By Emily Rodriguez
Nine members of Faculty Senate were told Friday of a new requirement for faculty to take training courses to increase the effectiveness of online courses.
Dr. Tracy Hurley, interim associate vice president for academic affairs, said the courses have been introduced to show the SACS accreditation board that the university has made an effort to ensure that faculty are competent enough to teach online and hybrid classes.
SACS is the accreditation body of institutions of higher learning.
Texas A&M-San Antonio is in the process of gaining its SACS accreditation; the university is accredited through Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“Because of the SACS accreditation requirement to ensure that students who take online classes have the same quality of education as the face-to-face courses, we need to instill some sort of requirement for faculty to complete at least a minimum amount of training for teaching online hybrid classes,” Hurley said.
Faculty will receive an email that includes course instructions.
Hurley said that anyone currently teaching online or hybrid classes at this university, including fall and summer 2014 or spring 2015, will need to complete three trainings for online teaching by the end of December. Faculty who do not teach online classes are welcome to attend trainings.
The training courses are separate from Human Resources trainings that faculty are required to take since the course is regulated through the university, not The Texas A&M University System.
“Anyone teaching now for the fall would kind of be after the fact, but we’ll be trying to get ahead of the curve by having those teaching spring ‘15 to have that completed by December,” Hurley said.
Faculty who are hired just before classes begin have a semester to complete the courses.
There is no consequence for those who do not take the trainings, as of yet, Hurley said. Eventually, faculty will not be able to teach online or hybrid courses without completing formalized training.
“Building an Online Course” and “Assessing Learners” are two of the three required trainings for faculty.
Faculty will be able to select one elective training course on “Designing Engaging Content,” “Building Online Communities,” “Enhancing Communication” or “Monitoring Student Performance.”
Hurley said faculty who have prior training from other institutions may be exempt from taking these courses by testing out, using a Quality Matters rubric on one of their online courses to fulfill the requirement.
The rubric is due by the first day of class for the upcoming fall semester; the training courses will begin in the fall term.
A certificate will be given to faculty who complete the training and will be included in their annual work review.
In other business, Jenny Wilson, associate professor of reading, asked the senate to make a determination on who owns course material uploaded to Blackboard.
She argued the senate needs to take a position on the issue and, if professors do not own their content, then they need to understand their material may be taken from them and used by other instructors. She then gave a example on how this has occurred.
Wilson taught a hybrid course that was taken from her and given to an adjunct due to payment issues.
The adjunct who took over Wilson’s hybrid course copied and pasted what she originally had on Blackboard into their folder.
“The issue came when this semester, I’m teaching the class again and I no longer have access to the Blackboard that I created,” Wilson said. “My creation, my course, my documents, my links, my everything as a hybrid course.”
Wilson said her content is being treated as scripted curriculum instead of her intellectual property, which the College of Education is against.
“It’s something that we push against and we say that you have to be able to create your own course, this is about your expertise,” she said. “We should be hiring adjuncts and lecturers who have expertise in the area and are able to come up with their own courses.”
“I have no problem with sharing some things with them; we already share syllabi with them. But to have outright copying and given without permission sought. That’s a whole other issue.”
In a follow up interview on Wednesday, Wilson said this is the first time she had approached the senate or any other faculty groups about this issue.
Wilson said adjuncts who have taken over courses can use the content from other courses, meaning that students who retake her course with another professor will be taking the same course over again without the addition of the adjunct’s expertise.
Wilson posed the question of whether Blackboard is the proper place for instructors to put their course materials if it can be taken and used without their permission, and later said that faculty may decide to store their course materials elsewhere if this continues.
Wilson and reading Assistant Professor Ramona Pittman contacted Sherita Love, senior instructional designer and academic technologies lead, about the issue and were sent an email by Velma Villegas, interim department chair of curriculum and kinesiology, reprimanding them for not following the chain of command.
“Sherita Love is not part of that chain of command. When there are issues with faculty and IT, it goes directly through IT,” Wilson said in the follow up interview. “We received a couple of reprimand emails even when we responded back to our chair saying that we did the right thing.”
Parliamentarian Richard Green recalled a court case where an instructor from one of the Texas A&M University System sued for intellectual rights and lost.
Green moved to have the Faculty Development and Research Committee to investigate this issue further and report their findings.
The issue of copyright and intellectual property in regards to recording classes and posting material on Blackboard was discussed in the senate’s September 2013 meeting. During the meeting, Green moved to establish a subcommittee to discuss the concern with the administration.
President Brian Brantley said in a follow up interview Wednesday that the subcommittee was not formed. The responsibility has been given to the standing committee Faculty Development and Research Committee as Green had motioned.
Wilson said Wednesday that she has researched the issue and believes that if faculty are paid through a grant or are given extra money to create a course shell, it belongs to the institution.
“As a faculty member, there was no additional pay or consulting, anything like that for copying the course. My daily duties are to teach a course and do the best job I can at that,” Wilson said. “However, all of those materials were copied over as if I was paid to create the course. I wasn’t paid to create a shell of a course for everyone.”
In other news, Brantley has decided to assign the Faculty Development and Research Committee to assist criminology Associate Professor Durant Frantzen to develop the faculty handbook.
Faculty are drafting the institution’s first handbook. A&M-San Antonio currently uses a revised version of A&M-Kingsville’s faculty handbook.
Frantzen said he is open to ideas on how to develop the handbook and which university handbooks to use as guides.
Mary Mayorga, assistant professor of counseling, proposed using Texas A&M-College Station’s faculty handbook to model this university’s handbook after.
Faculty feedback will be collected following a committee meeting, Frantzen said.
The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held at 11 a.m. March 7 in Room 353 of Main Campus.