Before you ask your adjuncts to teach online this fall, prepare to pay them this summer

By on April 15, 2020

Universities’ quick action—abruptly closing campuses in March as a necessary response to COVID-19’s rapid spread across the United States—understandably resulted in a sloppy transition to distance learning. Most faculty had less than three weeks to get up and running and reimagine their courses online. The standard right now is not how to do this well, but how to do it at all. The sense I get as a part-time faculty member is that we all just want to get through this and then things will “go back to normal.”

But universities are already talking about what a longer commitment to distance learning might look like. Health professionals and researchers keep moving the needle, extending social distancing guidelines further into the summer. Some have questioned if anything resembling “normal” will be possible before 2022.

I’ve all but thrown my hands up as I enter the final two weeks of the semester, determined to support students and coax them through a little bit of content. I hope they gain something valuable from my courses; I’m not really worried if they don’t.

There’s a very real possibility that faculty may need to prepare for seamless transitions between in-person and online learning for the next several semesters. Given more time to prepare over summer, students and administrations should not tolerate the sub-par job we are doing right now.

Quality education can and does occur online. Even the most hands-on coursework can be effectively delivered in digital spaces. But doing so takes time and resources. The most successful online programs recognize the up-front investment that must precede a smooth execution of these courses.

As administrations grapple with moving the fall semester online, it is irresponsible to not also wrestle with the amount of preparation faculty will need to do it well.

Part-time faculty contracts are due to end in a few weeks. We will likely will have some time to invest in creating innovative teaching methods that don’t feel like a loss for students who feel justifiably cheated as they drop tens of thousands of dollars on an education that doesn’t look like what they signed up for. But adjuncts also are staring down a very scary few months ahead. Our additional sources of income—necessary to sustain ourselves throughout the year and especially in the summer—have largely vanished.

We could be the ones to help get universities through this, if you invest in us while we are not in the classroom.

In 2015, I was asked to complete a survey of online and blended kinesiology programs for the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), where I was a then-faculty member. As a staunch supporter of hands-on application in college curricula, I was surprised to find that even the applied health sciences—which require clinical skills and “people skills”—can be successfully delivered online. By far, the most effective programs are ones that invest in faculty ahead of time, because the bulk of the work in an online class happens before the first day of class.

Below is the aforementioned essay, for all you data-driven, evidence-based types. It’s admittedly dry, and specific to one program at one university, but contextualizes why I feel adjuncts should be supported financially as they inevitably invest tons of hours this summer preparing their courses to go online more effectively this fall, should that happen.

I wrote this because UIC wanted to make more money and recruit more students, not considering its usefulness during a global pandemic:

Summary of Research Institutions Offering Online Education in Kinesiology and Exercise Science

By Lauren Warnecke

The focus of this essay is to determine the effectiveness of online education in Kinesiology or Health/Exercise Science departments housed within R1 Research Institutions. Paving the way in online health sciences education are the University of Florida, Gainsville, The University of Houston, and Texas A&M University, however each program has employed the model of online/distance learning differently. From these examples, faculty and staff within the Department of Kinesiology & Nutrition at the University of IL – Chicago (UIC) might develop an inventory of best practices for effectively implementing online education for its students.

Responding to the need and desire for globalization, increased numbers of students, and diverse pedagogical methods, The University of Florida (UF) has developed a massive infrastructure for online education, and now houses its entire college of Health and Human Performance online. UF offers B.S. degrees in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, Health Education, and Sports Management. UF’s commitment to online/distance education is articulated by its distance education mission statement: “The University of Florida Office of Distance Education Research and Practice, housed in the College of Health and Human Performance, is dedicated to providing a flexible, high-quality, student-centered educational experience to time and location bound students.”  A long-standing concern regarding online education in Kinesiology and Exercise Science programs is that the hands-on, practical application of laboratory skills will be lost. UF addresses this concern by requiring students to complete fifteen credit hours invested in an internship during students’ last semester, replicating a 40-hour work week.

The Department of Health and Human Performance at University of Houston (UH) published a case report based on its experience administering three courses online (McFarlin et al., 2011). Targeted courses included a general freshmen-level survey course, Foundations of Kinesiology, and a topics course on obesity, both offered fully online. Also included in the report was a blended junior/senior level course titled Physiology of Human Performance. The authors advocate for online and/or blended learning as a viable alternative to traditional classrooms that more closely replicates the professional world, provided the learning environment is structured effectively. They purport the effectiveness of online education, when properly implemented, and its ability to engage generations of students who know no life without computers and the Internet. “The traditional focal points of an online learning community,” they write, “are selecting the learning environment best suited for the purpose of subject material, the role of the instructor, and the role of the student.”

