Policy Recommendations XII

Virginia Tech Cyberschool

"Teaching Fellows for Distance and Distributed Education"

Len Hatfield and Timothy W. Luke
Coordinators, Cyberschool
January 23, 1998

While the Virginia Tech Cyberschool has confirmed the hopes shared by many about the flexibility and utility of on-line teaching, the University is already at the point of maximum mobilization for its current faculty. As a consequence, we face a shortage of faculty resources when the University is faced with the need to mount any new initiatives in the area of distributed education, and we need to consider new ways to bring more faculty to these new tasks, while keeping costs low. One solution may present itself from the current state of the profession in university teaching.

In many disciplines, new Ph.D.s often are quite interested in on-line teaching techniques, but they also find the job market to be a very tough environment where several years might be spent in one-year positions as instructors before tenure-track employment is found. Virginia Tech needs more faculty, and it has made a name for itself with pioneering efforts in the field of on-line teaching. Consequently, we propose that the University establish a new program, as part of its planned Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning, to recruit a group of Teaching Fellows for a two to four year period, which could, in turn, provide a core cadre of on-line teaching faculty for its distance and distributed learning initiatives.

Teaching Fellows essentially would work as instructors, but they also could receive advanced training in the Faculty Development Initiative, real world experience in Cyberschool-style University courses, and a formal course of instruction in the theory and practice of digital culture, discourse, and education. Those who complete all of these parts of the program could be given a certificate of proficiency in digital teaching to legitimize their actual work experience as well as to underscore Virginia Tech's innovative advances in this area. This program should be competitive, like similar teaching fellowships or postdoctoral appointments at the Honors colleges of some of our peer land grant institutions, and it should be a positive, rewarding experience for any new Ph.D., who might include this program in his/her career path.

Teaching Fellows also should engage in new Research, Outreach, or Extension projects as part of their Fellowships. While the main thrust of these appointments would be toward teaching, this program also must promote the interweaving of research, teaching, and service in the digital environment along the lines suggested in the Cyberschool Net.Work policy recommendation. While these appointments would be professional apprenticeships of a particular type, the Fellows should be encouraged to share their skills with Virginia Tech faculty, graduate students, and administrators, as well as with communities near and far, who could use their expertise as teachers or researchers.

Launching such a Teaching Fellows program would have several benefits, including:

1) Faculty Flexibility
Coupled with a "virtual college," like the Institute for Distance and Distributed Education, these Teaching Fellows would provide a group of faculty to teach more on-line courses at a non-research load (i.e. more than four courses an academic year). If the University would start 20 or more in the program, and their individual load was six courses, then at least 180 more on-line courses could be provided by such Ph.D. holding faculty members.


2) Budgeting Stability
Coupled with two to four year seed money, the revenue sharing for this program could create a stable flow of tuition dollars for budget planners to use as a base for more permanent programs. If it did not cost out, then other funding strategies could be found. However, this sort of initiative could be presented in Richmond for special funding as a technologycentered program and another path for "doing more with less."


3) Valorizing the Technology Niche
Creating this program would add to Virginia Tech's leadership in on-line teaching by launching a special program to train the faculty of the future for the universities of the future, which we could recruit competitively nation-wide. A positive experience for the Teaching Fellows also would help us build new student, faculty, and researcher recruitment networks.


4) Enhancing Parallel Initiatives
Funding this program would give a more permanent base for a virtual college, like the Institute for Distance and Distributed Education, a digital discourse center, a virtual faculty, and a new faculty rewards structure by mobilizing a dedicated group of enthusiastic new professionals to assay benefits and costs of such innovations.

For further discussion of related issues, see the following Cyberschool Policy Recommendation papers:


5) Career Enhancements for the Fellows
Building this sort of program will add value to individual scholarly careers that otherwise would be spent logging years as ordinary instructors without such experience or training. This exciting apprenticeship program would give Teaching Fellows a certain employment period of two to four years plus the FDI experience, several semesters of on-line teaching experience (plus on campus and/or extended campus teaching), and training in the practices of digital culture, discourse, and education.

All of these possibilities point to a "win/win" situation for all involved, if we can mobilize the money and support to make this proposal a reality.