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Learning Path: Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning


Over the past decade, online learning in higher education has become increasingly popular as a teaching and learning modality. Growing numbers of students are looking for this experience, as 32% of all college students in the United States have taken an online course during their academic careers (Allen and Seaman, 2014, Changing Course:10 Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States). At VCU, faculty members are also beginning to explore opportunities for teaching courses online. In an effort to support faculty exploration of online teaching and learning, the CTE has created a number of programs and professional development opportunities to meet this growing interest. The learning path model is intended to provide a sequenced and informative introduction to a topic that promotes exploration and conversation, without a significant time commitment.

The learning path for the Introduction to Online Learning is a three-session path designed to introduce key teaching and learning issues for faculty members who are considering online teaching. The three ninety-minute sessions are supplemented by readings from Palloff and Pratt’s (2007) Building Online Learning Communities. This path would be ideal for someone who is considering online teaching, and would like the chance to examine key ideas and engage in some thoughtful discussion of opportunities and issues with VCU colleagues.


Faculty members who actively participate in this learning path will be able to…

  • Discuss key factors shaping the growth and role of online learning in higher education.
  • Consider the extent to which online teaching / course development is a “good fit” for their teaching philosophy and subject matter.
  • Locate online teaching resources at VCU, and
  • Make informed decisions about possible next steps for pursuing online teaching.

Session Descriptions

Session 1: The Web and the Changing Landscape of Learning (1.5 hr)

12:30pm | Mar. 18, 2014 | Academic Learning Commons 4110

Web-based technology and new media continue to shape the teaching and learning landscape in higher education. Things like learning management systems, wikis, blogs, social networking sites, and ubiquitous access to information have opened new opportunities for collaboration, content creation and learning that only a short time ago were unimaginable. Indeed, over the past few years we have witnessed the rapid growth of tools and practices that facilitate web-based interaction and exchange among individuals and groups. Now nearly everyone with a computer, Internet access and freely available software can communicate with text, images, audio and video to audiences that comment, vote, rank, exchange, link, share and connect. In addition, course content from a significant number of colleges and universities has become organized and openly available on the web, spawning new opportunities for both formal and non-formal learning. In short, the web has become a social and participatory space that serves as a platform for community building and learning. This session will engage participants in an examination and discussion of key ways the web is changing how and where learning is taking place.

Suggested Reading before Session 2:  Building Online Learning Communities, Chapters 1-3

Session 2: The Growth and Evolution of eLearning (1.5 hr)

12:30pm | Mar. 25, 2014 | Academic Learning Commons 4110

Nationally, online education has matured in the past decade from pilot programming to a mainstream method of education. Consider that during the fall 2011 semester over 6.7 million students nationally were taking at least one online course – a significant growth compared to a 2% increase in overall enrollment growth. Over 30% of college students now take at least one course online each year. It seems likely that student demand for online courses and programs will continue to increase over the next decade.  This session will explore the evolution of online learning, which has gone from static content delivery toward a more social and interconnected space – which necessitates rethinking what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning. Online teaching is now not only about sound course design and high quality learning content, but increasingly it is about the skilled facilitation of learning by faculty members who understand how to interact with and engage students in this new learning landscape.  We will also review a profile of online teaching and learning at VCU.

Suggested Reading before Session 3:  Building Online Learning Communities, Chapters 4-6

Session 3: Guiding Principles for Online Teaching and Learning (1.5 hr)

12:30pm | Apr. 1, 2014 | Academic Learning Commons 4110

There is a research base supporting what constitutes “good practice” in online teaching in higher education.  This session will review six (6) guiding principles that we believe inform course design and teaching practice in online courses. These principles have been developed through the consideration of Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, similar efforts at the University of Mary Washington, and reflection on our own practice.  These principles can provide a meaningful lens for thinking about online teaching and learning. 

  • Online Course Design and Teaching Practice …
    • Fosters a Robust Intellectual Community
    • Encourages Active Learning
    • Promotes Reflection
    • Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
    • Provides Prompt and Meaningful Feedback
    • Uses Digital Technologies to Support and Enhance Learning

Through a combination of demonstration and discussion, we will evaluate the potential value of these principles their related practice in your own teaching.  We will complete this learning path with an examination of possible future steps in transitioning your courses online.

Application Process

Faculty members interested in being considered for participation in the Introduction to Teaching Online for Spring 2014 are asked to submit an application letter or email to Britt Watwood (bwatwood@vcu.edu) by 4:00pm, Mar. 10, 2014, that includes the following.

  • Name
  • Department / School
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Short paragraph listing what interests you about online teaching and learning
  • Confirmation that you can attend the three scheduled sessions (Mar. 18 and 25, Apr. 1)

Participants will receive their free book at the first session.


Virginia Commonwealth University | Center for Teaching Excellence
Last modified: February 6, 2014
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