Texas A&M University offers distance learning graduate degree programs in Health Education and Sports Management, as well as an online undergraduate minor in Sports Management. Neither graduate program requires a thesis, with 36 coursework hours needed for completion of the degree. As early as 1998, Texas A & M’s Department of Kinesiology piloted an online version of its Exercise Physiology course, the first of its kind designed to accommodate an increasing demand for distance learning options (Pankey, 1998). The course emphasized a variety of learning environments, including interactive laboratory experiences conducted online. In a post-hoc analysis of the course by Pankey (1998), a few key recommendations were identified in the successful development of online courses, particularly those whose traditional classrooms incorporate laboratory skills:

  1. The instructor must have at least a basic understanding of how to design and develop web-based programs that contain interactive components, and/or the desire and motivation to pursue formal training on web-based education. This supports the growing consensus of the literature that “bottom-up,” faculty-driven initiatives are generally more effective (Ferdig & Dawson, 2006).
  2. Courses must be equipped with the proper technology and trained support staff to troubleshoot any problems that may arise both during development periods and post-implementation. Continuing education for instructors and support staff is critical due to the rapidly changing nature of technology.
  3. Course design should include methods of assessment that ensure completion and comprehension of content presented online. This may take the form of graded quizzes, or other evaluative components within each learning module that do not permit students to move forward without completion and evidence of content mastery.
  4. Texas A & M’s pilot course was delivered via “Asynchronous Distance Learning.” In other words, student engagement with the instructor, teaching assistants, and other students was through email rather than through webcasts or other form of real-time interaction. They found that student achievement was higher in the equivalent lecture-based course, perhaps due to students’ inability to ask questions and engage with the instructor in real-time. Overall, however, students’ course evaluations indicated that they enjoyed web-based learning and would take another course using the same format.

The key seems to be using the technology to provide an interactive and engaging learning experience rather than a passive one, a concept that is not exclusive to online education. Indeed, there is a growing emphasis on active and collaborative learning experiences in traditional classrooms, and blended/hybrid or online platforms are not excluded from the importance of engaging current generations of students. The course leader’s role is more that of a facilitator than an instructor, as he/she guides students toward self-discovery rather than the old model of being “told.” Rather than using time in the classroom to regurgitate didactic content, UH implemented hybrid instruction that delivers content online and saves contact time to engage in higher learning activities such as discussion groups and research-focused seminars. The implication is that more is getting done given a finite number of possible contact hours with the instructor, though this approach may be more ideal for upperclassmen given the amount of student preparation required and demand for synthesis in the classroom. Although UH reported higher grades and positive results based on student course evaluations in its upper level blended course, it remains to be seen if courses requiring practical application of skills can and should be implemented entirely online within their program.

Though not considered R1 Institutions, The University of Wyoming – Laramie and The University of Louisiana at Lafayette are additional research-driven institutions offering online education in the health sciences. Wyoming offers a distance program for individuals pursuing graduate level education (M.S.) in Kinesiology and Health. The focus of the program is to target working professionals who are employed in health and/or physical education by offering a coursework only online degree program completed in three to five years. Students are required to complete a minimum of 36-hours of coursework and a culminating presentation based on a paper developed with the student’s graduate advisor. Much of the coursework is selective or elective, with three required courses in statistical and research methods.

Louisiana offers a B.S. in Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) completely online, with the exception of 12 credit hours dedicated to clinical skills and internship. The HPW concentration of the University’s Kinesiology program has a focus in health education, leading majors toward careers in community outreach programs and worksite wellness.

The table below summarizes qualities of the five programs outlined in this essay:

Institution Graduate or Undergraduate Program Online-only degree option Select courses offered online Blended/hybrid learning options Clinical and/or internship requirements for degree Undergraduate course equivalents at UIC. Blended models at other universities indicated in parenthesis.
University of Florida – Gainsville Undergraduate KN-152, KN-251 (blended), KN-252 (blended), KN-352, HN-196
University of Houston Undergraduate KN-100, KN-352 (blended), KN-441 (blended)
Texas A&M University Graduate
University of Wyoming – Laramie Graduate
University of Louisiana – Lafayette Undergraduate KN-339, KN-436, KN-437

 

There are clear advantages to online education, when designed and delivered according to best practices in order to maximize student engagement. Online courses move large numbers of students through a program, bringing a larger revenue stream and ease of delivery to an in-demand and growing sector of the health professions (McFarlin et al., 2011). However, implementing a high-quality course requires a great degree of preparation and up-front departmental investment in order to be effective. It is likely that online and distance learning programs are most effective when conceived and implemented by motivated faculty members, rather than through a top-down approach from higher administration driven by a perceived financial gain (Ferdig & Dawson, 2006).

