Week 6: The online instructor as a microsystem continued…

This is the second post in a series that evaluates “The Online Instructor” as a Microsystem.  Last week’s post covered two of the external factors that influence or impact the system, specifically the institution and student related factors.  This week’s installment will review the remaining factors: peer group faculty, content and instructional design, and facilitation skills.  I make no assumptions that these posts will address every external or internal factor, but should be considered a work in progress that will evolve over time.  Comments on this post are welcome and your input is appreciated.

Peer Faculty Group

An online faculty member is influenced in a variety of ways by peer faculty. These can be seen in mentoring or support, recognition of excellence in online teaching, research funding, or acceptance of the online instructor as a valuable contributor to the faculty at large.

Training programs for faculty typically include ways of teaching online, use of technology to improve student learning outcomes, and pedagogical principles of effective online teaching.  A large number of institutions have created programs for online faculties that are required for completion prior to teaching online for the first time. These programs are typically blended in delivery and assist the instructor in making the transition from teaching as a face to face instructor to teaching online without making the assumption that faculty understand effective online teaching.

Recognition of excellence in online teaching is also a factor. There have been numerous studies undertaken which look at the power of praise.  It is essential to recognize talent in every situation and online teaching should be no different.  This can be done in a variety of ways in higher education.  Awards and recognition in the tenure process are obvious methods but some institutions are being creative by offering monetary rewards for faculty who scale their courses to a larger audience and by funding research regarding the efficacy of online education.  This commitment by institutions to the scholarship of teaching and learning online is one factor that contributes to the success of faculty teaching in this mode of delivery.  Faculty members who engage in research and publishing about online education help to broaden the base of information about the field and give back to the larger community of online educators. As with any peer group, acceptance is important to the participants. Online instructors should be included in all events that face-to-face faculty and blended faculty participate in.

Content and Instructional Design


There are a few issues related to how textbooks used in online courses have impact on the online instructor. These are: (1) online instructors are often not involved in the decision making process when it comes to choosing textbooks, (2) digital resources that are available to the online instructor, (3) evolution of the textbook to an e-book, (4) and the rising cost of textbooks.

Faculty members that teach the face-to-face sections of the class often select instructional materials, which are used in online courses.  Inclusion of the online instructor in the decision making process or allowing them to choose different instructional materials for the online version of the course is important.  Many textbooks today come with digital materials to support the online instructor in the creation of their online courses.  However, there is a recent and growing shift to digital or eBooks by the higher education publishers.  Brian Kibby, president of McGraw Hill, announced in fall of 2012 that all instructional materials would be in digital form within three years.  There has also been an increase in publishers and platforms for ebooks receiving venture capital funding to obtain a portion of the “textbook pie” as this digital shift is occurring.  While the move to digital textbooks is a strategic move based upon existing technology possibilities, it is important to note that recent articles have highlighted that students find textbooks too expensive and that they are not buying them.  Students are making their way through classes without ever purchasing the textbooks.  The transition to digital texts will also make them more affordable for the learner, which is a noble mission on the part of the publishers, one that students will appreciate.

Instructor, or instructional designer, created materials are the heart of the online course.  It is these elements that allow the instructor to have a sense of presence in their course.  Instructor presence is one of the elements within the Community of Inquiry framework and can be enhanced by leveraging the power of learning technologies and multimedia.  Instructors are leveraging the power of audio and video in their assignments and assessments, not just in the content of the course.  With the advent of the MOOC, which allows instructors to “see” other online courses for the first time, these materials are getting more and more attention and in some cases are driving revamping as well.

Open Educational Resources

One way to reduce the costs of materials for students is to leverage open educational resources.  Open Educational Resources are gaining attention as the Open Learning movement is underway. The largest challenges and barriers presented require innovative thinking in order to expand access to a global repository of learning assets that could transform higher education. Opening up access to materials that can be translated and repurposed internationally will help developing countries save on course content development, facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and address the digital divide by providing capacity-building resources for educators (Olcott, 2012).

Facilitation Skills

The “great” online instructor is a facilitator of learning within the online environment.  They are effective communicators, give timely feedback, build rapport, have incredible instructor and social presence, and know how to set expectations and manage their time wisely.  The great online instructor also remembers that teaching is learning and continually improves their course based upon their experiences of what worked and what did not.

