July/August 2000 // Case Studies
Gaining Faculty Acceptance for Online Courses at a Traditional College
by Carol Sears Botsch and Robert E. Botsch
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Carol Sears Botsch and Robert E. Botsch "Gaining Faculty Acceptance for Online Courses at a Traditional College" The Technology Source, July/August 2000. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

While many thousands of classes are now offered online, most college faculty still teach in the traditional way: in face-to-face lecture/ discussion classes. Acceptance of courses taught over the Web is a significant issue at many traditional campuses (Levenburg & Major, 1998). Faculty who have invested careers in developing traditional courses have a number of misgivings and questions about Web delivery.

In the spring of 1998, we became the first faculty members to offer a class (American National Government) completely online at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, a public, four-year, mixed commuter and residential university with approximately 3,000 students. We have learned much from our online teaching experiences, including how to gain faculty acceptance for Web courses.

A 1999 survey by a faculty committee chaired by one of us indicated that, while a slim majority of faculty had a positive interest in Web teaching, a large minority had reservations, including the fear of losing interpersonal contact with students, concerns about testing security, the feeling that they were too busy to create and maintain Web courses, the belief that the effort was not worth the payoff, and the sense that the university's reward system did not adequately compensate this kind of innovation. We attempted to address this skepticism while fine-tuning our course and presenting it to other faculty members.

We offer the following advice to anyone planning to put a course online.

Design the course to be as similar as possible to the existing course in structure and content. By changing the content and structure as little as possible from the existing survey course, we minimized the time needed to learn how to work in a new format and created a course that appeared rather traditional to our peers. This made acceptance easier. Similarities and differences are outlined in the table below.

Face-to-face Classes Web Classes

traditional paper text


chapters covered

all chapters in text



short lecture on each chapter in class

two to three page introductory lecture on Web

written assignments on text

one essay and/or news story illustration

short answer questions and one to three essays

supplementary assignments

Web assignments on about half the chapters

Web assignment on each chapter


current events; questions on chapters, sometimes required in writing

mandatory discussion list using question posed by professor for each chapter


In class; 80-90% objective, 10-20% essay

take-home essay exams provided on Web, submitted via e-mail


about one chapter a week

asynchronous, but with about a 48-hour window per assignment; one chapter per week

Initially, offer students a choice by teaching only one section of a multiple section course over the Web, and make sure students are informed of the choice. Before the first class was offered, we wrote stories about the class that appeared in the school newspaper and in local newspapers. Consequently, entering students were informed about the Web format and advisors were able to offer other options to their students. After positive faculty and student experiences, it is easier to expand into other courses with only one section.

Use traditional "take-home" tests (a format that is already accepted by most faculty) in the Web class. Some faculty were initially very concerned about how to handle testing and test security. How can instructors of online courses ensure that students do their own work? The answer is that, with current technology, they can't (Carlson, 1999). They can require students to come to campus for testing, but that defeats the purpose of offering a course attractive to students who cannot come to campus easily. Off-campus tests proctored by third parties also have security problems. Online take-home exams are no different from the take-home tests that are standard fare in many traditional classes. Using "creative" essay questions that require students to apply what they have learned makes cheating harder. Asking friends for help isn't a realistic option when a good answer requires higher-order thinking along with a great deal of supporting factual knowledge.

Meet concerns about comparative quality with objective testing. We designed a comprehensive general knowledge test and have been giving it to all students as a pre-test and post-test (neither counts toward the course grade). Results over several years indicate that Web students improve their factual knowledge at least as much as those in face-to-face classes. In fact, students with lower GPAs learn more factual knowledge in the Web class (Botsch & Botsch, 1999). Findings reported in the literature support the conclusion that students learn about the same amount in online and face-to-face classes (Levenburg & Major, 1998). We have used the results of these ongoing tests in the many presentations that we have made to faculty groups.

Make interpersonal communication, even if it is not face-to-face, central to the Web class. In our survey, faculty bemoaned the loss of face-to-face interaction between the teacher and student in the "virtual" classroom. After all, one of the rewards of teaching is reaching out to and communicating with students. Some case studies report that students miss the face-to-face interaction (Garson, 1998). Other case studies suggest that this loss may be felt more by the faculty than by the students (Ruth, Foreman, & Tschudy, 1999). This complaint has not arisen in the anonymous course evaluations that our students are required to complete. About one week into the semester, we break the ice with a "getting to know you" e-mail to all the students in the class and ask each student to send the same kind of message in return. Our impression is that interpersonal communication may actually be better in the Web than in the face-to-face class, where many students never learn the names of their fellow students and where the professor may have little personal contact with shy students.

