Researchers to study online course faculty campus ‘connection’

Researchers want to know whether faculty who teach online courses from off-campus feel they are a part of the GW community.

Three faculty members at the Milken Institute School of Public Health earned a research grant last week for an ongoing study of faculty members’ connection to the University and their students, specifically for online courses. Monique Turner, an associate professor of prevention and community health, said the grant allows her and her colleagues to gauge the importance of faculty-university relationships at GW and beyond, specifically for those who work remotely.

2U, a company that works with universities to develop online teaching programs, put out a call last spring and awarded grants to researchers at nine institutions examining online education, specifically for measuring things like student retention and faculty teaching methods, according to 2U’s website.

Jason Zocks, the executive vice president of program management, said that the researchers received the grant because of their specific interest in studying online learning faculty.

“The proposal submitted by faculty at the GW Milken Institute of Public Health truly impressed our selection committee and directly addressed the stated goals of 2U’s research initiative. We look forward to the results and findings from all of this year’s winners,” Zocks said.

GW currently has more than 100 online courses. In 2016, new features such as closed captioning on videos and screen-reading devices were added to online courses to improve online educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

“We not only have students all over the country and world, but we have faculty all over the world and maybe they’ve never been to GW’s campus,” Turner said. “What happens if they don’t feel connected to the University? Does it affect teaching quality?”

She said her research will be designed to discover whether or not remote, online professors feel they are “part of the University” and whether this feeling affects their relationship to students. The research will also examine how connected to GW online students feel.

The study will be survey-based across GW’s schools, but could be applied at other universities, Turner said.

Studies examining faculty and student morale in online courses have risen in popularity as more universities offer online programs, many of which have lower persistence and completion rates than face-to-face classes, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.

Turner said she projects that the research will be completed by the end of March, at which point they will submit it for publication in an education journal.

In October, the University Teaching and Learning Center opened an in-house online course shop to help faculty learn the best ways to teach online.

In 2014, GW’s online learning program collaborated with leaders from universities across the nation, including Johns Hopkins and Brown universities, to improve online course design.

Julie DeLoia, associate dean of academic affairs, and Andrew Wiss, director of online learning at the Milken Institute, will also work on the project, Turner said.

Turner added that the researchers have not yet solidified how they will define the term “connected.” She said measuring this broad term would be a similar process to, for instance, asking her alma mater Michigan University whether or not they call themselves spartans.

“Commitment happens at many levels. Do you consider yourself a part of the University? Do you wear GW garb? Do you go to the basketball games? Does it feel like home?” she said.

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