How to Be a Better Faculty Member

By Dr. Chris Reynolds
AVP & Dean, Center for Teaching and Learning at American Public University System

Being a professional educator is a rewarding, yet sometimes difficult, profession. This is particularly the case when teaching online. Unlike our traditional classroom colleagues, we rely on the Internet to deliver our lectures and interact with students. From coaching students and guiding their classroom activities to teaching and illustrating significant points, faculty success is measured by actively participating in the classroom. As our APUS 101 workshop, Success in the eClassroom, reminds faculty, “Instructors are more than just instructors; they are mentors and coaches who develop the abilities of students by tutoring, coaching, and guiding them.”

As faculty, we should always seek methods to improve our classroom performance and our day-to-day interaction with our students. These are the very components that American Public University System’s Community of Inquiry (COI) program seeks to build upon. Stressing the components of cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence, the COI construct illustrates ways that faculty members can improve upon their teaching skills.

The Community of Inquiry Model (COI) is a framework rather than a specific practice and is based on constructivist education theory and research (Swan, Garrison, & Richardson, 2009). We recently provided COI training to nearly 2,000 APUS faculty members in an effort to bolster teaching abilities in the online classroom. By using a community course concept, three cohorts worked alongside one another as they explored the three COI presences. By providing a strong foundation in the COI, APUS established a high standard for faculty excellence.

So, how can faculty members improve on their classroom interaction? Here are a couple of easy steps that will enhance student learning:

  1. Be enthusiastic and approachable – I am sure that we can all remember in our own educational journeys, teachers who made learning enjoyable. They challenged you to do better and to succeed. If a faculty member approaches his or her classroom as if it were an assembly line, chances are students will pick up on this mundane approach and learning will suffer. Faculty members should be enthusiastic in their interactions and approachable. Faculty set the tone and climate for courses.
  2. Be clear and concise in your instructions – There is nothing more frustrating than conflicting instructions or lack of clarity on expectations. Students should be able to easily understand course objectives and assignment expectations. Long or wordy instructions often create confusion. Faculty should focus on developing a conversational tone in their written lectures and try to keep the delivery ‘light’.
  3. Establish a “Community of Learning” approach –

    Classrooms should always be approached as if they were small communities of learners. Students all have varying levels of experience and academic abilities. By using a community approach, we recognize the inherent difference of others. This approach allows us to tailor to the needs of students as individuals.

  4. Be timely and substantive in student interactions – Perhaps the simplest, yet sometimes time consuming aspect of managing the classroom is being timely and substantive. Reading and grading assignments takes time and faculty should budget time to assure substantive feedback is provided. The same is true in the forums—this is analogous to the open classroom in a traditional brick and mortar university. Think back to a class that you had in a traditional university and imagine if the professor didn’t say anything. Not much learning going on there is there!? Online students will have the same reaction if they have a professor who is not involved in the discussion.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is a resource for our faculty. We house a number of faculty development assets designed to help faculty be successful. Our Mission is to improve student learning through teaching excellence while providing support and resources for faculty to be scholarly, innovative, and effective. We adopted the motto, “Building Unity in the Academic Community,” which supports our vision of equipping faculty and students with the tools and resources needed to actively engage in teaching and learning. Likewise, we seek to build a virtual teaching and learning community among faculty and students. And finally, we serve as a one-stop, 24/7 Web source for resources and information on the many facets of teaching and learning online. Our work developing the Community of Inquiry program demonstrates the impact the Center for Teaching and Leaning has on our faculty.

About the Author:
Dr. Chris Reynolds, CEM has over 30 years of higher education experience in both the traditional and online classroom. He currently serves as the Dean for the Center for Teaching and Learning and most recently served as the Director for the Emergency Management and Homeland Security programs at American Military University, where he developed an award winning undergraduate and graduate program. Dr. Reynolds is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida as an Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer (EPLO) assigned to Air Force Northern Command, 1st Air Force.

Works Cited:

Swan, K., Garrison, D. R. & Richardson, J. C. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the
Community of Inquiry framework. In Payne, C. R. (Ed.) Information Technology and
Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Hershey, PA: IGI Global,


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