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The Art and Science of ‘Webagogy’

Teaching faculty how to teach online

By Mike Field

When a Bloomberg School faculty member approaches the Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology for help in developing an online course, the first step is a meeting with an instructional design team.

“Generally we go to the faculty member’s office and spend some time talking about learning,” says team member Sara Hill. “Some faculty are very theory-based in their approach, and others are more like, ‘Just show me the data,’ but it’s important to understand at the start what they think about teaching and learning.”

Based on the instructor’s goals, the design team identifies the best online tools to facilitate learning. “What does the student need to know? How do we accommodate that need?” asks Hill. “The truth is that although we are hired by the University to serve the faculty, our ultimate customer is the students. We want to give them the most effective opportunities to learn.”

The staff at the Center has a term for this approach–webagogy–which they define as the art and science of teaching faculty how to teach online. At every step along the way they focus on making sure course materials and presentations are clear and concise.

Typically anywhere from 10 to 16 recording sessions are necessary per course. Faculty come to each recording session with PowerPoint slides, which form the basis of their lecture. The team incorporates charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs—even video recordings—wherever their presence can improve teaching.

The audio editor reviews the lecture and removes needless pauses and extraneous “ums,” then the whole recording is edited to create a fluid and engaging presentation. The final recording, slides, and any related materials are turned over to the web development team, which creates a final product that students access via Adobe Presenter software. The website then receives a final review from an independent quality control team.

The process typically takes three months or more from start to finish. While the faculty preparation time is demanding, there are advantages, say faculty converts to online teaching. Among them: flexibility. Each class can be as long or as short as the subject matter requires, enabling faculty to avoid “the tyranny of the bell” that requires them to fit their material within rigidly defined time slots when teaching in conventional classrooms.