Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023
Starting an Online Medical Laboratory Science Education Program Part Five
Elizabeth A. Gockel-Blessing, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM
Amanda Reed, MAE, MLS(ASCP)CM
We are back from summer break and eager to continue our series on building an online MLS program. As you may recall, in our previous articles we addressed the issues of IT bandwidth and curriculum review.
In this article we address the challenges of getting current faculty on board with offering the online MLS program. We encountered resistance to the development of online courses as opposed to the “tried and true” in-seat ones. Here, we discuss how we addressed the issues of limited faculty time, as well as hesitancy and concerns with sharing course materials.
Faculty Resistance—Resistance is Futile
Faculty resistance in the context of higher education refers to instances in which faculty disapprove of higher-level mandates, decisions, and innovation. Dating back centuries, faculty resistance has a lengthy and diverse history with notable occurrences in the 18th and 20th centuries. Scientific and intellectual freedom, equal rights, anti-war, and social justice are but just a few topics that have spurred faculty resistance.
Fast forward to the building of our online program when the “innovative” idea of creating a course delivery method different from the traditional in-class lectures and in-person laboratory sessions was broached with the faculty. The faculty were resistant not only to the extra effort in terms of time and energy involved to “recreate” the course material and incorporate online laboratory activities, but also to the philosophical principle of teaching in this non-traditional, innovative way.
“[W]e were able to find a compromise that allowed us to use the already available course content while validating the MLS faculty’s concerns and giving them the power of choice to participate.”
Some of the faculty accepted the challenge and eagerly embraced the opportunities that resulted from this innovative program delivery option. One of the opportunities that emerged was that each faculty member creating online courses was assigned to an instructional designer. These individuals were experts in their abilities to guide faculty through the process of converting a traditional course to one taught online.
Other faculty did not participate, citing that the increased time and effort were not possible in their current workloads. The next section delves deeper into faculty workload and how it was addressed.
Faculty Workload—How Should Faculty Spend their Time?
A typical faculty member employed in institutions of higher education is expected to participate in teaching, research, and service. Participation in each of these three tenets of university faculty can seem daunting. How can one do all these things and do them well? Enter the concept of faculty workload whereby faculty members collaborate with their immediate supervisors to determine a percent effort in each of the three tenets. Sometimes, elaborate calculations are used, but for the purposes of the discussion here, simple percentages show the concept best. (Box 1)
Box 1. Example of Workload Based on Simple Percentages
Suppose Daffy is a new instructor at Warner Brothers University. He was hired primarily to teach lecture and laboratory courses in hematology, immunology, and immunohematology (teaching). Daffy has an interest in studying how students prepare for exams (research). Daffy serves on two college and one university-level committees (service). After meeting with his supervisor, this workload was assigned to Daffy for the upcoming academic year.
Based on this workload, 80 percent of Daffy’s time is assigned to his teaching responsibilities. Ten percent of Daffy’s time is assigned to research, and the remaining 10 percent is assigned to service.
Understanding the make-up of MLS program faculty provides additional context to our discussion. Box 2 details the responsibilities and program time commitment for each faculty.
Box 2. Current Make-Up of MLS Program Faculty
There are five full-time, one part-time, and one adjunct faculty in the program.
Faculty #3, #4, #5
Primarily teaching professor and MLS program director
Primarily teaching professor and program director of another program in the department
Primarily tenured faculty with a high percentage effort in research; minimal teaching load
Associate dean for student and academic affairs and small teaching load in MLS and another unit on campus
Full-time practitioner, teaches one course
At the time of online course builds, all faculty in the MLS department were either at or above 100 percent effort spread between teaching, research, and service. Adding to the workload in the form of online course builds would put them into overload. Even though there was a stipend associated with building each course, some faculty chose not to take on the extra work. These faculty did not have the capacity while others were not interested in participating. Fortunately, a solution was reached. For courses that faculty were unable/unwilling to build, external skilled individuals, known as subject matter experts (SMEs), were hired to build them with assistance from instructional designers.
Sharing of Resources and Materials—Really?
MLS faculty who chose not to participate in the online build were asked to provide the SMEs with access to their current course materials consisting primarily of lecture materials, course schedules, syllabi, assignments, quizzes, and exams. The sharing of these documents served two important purposes: to ensure consistency between the in-seat and online program and so the SMEs did not have to recreate the wheel. In some instances, the SMEs were also hired as adjunct faculty to teach these courses. In other instances, additional adjunct faculty were hired to teach.
Some MLS faculty were hesitant to share the materials they worked so hard to create with the SMEs and adjunct faculty when asked. However, St. Louis University’s (SLU) faculty manual is clear that course materials can be used and reproduced by the university. The faculty manual also states that each faculty member has academic freedom and is encouraged to use their “individual pedagogical strengths” in the development and delivery of their courses. (Saint Louis University. 2023 Faculty Manual, SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY (slu.edu), accessed 07/25/2023.) In the spirit of academic freedom and compromise, we developed a set of course outcomes that were identical in both delivery methods, which ensured consistency. However, how the course outcomes were met could vary.
Establishing a set of course outcomes to be used by all sections of the course, whether in-seat or online, reduced the level of anxiety associated with sharing of resources. With the course outcomes in place, the MLS faculty agreed to provide the course materials, knowing that they would not be used exactly, if at all, depending on how the SMEs decided to build the course.
It is understandable that combining such a large project with an already maxed out workload could lead to faculty reluctance to participate. Creating something new and sharing it with others can be an intimidating and anxiety inducing endeavor. We heard the faculty’s concerns about workload and sharing their work with outside SMEs and adjuncts. To address the concerns, we were able to find a compromise that allowed us to use the already available course content while validating the MLS faculty’s concerns and giving them the power of choice to participate. In the end we created online and hybrid courses that met the same course outcomes and were equal in quality and rigor to the in-seat courses.
Elizabeth A. Gockel-Blessing is Associate Professor, Medical Laboratory Science Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs at Doisy College of Health Sciences at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Amanda Reed is Assistant Professor/MLS Program Director at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Read additional articles in this series:
- Considering Starting an Online Medical Laboratory Science Education Program? Part One
- Starting an Online MLS Education Program: IT Infrastructure
- Starting an Online MLS Education Program: IT Infrastructure Part 2
- Curriculum Review: Do We Have To?
Photo credit: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash