Providing Course-Specific Instructor Resources in Online Classes With a Standardized Curriculum

Providing Course-Specific Instructor Resources in Online Classes With a Standardized Curriculum

Kyle R. Hedden (Grand Canyon University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6758-6.ch005
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For institutions that utilize a standardized curriculum for their online programs, providing faculty with course-specific instructional resources can enhance teaching effectiveness by streamlining individual faculty's content development and freeing instructional time to focus on interaction and feedback. But for faculty to benefit from course-specific resources, they must 1) be aware that the resources are available, 2) be able to efficiently access the resources, and 3) deem the resources valuable enough to utilize. This chapter explores two different approaches (library guide and instructor manual) for providing course-specific resources to remote, adjunct instructors and discusses the relative advantages/drawbacks of each approach. Recommendations are provided to assist institutions that utilize a standardized online curriculum to support teaching effectiveness of remote, adjunct faculty more effectively.
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Many large (or growing) online programs utilize a standardized curriculum. In this context, faculty are hired to teach existing courses in which the basic online course development (syllabus, modules, assignments, instructional resources, etc.) is provided to them. The faculty’s role is to interact, provide feedback, guide learning, and supplement instructional content as necessary. The value of standardized curriculum for the institution is twofold: 1) academic content, standards, and assessments have a consistent level of quality and rigor across all sections of a course; and 2) it is more economical to invest resources in the development of one high-quality online course than it is to spread limited resources out across multiple sections of the same course. In addition, teaching an online course with a standardized curriculum offers a distinct advantage for the faculty member: time. Because the faculty member does not have to invest considerable time in course development, time can be reallocated to interaction, feedback, and personalization within their section of the course.

Despite the academic value of a standardized curriculum, online courses have an ongoing need for personalized and timely supplemental instructional content. Online course developers are unable to anticipate student challenges or confusion, and standardized curriculums cannot quickly be adapted to address current events. Further, learning is an inherently social process and students in online courses seek connection with both the instructor and the course content. As such, a high-quality online learning experience is dependent upon faculty supplementing the existing standardized course content with individualized instructional resources.

Take, for example, one of my own experiences. I am a full-time faculty member teaching History in a large online program that utilizes a standardized curriculum with established instructional content and assignments. The instructions for an assignment in one of my courses asks students to write an essay related to Guns, Germs, and Steel; but the assignment directions fail to mention that Guns, Germs, and Steel is a book. While this book is well-known to historians, it likely never occurred to the course development team who wrote the instructions that the typical student taking this class has probably never heard of the book. As a result, students would often write essays about how the items guns, germs, and steel impacted history rather than addressing the book’s arguments and claims. While the point of the assignment was clear to course developers, there was a clear disconnect for students.

To address this challenge, I collaborated with our institutional librarians to create a library guide. The library guide proved an effective instructional supplement to correct students’ misunderstandings so they could meet the learning objectives of the assignment. While this fixed the confusion in my course, it did nothing to impact the identical challenges faced by other faculty teaching different sections of the course.

Theoretically, this issue could be addressed by integrating the library guide into the standardized curriculum, but the reality is that the course revision timelines and processes often prevent timely updates. Further, once part of the standardized curriculum, the resource becomes fixed and is not able to be easily adjusted or personalized from one term to the next. Recognizing that integrating the content into the standardized curriculum was not a desirable option, the next logical solution was for me simply to share the library guide with the adjunct faculty teaching other sections of the course. This, in turn, begs the question that drives the current exploration: How can institutions best provide supplemental instructional content to remote, adjunct faculty to help support teaching effectiveness?

Inherent in this question is an awareness that faculty time is limited and, as such, faculty must make choices about where to invest their teaching time. Recognizing that adjunct faculty may be juggling multiple professional obligations, the availability of course-specific instructional supplements may help faculty maximize the impact of their available time by providing them with resources they can personalize and integrate into the online classroom. Not only does this allow faculty to enhance their teaching presence through increased instructor-provided content, but it simultaneously decreases the amount of time required by each faculty member to develop this content, and, in turn, their teaching time can be shifted to foster interaction, engagement, and feedback.

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