19 caused a shift to remote teaching — now online education professionals have the opportunity to lead like never before

By Lisa L. Templeton
Associate provost

Oregon State University Ecampus
May 18, 2020

The other night while walking with my family in our neighborhood, I ran into two Oregon State University faculty members. I spoke with them for a few minutes – from a safe distance – and they shared their vastly different teaching experiences this term amid COVID-19.

Faculty Member A, who has taught classes online through Oregon State Ecampus for many years, said she has experienced very little turmoil during the university’s move to remote teaching this spring for students attending school on our campuses in Corvallis and Bend.

“I’ve actually had some free time to clean out my closets and do some house projects,” she said, half-jokingly.

A headshot of Lisa L. Templeton, the associate provost of Oregon State University Ecampus

Lisa L. Templeton, associate provost, Oregon State Ecampus

Her track record of teaching classes at a distance – and the available year-round faculty training – made her well-equipped to work in a temporary world in which all classes must be delivered remotely.

Faculty Member B, on the other hand, has faced certain challenges as a newcomer to remote teaching. Like many of his colleagues, he had to rethink his entire instructional approach – while acclimating himself to certain technologies and new modes of student interaction – in a matter of days leading up to spring term.

(It must be noted that Oregon State’s faculty moved nearly 4,000 courses into remote teaching delivery for spring term and are doing a wonderful job in supporting students and helping them to meet learning outcomes and proceed in their degree path during this crisis.)

This is an opportunity for us as online education professionals to “get out of our lane,” so to speak, and show how we will support an entire educational enterprise for the advancement of our universities.

Faculty Members A and B are not unique to Oregon State. These inverse experiences are present at every institution. But while listening to them, I was struck by the thought that we are at a crossroads. The worlds of face-to-face and online education have merged for the time being, and this presents those of us who work in the online realm with a unique challenge.

This is an opportunity for us as online education professionals to “get out of our lane,” so to speak, and show how we will support an entire educational enterprise for the advancement of our universities. Online education is on display like never before, and it is crucial that we rise to the occasion by sharing the collective leadership and knowledge we have that has led to many educational innovations in recent years.

There was a time – and for some institutions, that time may still be the present – when online education units were isolated from core university operations. Online was over here, and everything else was over there. Now, the coronavirus outbreak has put online teaching and learning at the heart of every university’s efforts every day. With that in mind, we can showcase the quality of the education that is provided at a distance.

Beyond that, we would be wise to demonstrate the wide-ranging support that faculty members receive when they develop and teach courses online.

At Oregon State Ecampus, our course development and training team worked tirelessly to help faculty prepare for the university’s move to remote instruction this spring. Over a three-week period in late March and early April, our staff provided significant hours of pre-planned faculty training sessions and open office hours. Nearly 500 Oregon State faculty members – many of whom teach exclusively face-to-face under normal circumstances – logged in to participate in these trainings and office hour sessions.

Some instructors might have said previously that they don’t need technology to teach or help learners. That very well may be true, but we hope they finish this term with the realization that technology certainly can help.

The workshops covered topics such as exam alternatives, learning management system basics, beginning and advanced Zoom training, and academic integrity. Katherine McAlvage, an OSU Ecampus assistant director of course development and training, designed each of the trainings, and our team of instructional designers delivered them.

In the same three-week period, Ecampus staff also provided nearly 200 hours of assistance to help the IT service desk and OSU Academic Technologies resolve tickets requesting support.

It was remarkable to witness an institution – with each Oregon State college and department doing its part – shift from site-based instruction to remote teaching in a matter of weeks. Everyone came together for the good of the university and the students we serve.

That abrupt transition was made smoother because OSU has a proven, longstanding framework in place for online teaching and learning – and a university history of collaboration that demonstrates we are all better when we work together. We are fortunate to have nearly 1,000 faculty partners who had participated in the comprehensive Ecampus faculty development program prior to the pandemic. That created a scenario in which experienced online instructors helped others with less experience.

[T]his opportunity has been thrust upon us under very unfortunate circumstances. … We must take advantage of it, with aims to make learning more accessible, meet students’ needs and help our faculty partners become more effective instructors.

In the rush to prepare for spring term, our trainings focused primarily on tools and technology to ensure that faculty were equipped with the resources to teach remotely. The workshops did not delve into the specifics of how to create highly engaging, interactive online courses. That is our long-term goal as we continue to work with each of our faculty partners.

In the meantime, we believe we’ve made progress in demonstrating to faculty how technology can support learning. Some instructors might have said previously that they don’t need technology to teach or help learners. That very well may be true, but we hope they finish this term with the realization that technology certainly can help.

None of us knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact future enrollments in online education or how faculty attitudes toward remote teaching may change. What we do know is that we are at a fork in the road. In this day and age, it is antiquated to believe that the only way students can learn is through face-to-face instruction. It is true that online learning is imperfect. Certain experiences need to be conducted on campus. But so much is possible online.

This isn’t a plea to, as the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste. Put simply, this opportunity has been thrust upon us under very unfortunate circumstances. From an educational standpoint, we must take advantage of it, with aims to make learning more accessible, meet students’ needs and help our faculty partners become more effective instructors.

Let’s do our part to provide leadership and support, and to demonstrate that the value of and need for quality online education will endure even after we get through the public health measures in response to this pandemic.


Lisa L. Templeton is the associate provost for Oregon State University Ecampus, a nationally ranked leader in online education that serves distance learners in all 50 states and more than 50 countries.

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