In many ways, integrating distance education is unavoidable if our department is to remain competitive, and we have already begun to acknowledge this through the implementation of a blended learning environment in our Anatomy & Physiology courses. Additional courses from our program, particularly large, survey-style courses, may be better served fully online, such as KN-100 and KN-152. Courses that are more interactive in nature, such as KN-136 and KN-243 could be modified to blended formats to enable the department to limit contact hours dedicated to didactic course elements and maximize student engagement while in the lab. Fortunately, there is no one right way to use technology in education. As the technology continues to grow, it is possible to create customized courses that integrate technology to the degree that it enhances all of our courses, maximizing the effectiveness of the hours faculty spend face-to-face with students.

At UIC, we have a unique student body that could greatly benefit from a reduction in required hours on campus. The large numbers of commuter students and/or students who are working off-campus jobs are likely to find the convenience and flexibility of distance learning highly appealing, but certain questions still remain. How does one create courses online that can accommodate a diverse student body so as to not exclude students from a great range of socioeconomic statuses and cultural backgrounds? Can these courses and programs be made accessible to a student whose native language is not English, to a student who does not have regular access to an Internet connection, or to students with physical and/or cognitive disabilities? The answers are likely yes, given the time and resources to work with qualified professionals, and support from administration to invest in adaptive technologies that can be tailored for our unique student body.

Moreover, as an R1 institution valuing research and scholarship, we have a unique opportunity to add to the growing body of literature pertaining to the effectiveness of online education. In a review of the previous decade of distance education research, Davies, Howell, and Petrie (2010) called for greater rigor and improved methodology in this novel area. Given our reputation for high-quality research in our field, we might expand our scope and capitalize on the need for further and improved research in the area of online education, specifically for health sciences students.

The goal of this essay is not to convince faculty or administrators that they have to implement online education, but rather, to demonstrate that nationally ranked R1 institutions who share our values in research and scholarship are already doing it, and doing it well. This might quell fears that a quality online education in Kinesiology is not possible. Quality, however, is dependent on consistent commitment from and education provided to faculty members responsible for designing and administering these courses. As such, money and time must be invested up front to ensure a solid infrastructure to newly developed courses, and which courses we chose should be based on the enthusiasm of each individual instructor.

References

  1. Davies, R. S., Howell, S. L., & Petrie, J. A. (2010). A review of trends in distance education scholarship at research universities in North America, 1998-2007. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11 (3), 42-57.
  2. Ferdig, R. E., & Dawson, K. (2006). Faculty navigating institutional waters: Suggestions for bottom-up design of online programs. TechTrends, 50 (4), 28-34.
  3. McFarlin, B. K., Weintraub, R. J., Breslin, W., Carpenter, K. C., & Strohackner, K. (2011). Designing online learning modules in kinesiology. Educational Technology & Society, 14 (20), 278-284.
  4. Pankey, R. B. (1998). Piloting exercise physiology in the web-based environment. THE Journal: Technical Horizons in Education, 26 (5), 62.

Program Listings and Coursework Requirements

  1. Texas A&M University. Department of Health & Kinesiology, Online Education. Retrieved from http://hlknweb.tamu.edu/degrees-and-programs/online-education.
  2. University of Florida. College of Health and Human Performance. Retrieved from http://online.hhp.ufl.edu/degree-programs.aspx.
  3. University of Houston. Department of Health and Human Performance, Exercise Science Program. Retrieved from http://www.uh.edu/class/hhp/undergrad-programs/kinesiology-exercise-science/
  4. University of Louisiana – Lafayette. Health Promotion and Wellness. Retrieved from http://online.louisiana.edu/programs/health/health-promotion-wellness-concentration.
  5. University of Wyoming – Laramie. Distance Learning Program in Kinesiology and Health. Retrieved from http://www.uwyo.edu/kandh/_files/documents/graduate-programs/ms%20distanceprogram.pdf.

Header photo: “Computer Keyboard” by Flickr user Marcie Casas

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