BC’s Online Classes Get an Upgrade by Providing Training for Faculty

Landerholm Circle on BC campus

When Bellevue College (BC) pivoted to virtual classes during the pandemic, the transition was easier for some faculty members than others. That’s why BC launched the Online Excellence Teaching Academy (OETA) this fall, a mandatory seven-course program faculty must complete in order to teach online classes.

“The OETA courses have provided a foundation for quality in the online classes we offer at BC,” said Bernie Greenspan, an adjunct professor who has completed all but the final course of the program. “Before the pandemic, in-person instruction could be supplemented with the Canvas platform. But when everything had to go online, many faculty members were caught off guard and unprepared to hold classes with little or no in-person contact.”

A group effort

Sukirti Ranade, director of eLearning at BC, noted that during the pandemic, many people turned to her department for help. This was when she realized they needed to do more. Once former governor Gary Locke became interim president, the department was requested to formalize a program to assist faculty in their online teaching.

Sukirti Ranade
Sukirti Ranade

The end result is OETA, which was created through a partnership with eLearning, Faculty Commons, BC librarians and the nationally recognized agency Quality Matters. “I’m very proud and I’m very happy to say my team delivered,” Ranade said.

The program’s seven courses—which include one through Quality Matters—are a mix of asynchronous online, synchronous virtual, live remote, and in-person courses and workshops. Betsy Zahrt Geib, associate director of instructional design and adjunct instructor in economics, said this gives faculty the opportunity to experience online courses from a different perspective—as students—which helps them build empathy. In addition, Ron Austin, digital learning manager with eLearning, built a few of the OETA courses to model user-centered design techniques to demonstrate how an instructional designer could help content be more engaging.

OETA is the culmination of several months of work by a task force led by the eLearning department, with members from academic affairs, the faculty union, deans, and adjunct faculty. According to Zahrt Geib, the task force was formed in the spring of 2022 and met regularly—about once a week—from March through June to come up with what the OETA would look like.

“We needed to hear from people,” she said, adding that they needed to take their time to get things right.

Making content more meaningful

Zahrt Geib noted that while opportunities for faculty training have always been available—even before the pandemic—they were not mandatory. In addition, this training was not consolidated or formalized.

Ranade said OETA courses are stepping stones that build upon each other and focus on design rather than content—so they help faculty with how to set up an online course, not what to teach.

“They know their subjects. We’re not going to touch that,” Zahrt Geib said, adding that OETA is about faculty designing their content to make it more meaningful, using research-based best practices to ensure student success.

Immediately applicable and effective

OETA courses are split into two phases (three courses in Phase One, and four in Phase Two). The first phase must be completed by the end of Winter Quarter for anyone wanting to teach online or hybrid courses in Spring Quarter. Faculty who want to teach online or hybrid courses in Fall Quarter need to complete both phases by the end of Summer Quarter. Since OETA launched, nearly 400 faculty have already started taking classes.

Betsy Zahrt Geib
Betsy Zahrt Geib

Although faculty are given a full year to complete all seven courses, Zahrt Geib noted that the college offered early completion incentives. A large number of people signed up for the incentive and so far, 21 have already completed the whole program. For each course they complete, faculty earn a virtual badge. In developing OETA, it was important to the task force that they recognize those who have already put in the work, so faculty members can also substitute similar training they’ve completed and earn badges that way.

Greenspan, who teaches patent law for scientists and engineers within BC’s molecular biosciences program, is based in San Diego so all of his courses have been taught remotely since he started at BC in 2018. He also teaches online at two universities in San Diego, neither of which offers the support and training that BC does. Greenspan added that the OETA curriculum translates back to in-person and hybrid environments as well.

And while he’s been teaching online classes for many years, Greenspan commented that OETA made him realize he had a lot to learn about pedagogy. The course that stood out the most for him was High 5 in the Online Classroom, which showed him how to create a more inclusive environment for students and how to present assignments in a more transparent fashion.

“I noticed an immediate improvement and deeper engagement in the assignments,” Greenspan said.

Last Updated February 28, 2023