At the College of Charleston, we all like learning something new – and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so over the past few months! And, for the most part, we’ve managed to do it all from a distance.

Of course, distance education is nothing new at the College of Charleston. In fact, the Teaching and Learning Team (TLT) has been offering College of Charleston faculty a Distance Education (DE) Readiness Course since spring 2012. Traditionally offered every spring, summer and fall as one of the prerequisites for teaching online at the College of Charleston, the DE Readiness Course is a seven-week, asynchronous online faculty development program that covers both the pedagogical and technological aspects of distance education.

“The College of Charleston is committed to cultivating a learner-focused culture that furthers the academic experience of students,” says Chris Meshanko, DE training and development coordinator with the TLT. “In addition to cultivating the technological skills needed for creating, managing and facilitating a successful online course, faculty will explore instructional strategies that construct and facilitate a learner-centered approach to distance education. Another benefit of the course is that they experience distance education as a student.”

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Graduates of the course agree that that experience is invaluable.

“Being a student in the DE training course gave me a really good feeling for what it’s like to be a student in one of my DE courses – and, as a consequence of that, I have really learned to appreciate the necessity of being very organized and very clear, because of how easy it is to get lost online,” says Idee Winfield, professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “The use of a lot of the technologies has really helped me to make sure that my students have an easier time.”

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Approximately 51% of all faculty have completed the standard DE Readiness Course, and – in preparation for the e-learning period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – many more completed an abbreviated on-demand version of the course over the spring and summer.

Still, says Meshanko, even faculty who took the self-paced DE On-Demand Express Readiness Course should consider taking the standard course this spring.

“The traditional course has many benefits and can really provide some great insight for faculty,” he says. “There are plenty of reasons to take the course.”

Here are five of those reasons that faculty should apply now for the spring 2021 DE Readiness Course (applications are due Dec. 7, 2020):

1. Receive guidance and feedback from experienced faculty mentors.

The main difference between the standard DE Readiness Course and the self-paced DE On-Demand Express Readiness Course is mentor support. In the standard DE Readiness Course, you are assigned a mentor who has completed the DE Readiness Course and taught multiple online and/or hybrid courses. Your mentor will provide you with guidance and personalized feedback during every step of the course design process.

“I was fortunate enough to come back as a mentor, and so I use the mentorship experience to redesign my course every single time,” says Lancie Affonso ’96, an instructor in the Department of Computer Science who has mentored more than five times now. “That helps me be more disciplined and learn about the new tools that come in each time the course is redesigned.”

2. Leverage the comprehensive Course Planning Document (CPD) to design your course.

Throughout the standard DE Readiness Course, you will use your CPD to map out every element of your course – syllabus, communication strategies, learning outcomes, course pathway, activities and assessments, and content delivery. And, your mentor and colleagues will offer ideas and support along the way.

With research-based lessons covering course design, communication, community building, assessment and content delivery, the course allows participants to spend time in each module, formulating content for their personal courses.

3. Start building your online or hybrid course in OAKS.

As you work through your CPD, you will be asked to build elements of your course in an OAKS development course created just for you. Not only will this allow you to become more familiar with some of the tools and features in OAKS, but it will also allow you to easily copy these components into your real course when you’re ready.

In addition to working on the assignments and readings, participants in the DE Readiness Course are expected to log into the course in OAKS at least four days a week to stay current with coursework, as well as to regularly communicate with their mentors and interact with their peers on the discussion board.

4. Learn tips, strategies and tools from your colleagues.

Throughout the standard DE Readiness Course, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in whole-class and small-group discussion on best practices relating to pedagogy and course design. The best part is, you’ll be able to revisit these discussions, for ideas and resources, forever.

“It’s a continuous learning process,” says Affonso. “Distance education is changing drastically from year to year, and I think as faculty, we owe it to our students to at least tune in and see what works and repurpose and reorganize our course occasionally.”

5. Ask questions and get answers.

Whether you have an OAKS question, pedagogical question, course design question or really any question, your course facilitator, mentors and colleagues are always quick to provide an answer or direct you to the best resource(s). The goal is to help you feel comfortable and confident designing your online or hybrid course.

The spring 2021 DE Readiness Course runs from Feb. 3 to March 30, 2021, and applications are due Dec. 7, 2020. Before applying, faculty should review the policies set forth by academic affairs, the Distance Education Task Force and the Distance Education Steering Committee.

To apply to the spring 2021 DE Readiness course, complete the application on TLT’s blog by Dec. 7, 2020. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance status by Dec. 21, 2020. To apply to become a DE Faculty Mentor, complete this application. Questions may be directed to Chris Meshanko.