Don’t be the 71%

By the time you are standing in front of a classroom of students, ready to teach for the first time, you have probably spent at least 20 years on the other side of the lectern. You have sat through years of wonderful, inspired teaching, and probably an equal amount of less than exhilarating lectures. You have taken hundreds of tests, submitted literally tons of homework and skipped months of classes. You stand there with the benefit of an ‘Apprenticeship of Observation’[1] having become an expert in teaching through exposure.

Did you feel as prepared the first time you taught an online class?

An Inside Higher Ed survey of faculty attitudes to technology last year reported that 71% of faculty had never been a student in an online course[2]. Surveys of our faculty mirror this statistic and highlight one of the major difficulties that instructors face when asked to teach online for the first time. With no frame of reference and no personal experience of online learning, many faculty come to the online classroom uncertain and apprehensive

From personal experience, I believe that the single most impactful thing that online faculty can do to improve their practice is to be a student in an online course. For this reason, I have worked to place the online student experience at the heart of our Online Teaching Fellows program. Participants are required to access materials online, take quizzes, participate in online discussions and submit assignments. They experience the joys and frustrations of being an online student and reflect on the experience.

Every session, faculty begin to have a better understanding of the benefits and challenges that online students face, and consequently begin to build a strong online teaching practice. For example, in every group, without fail, one individual makes a spelling or grammar mistake in a discussion post. When they go to edit the post, they quickly realize as students that’s not an option available to them. This experience usually makes faculty a little less critical of small errors in their student’s posts.

While the Online Teaching Fellows is a hybrid course, and so does not offer the true online student experience, every session participants report that the experience has changed their teaching and made them more empathetic to some of the challenges their students face.  To see more of the reactions faculty have had and the changes prompted in their online teaching, check out this poster recently presented by Director Jennifer Lanter at the Spring OPID conference.


Also if you’re interested in moving out of the 71%, consider applying for CATL’s Summer sessions of the Online Teaching Fellows programs. For more information, visit our website.


1. McQuiggan. (2012). Faculty Development for Online Teaching as a Catalyst for Change. JALN

2. Lederman & Jaschik. (2013). Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology. Inside Higher Ed

Joanne DolanJoanne Dolan
Instructional Design Coordinator, CATL


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