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Kansas State Online Course Trains Educators to Teach Online

The university’s Online Course Design Institute will impart best practices for online instruction, including how to choose course goals and objectives, map out course material and design assignments and assessments.

A student attending a virtual lecture on a laptop.
While many professors have grown more accustomed to online instruction since COVID-19 first necessitated it in 2020, some are still learning how to teach online courses effectively. Now Kansas State University is offering them an online course about best practices for using learning management systems and keeping remote students engaged.

According to a recent news release, the university is encouraging Kansas State instructors who are currently teaching or plan to develop an online course in the next year to attend its spring Online Course Design Institute, which will run from Jan. 29 to March 1, 2024. The five-week online program will teach participants how to choose course goals and objectives, map out course material and design assignments and assessments over the course of five training modules: Teaching Persona, Philosophy and Practice; Fundamentals of Online Teaching and Learning; Tools for Integrating Technology into Teaching and Learning; Student Success in Online Teaching and Learning; and Assessment in Online Teaching and Learning.

Lisa Shappee, director of instructional design and faculty support at Kansas State’s Salina campus, said the institute launched in 2020 when universities across the U.S. had to shift most of their courses online due to the pandemic. Since then, hundreds of instructors have gone through the training to improve how they approach delivering online courses.

Shappee said professional development for online instructors has been particularly important amid the growing demand for online learning options.

“When the pandemic hit, we knew that we needed to come together and create a cohesive program for all our faculty. That’s how the program was born, so that we could ensure that all of our faculty were prepared to teach online when we had to change our mode of instruction,” she said. “What we did in 2020 was emergency remote teaching. The OCDI really shows them what quality online teaching is, best practices and how to have the best online course. … It’s different from what we did in 2020 because that was just [aiming to] quickly get it online, whether it’s through email or however, to get to the students so we could continue our semester.”

Shappee added that since the program itself is online, instructors can get a firsthand sense of what it’s like to be an online student, which can help them understand the needs of their students before leading their own remote courses like those offered through Kansas State’s online Global Campus. It also familiarizes them with how to use instructional technologies and the learning management system Canvas.

“I think one of the most important things they learn is how to be an online student. It’s completely online, and I think there’s no better way to teach online [instruction] than to be a student in an online course and see how it looks and feels to you as a student. It teaches you to be a better instructor and be more empathetic to your students and their needs, and also better understand how the [learning management] system works,” she said. “There are ways to be present even though you’re not physically there — little things like introduction videos where they see you and maybe learn a little bit about you personally, as well as how to navigate the course. Some instructors use discussion boards, while others are starting to use things like Discord.”

Trina McCarty, an instructional designer at Kansas State University Global Campus, said the program places a lot of focus on how to create a communication plan for students, keeping student engagement in mind.

“We’ve had a huge demand [for professional development] because we had so many instructors who had never taught online before,” she said. “They have to be really intentional [about] developing a communication plan and making sure they’re constantly interacting and communicating with their students in some way so that students feel their presence and remain engaged.”

According to the announcement, instructors who are interested in attending the spring 2024 institute can register for free online.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.