The Impact of Online Teaching on Faculty Load: Computing the Ideal Class Size for Online Courses

The Impact of Online Teaching on Faculty Load: Computing the Ideal Class Size for Online Courses
Lawrence A Tomei

This study examined the impact of substituting didactic instruction, face-to-face advisement, and conventional evaluation with distance-based delivery of content, electronic counseling, and online assessment. It analyzed the impact of distance learning demands on faculty teaching loads and computed the ideal class size for an online course. Specifically, this article sought answers to the following questions. 1. What are the teaching demands of an online course? 2. What is the impact of distance learning demands on faculty teaching loads? Does teaching at a distance require more or less of an instructor’s time? 3. What is the ideal class size for an online course versus the traditional classroom? The research reflected in this study found that online teaching demanded a minimum of 14% more time than traditional instruction, most of which was spent presenting instructional content. The weekly impact on teaching load also varied considerably between the two formats. Traditional teaching was more stable across the semester while online teaching fluctuated greatly during periods of advisement and assessment. Finally, the ideal class size was calculated for both instructional formats.

The role of the traditional classroom teacher evolved over the centuries to include a common set of skills and competencies agreed upon by most in the discipline (Budin, 1991). For example, the traditional classroom teacher must be certified for the appropriate grade level. In the United States, the appropriate foci comprise early childhood, elementary, middle, and secondary concentrations. Only 5% of schools have grade configurations outside these age-centered criteria (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). In addition, successful educators are expected to pursue a continuous program of professional development that begins soon after certification and lasts until retirement. Finally, the traditional classroom teacher is expected to devote considerable hours both in and outside the classroom–whatever is necessary to produce successful student learning outcomes (Kerr, 1989). Professional preparation, academic excellence, lifelong learning, and personal commitment are the hallmarks of the successful traditional teacher.

Since its arrival as a teaching strategy, many of these self-same characteristics have come to define successful distance educators as well (Cuban, 1986). In addition, new skills come into play as teachers assume the role of distance educator. Some of those additional skills include understanding the nature and psychology of distance education; identifying characteristics of successful distance learners; designing technology-based courseware; adapting teaching strategies to deliver instruction at a distance; evaluating student achievement in an online environment; and, recognizing the incremental demands of teaching (e.g., faculty load, online assessment, out of class interaction, etc.) under these new set of circumstances (American Association of University Professors [AAUP], 1968). Of all the peculiarities of teaching at a distance, none appears so crucial to successful student learning than teacher-student interaction.

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