Teaching online is not for everyone, however, with the right set of facilitation skills the learning experience online can be just as good as, if not better than, those in traditional face-to-face settings.

While this post may not address every challenge or opportunity within the microsystem, it is a collection of thoughts toward that end.  There is much work to do to ensure that the online instructor receives the needed support to continue to deliver high quality experiences for our students.  I look forward to the years ahead and being a part of that support system.


Artino, A., (2008) Promoting academic motivation and self-regulation: practical guidelines for online instructors, TechTrends, 52(3), 37-45.

Banathy, B. (1999). Systems thinking in higher education: Learning comes to focus. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 16(2), 133-145.

Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Cheng, Y., & Yeh, H., (2009) From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective, British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 597-605.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Keller, J., (1999) Using the ARCS motivation process in computer-based instruction and distance education, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78.

Olcott, D. (2012). OER perspectives: emerging issues for universities. Distance Education, 33(2), 283-290.

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf

Week 4: Readings and Movie Analysis: Systems Thinking

In this week’s installment, I am asked if I understand the inherent challenges of a student.  I don’t mean to dismiss the question, but of course I understand those challenges. I have been in college since 1987 and have worked in education my entire adult career.

Let’s think for just a moment about this.  I have been in and out of higher education systems around the US as a student for 26 years.  I have been a part of the educational systems as an educator for 15 years, have served in an administrative role five years, in addition to the seven years that I have worked for private industry serving institutions of higher education in an ongoing effort to modernize their existing systems and innovate.

Yes, I “get it”.

This week during our class time, working in small groups, we analyzed several readings, applying systems thinking to them.  We used a mind mapping tool called popplet to collaboratively create a relationship map.

Author Relationship MindMap

While reading this book, I find myself struggling to remain engaged with the text.  The text is offensive to me and I would not choose to read it if I were given the choice.  Luckily, I work with chaos and complexity in higher education and understand what it takes to change a system from both the inside out and the outside in.

According to Wikipedia: “The novel’s central theme involves the examination of the human desire to detect patterns or meaning and the risks of finding patterns in meaningless data. Other themes include methods of interpretation of history, cultural familiarity with brand names, and tensions between art and commercialization.”

Chaos and complexity are abundant in the analysis of Pattern Recognition by Gibson using a systems thinking approach.  Kayce, the lead character displays characteristics of the strange attractor as described by Reigeluth.  While her character is still evolving as we continue to read the book, she has a powerful role in working with the Blue Ant design firm led by Dorotea and Stonestreet.

The films have an infinite number of parts and they are introduced in a non-linear fashion.  These films are obtaining the feedback of Kayce and others via the F:F:F.  The mirror world has underlying patterns that are recognizable but they appear different and random. Kayce seems to be impacting the system from the outside in, but I’ll reserve judgment until I complete the book.

In considering the role of Donnie Darko and using the Banathy systems environment model for analysis, we see how Donnie impacts his system from the inside out.  At the start of the story, he stays within the boundary of the system and only has impact on those within that system.

I’ll use Banathy’s model to explain his area of influence on the system at the beginning of the movie as:

Donnie Darko - Start of the Movie

Donnie Darko – Start of the Movie

By the end of the film he has gained enough power and feedback that he begins to impact beyond the boundary of the system. This coevolution based upon the increasing deviations leads to a transformation of the system itself.  To give a concrete example, Donnie initially worked within the system to try to explain inaccurate concepts to the GYM teacher, however that led to feedback that encouraged Donnie to take his “fight” to a different level.  He took his fight to Jim Cunningham’s house and burned it down.

photo 2

The readings regarding chaos theory and complexity were eye opening.  Chaos is not random, but rather the elements that are required for change to occur.  At the conclusion of these readings, I found myself content with chaos and realizing how my role as an agent of change in institutions of higher education is needed in society today.  Without enablers of transformation, systems would not evolve to meet the needs of the future.


Banathy, B. (1992). Chapter two: The systems-environment model. In A Systems View of Education Concepts and Principles for Effective Practice (pp. 25-58). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Eoyang, G. (1996). A brief introduction to complexity in organizations. Chaos Limited, Inc.,

Pattern recognition. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_Recognition_(novel)

Reigeluth, C. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Informally published manuscript, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/chaos_reigeluth_s2004.pdf