Devise a structure that encourages thoughtful and meaningful class discussions. A related faculty fear was that Web classes would end meaningful class discussion. Many educators insist that, because students live in the real world, they must learn to interact with real people, not just a computer (Perley, 1999). Critics have argued that something is lost when students are unable to bounce their ideas off each other and respond to others. However, the students who self-select themselves into the Web class tend to be older and employed; they are far from isolated (Botsch & Botsch, 1999). Moreover, much real-world interaction does take place via e-mail in our contemporary wired settings. Voluntary discussions do not work (Groeling, 1999). We therefore pose one question per week to the class and require that each student respond with at least one comment to each question. Over the past two years, with an average of about 18 students in each class, the number of class discussion comments by students has ranged from 250 to 400 per class. Qualitatively, we found in an earlier study of one particular class that about 90% of the comments were on topic and 41% were cogent in the sense that they began with believable premises, included relevant information, and had a valid logical form. Moreover, a distinct culture and sense of group cohesion developed among the students through these online question-and-response sessions (Botsch & Botsch, 1998).

Design the Web class to be at least as rigorous as the traditional class. One of the most serious concerns that our colleagues raised was that an online course would lack rigor. Our answer was to ensure that the Web classes are at least as rigorous as their classroom-based counterparts and to measure learning as indicated above. Reading requirements are the same, but Web students are required to do more writing for each chapter. Although GPAs do not differ significantly among students in the two groups, Web students judge the course to be relatively more demanding in course evaluations.

Negotiate a small class size to alleviate fears that faculty will be forced to teach high-enrollment distance classes. Small classes have long been a matter of campus pride and a selling point for USCA. Already overburdened, faculty feared that with no physical classroom, administrators might place no limit on seats. We negotiated a 20-student Web class limit, the maximum for a good class (Boettcher, 1999), especially one with heavy writing requirements.

Focus on student acceptance to build faculty (and administrative) acceptance. Demand for our Web class has been and continues to be high, especially among non-traditional students. In the market-driven world of academia, administrators are finding that online courses are a product that customers want. Moreover, because these classes are an alternative to evening courses, they are potentially attractive to faculty with families who might otherwise be pressured to teach evening courses. Student and faculty support for Web courses has helped lead to the creation of a faculty technology support center at USCA, another key ingredient for expanding online offerings (Carlson, 1999).

Teaching a Web class raises many issues. In this short article, we have touched only on the ways we have increased faculty acceptance for online offerings. We have presented descriptive reports and analyses of comparative outcomes (from traditional versus online course sections) to as many campus groups as possible, which has increased campus support for our efforts. We have not alleviated all fears, however; finding the time to prepare and teach Web courses continues to be a legitimate concern because Web teaching does take more time (Huebert, 1999; Boettcher, 1999). Faculty continue to fear that the reward structure is skewed toward traditional scholarship and does not adequately recognize technology-related efforts (Kuzma, 1998; Levenburg & Major, 1998). Nevertheless, we have reached the point where Web courses are routinely accepted by peers, many of whom now seek us out for one-on-one advice, and are encouraged by administrators, who provide small grant support for Web course development at USCA.


Boettcher, J. V. (1999, April). Cyber course size: Pedagogy and politics. Syllabus, 42- 44.

Botsch, C. S. and Botsch, R. E. (1999, October 14). Audiences, outcomes and issues in distance and traditional classes: A comparative two year case study. Paper presented at the Distance 99 Conference, Myrtle Beach, SC.

Botsch, C. S. and Botsch, R. E. (1998, October 8). The culture of virtual discussion groups in Web classes. Paper presented at the Popular Culture/American Culture Association of the South, Augusta, GA.

Carlson, R. (1999, September). Migrating your course to the online environment. Syllabus, 20-24.

Garson, G. D. (1998, September). Evaluating implementation of Web-based teaching in political science. PS: Political Science and Politics 31, 585-590. Retrieved 9 March 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.apsanet.org/PS/sept98/garson.cfm.

Groeling, T. (1999). Virtual discussion: Web based discussion forums in political science. Paper presented at the 1999 American Political Science Association annual meeting, Atlanta, GA. Retrieved 15 October 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://pro.harvard.edu/abstracts/009/009001GroelingTi.html

Huebert, R. (1999). The design, development and delivery of an Internet based course: Experiences of a novice. Teaching Politics: Virtual Conference 1999. Retrieved 20 April 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://teachpol.tcnj.edu/conference/huebert.htm

Kuzma, L. M. (1998, September). The World Wide Web and active learning in the international relations classroom. PS: Political Science and Politics 31, 578-584. Retrieved 9 March 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.apsanet.org/PS/sept98/kuzma.cfm

Levenburg, N. M., & Major, H. T. (1998, November). Distance learning: Implications for higher education in the 21st century. The Technology Source. Retrieved 23 October 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=82

Perley, James. (1999, September/October). Back to the future of education: Real teaching, real learning. The Technology Source. Retrieved 23 October 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=37.

Ruth, S., Foreman, J., & Tschudy, T. (1999, September/October) Exploring the middle ground: A course on teaming in cyberspace. The Technology Source. Retrieved 22 October 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=120.

pc gamesplatform gamesbrain teaser gamesword gameshidden object games
View Related Articles >