I have to teach an online course I didn’t develop?
If you find yourself in the position of having to teach a course developed by others, you can still make it be your own by mastering the content and LMS, reporting corrections and recommending improvements, and exhibiting your expertise through the implementation of additional resources.
Teacher education courses and programs train us how to write lesson plans, prepare assessments and assignments, and create, choose, or customize whatever else we might need for the classes we teach. However, as institutions add or increase online course and program offerings, teachers might find themselves being assigned to teach material created and prepared by others. For online education, some institutions use subject matter experts and instructional designers to create an online course that is then taught by multiple teachers in multiple sections. The result is that the content of each course section is the same, but the sections have different instructors who teach the replicated material prepared by others. Whether or not that is a sound educational delivery method could be a good topic for another article, but the purpose of this article is to offer three steps for how teachers can confidently and constructively work within that method if or when they find themselves in a similar situation.
One way of looking at this educational model is to compare it to school buses and their drivers. Using various drivers to transport different groups of students at the same time, in the same way, and for the same purpose is analogous to the method of institutions using multiple instructors to teach the same online courses to different groups of students. Just as bus drivers affect the environment and experience of their riders, so do online instructors for their students. Even though the vehicle and purpose are the same for all, the following successive suggestions detail how to make it a productive, positive, and personalized journey for you and your students.
1. Master the Course Materials and LMS
Stopping or turning suddenly, getting lost, and arriving late to school or home are a few of the negative experiences that occur when a driver is unaccustomed to their bus or route. Similarly, it can be an unpleasant or stressful journey for students and yourself if you are unfamiliar with the course material or the learning management system (LMS) used to deliver it. Therefore, it is imperative for instructors who teach preloaded, online courses to master the material and the LMS. Mastery of both is an ongoing process because, even if you have previously taught the course or have past experience with the LMS, changes or updates to both are routinely implemented.
As soon as you have access to your course, go through all the provided content. When you familiarize yourself with the course and click through all the material and links, you will also simultaneously become more adept with the LMS. Just as drivers need to become familiar with a bus and route, instructors need to learn all they can about an online course and its delivery platform. While you work through mastering the material and the LMS, be on the lookout for errors to report and improvements to recommend.
2. Report and Recommend
Any course errors or technical issues should be reported through the appropriate channels for your institution. Errors and issues might not get fixed immediately so if any of them could hinder understanding or successful completion of the course, you will need to alert your students.
In addition to content mistakes or technical glitches, you might see areas where the course could be improved. Even though you were not one of the subject matter experts or designers who created the course, as a teacher assigned to teach it you have the education, experience, and expertise to offer recommendations to enhance it for the benefit of your students. Use your institution’s appropriate communication channels to submit your recommendations, but keep in mind that it will likely take some time for those to be considered and they might not be implemented by the institution.
However, you can still enhance and improve the course experience for your students on your own. If, as a teacher, you want your students to take ownership of their learning and not passively get by doing the bare minimum for assignments, then model that expectation by the way you teach your assigned course. Even though you did not create the course, you can take ownership of it to a certain extent and use your expertise to enhance the experience for both you and your students.
3. Exhibit your Expertise
With everything already preloaded, there is a temptation to use and rely on only what has been provided for you and your students. However, just as riders can tell when bus drivers are there only to punch a time card, students can tell if an instructor is there only to do what is minimally required. While that might very well get the job done, it might not be a job well done. Therefore, for the benefit of your students and to do your job well, it is important to demonstrate your engagement with the course and your students by drawing upon your expertise in the course topics. One way to do that is by implementing extra resources.
Supplying additional material and showing how it fits in with the existing course content is a way to exhibit your mastery of the course and expertise in the course topics. Those extra resources could be items that you create or that were created by others. If you choose to implement resources already available on the internet, then you can simply hyperlink to them.
However, if you want to add them directly into the online classroom, then be sure to abide by the parameters of the TEACH Act regarding the proper use of copyrighted material in online educational settings. If you create your own resources, consider housing those on a separate website of your own rather than uploading them into the online course. There are a number of free web services (such as blogging platforms) where you could post your own content and keep a listing of links to content created by others.
Two, of the many, reasons why it is beneficial to have your own website for external links and for your own material are that:
You will retain sole ownership of the resources you create.
Your students will still have access to all additional resources after the course ends.
As the educational landscape evolves and expands through emerging technologies, teachers must learn to adapt and grow along with it. If you find yourself in the position of having to teach a course developed by others, you can still make it be your own by mastering the content and LMS, reporting corrections and recommending improvements, and exhibiting your expertise through the implementation of additional resources.
You have to drive the bus and passengers you’re given, but how you maneuver and manage within your institution’s prescribed protocols is under your control.