The role of online course development and teaching in the merit and promotion process: Is credit necessary or applied?
First Monday

The role of online course development and teaching in the merit and promotion process: Is credit necessary or applied? by Lori Kupczynski, Angela M. Gibson, and Linda Challoo

Traditionally, universities have awarded promotion and tenure based on subjective criteria developed by the granting institution and disregarded credit for creating and teaching an online course. Current standards for promotion and tenure at Texas public universities and the role that an online course should play in tenure and promotion process are explored in this paper. Texas was selected to represent national standards in the promotion and tenure process as it is the second largest state in the United States and the third most populated. Researchers are well versed in the tenure and promotion process as it reflects national requirements.


Online learning vs. the traditional classroom
Online course development
Quality assurance




Traditionally, universities have awarded promotions and tenure based on subjective criteria developed by the granting institution including peer evaluations on teaching performance, research and creative activities, and professional service. According to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, tenure is a “time honored practice … for university faculty as an important protection of free inquiry, open intellectual and scientific debate, and unfettered criticism of the accepted body of knowledge …” being “the core of the academic enterprise involv[ing] a continual reexamination of ideas,” which, “thrive[s] and grow[s] through critical analysis of conventions and theories” (Evaluation of Tenured Faculty, 2004). “Tenure and promotion … is generally seen as ill–defined, impenetrable, punitive, and fraught with the unknown” [1]. An example of the ambiguity of merit, tenure, and promotion can be found at the Texas Tech site for tenure and promotion found at The site merely lists the faculty receiving tenure and promotion, faculty receiving a change in academic rank, and those granted tenure rather than stating any of their guidelines on how to achieve tenure and promotion. “Procedures and instruments that institutions use to assess productivity and merit vary, leaving little that unifies the evaluation and rewards system in the U.S. higher education” [2]. Over time, the criteria has shifted and changed and become more rigorous so much so that those applying for tenure are being judged more harshly than their judges were when they applied for tenure [3].

Many Texas universities, including tier one and those striving to become tier one, have also developed similar subjective procedures. A ‘tier one’ university is a university “where researchers make the next big breakthroughs in science or engineering and where top scholars teach the next generation of leaders and problem–solvers” (Hacker, 2009). Currently, there are two tier one schools in Texas, the University of Texas–Austin (UT–Austin) and Texas A&M University–College Station (TAMU). There are also seven schools applying for tier one status in Texas. Several University of Texas (UT) system schools, UT Arlington (UTA), Dallas (UTD), El Paso (UTEP), and San Antonio (UTSA), are applying for tier one status as well as the University of North Texas (UNT), the University of Houston (UH) and Texas Tech University (TTU) (Hacker, 2009). According to the handbooks of each of these nine universities, generally the criteria for promotion and tenure are the same. Each tier one university and the tier one hopefuls state in their handbooks of operating procedures (HOP) that tenure and promotions applicants are “evaluated … on accomplishments in … three categories of performance: teaching, research/scholarship/creative activities, and service” (UTSA HOP).

The category of teaching is of particular interest. The UTSA HOP describes teaching as including “classroom and laboratory instruction, development of new courses, laboratories and teaching methods, publication of instructional materials, supervision of undergraduate and graduate students.” The TAMU, TTU and UTA handbooks make similar statements. UTA’s and UTD’s handbooks also state that “evidence of contribution to improving teaching effectiveness such as the development, implementation and publication of innovative educational methods and materials” is to be submitted with the tenure applicant’s dossier. An argument can then be made that the development of a new online course which includes creating and publishing on the World Wide Web innovative educational methods and materials and that improves teaching effectiveness should be considered in the merit, promotion and tenure procedures of Texas universities.



Online learning vs. the traditional classroom

The biggest difference between an online, virtual classroom and the traditional classroom is the way instruction is delivered. In the traditional classroom, the instructor is the center of learning and information is presented orally or through tangible text. The text can be engaged through active reading activities like highlighting, making notes in margins, and underlining and circling important information. The course material can be discussed in class and whatever questions or arguments arise can be answered and discussed during the class period by a live person. In a traditional classroom setting the teaching and learning is happening on a synchronous schedule.

Conversely, online instruction occurs asynchronously. “The learner(s) and instructor [are] separated by time and space” (Maguire, 2005). Online course “take advantage of the Internet as a teaching and learning environment; … it’s open, distributed, dynamic, globally accessible, filtered, interactive and archival in nature” [4]. In online learning, “the instructor acts as a guide to the process [of learning] rather than its director … Dependence on the instructor is reduced and students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning” (Palloff and Pratt, 2001). Text still plays an important role in online learning but now the text can be manipulated, searched, revised and updated and appears in “short, concise, ‘chunks’” which can be distributed through a wide array of multimedia media [5]. Discussion of the text is done through online forums, live chats or e–mail messages.

Online courses are becoming increasingly popular especially with the non–traditional student. “The online student tends to be a mid–career adult returning to school” (Hammonds, et al., 1997 as cited in Palloff and Pratt, 2001). Also, “many students see online courses as a more convenient way to go to school” (Palloff and Pratt, 2001). The trend does not seem to be slowing. In 2007, there was a “12.9 percent growth rate for online enrollments [which exceeded] the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population” [6]. Universities are offering more online courses to meet the demand. “One in five institutions with online courses introduced their first offerings this past year” [7]. Allen and Seaman’s study suggests that changes in the economy such as the economic downturn and the rise in fuel costs have had a favorable impact on online education [8]. Despite the growth of online education and the increasing demand for class to be held online, many faculty members simply refuse to teach online. Many are hesitant of teaching online and attribute their lack of doing so to lack of time. Zhen (2008) notes that among the major concerns for faculty were time, technological and institutional support, and scholarly respect in the area of promotion and tenure. Whatever the reason, demand for online education continues to grow.



Online course development

“Converting a traditional course to an online course is not simply a matter of typing lectures and posting them on the Internet” (Kosak, et al., 2004). It requires a complete change in pedagogy. The traditional face–to–face lecture with rote memorization by students to which many instructors are accustomed is not effective in an online learning environment. “Online instructors need to know how to convert traditional lectures into interactive lessons that encourage students to be active participants” (Meyan, et al., 1997 as cited in Kosak, et al., 2004). According to Palloff and Pratt (2001), it takes approximately three times as long to prepare for and teach an online course as it does a traditional course. Time spent teaching online classes has been divided into four categories including course preparation time, time spent teaching, office hours, and final tasks including grading (Zhen, 2008). Based on these categories, it was found that instructors actually spent 150 percent more time online as compared to the traditional class format (Zhen, 2008). Most of this time was spent on individual communications and interactions between instructor and student (Zhen, 2008).

In order to develop quality and effective online courses, online instructors are required to have certain skills and extensive training may be involved to assure appropriate change in pedagogy for the online courses. Online course instruction requires pedagogical proficiencies, administrative skills, and technical skills [9]. There have been links to “the success of educational technological use,” and how effectively one adapts the technology presented (Zhen, 2008). “When faculty members reduced the transactional distance (the amount of pedagogical separations between faculty and students) or increased the amount of interactive pedagogical influencing both the students and the faculty members’ satisfaction with online teaching and learning” (Zhen, 2008).

Of the nine schools reviewed, all but one offered some sort of training for instructors who were developing online courses. UNT, TTU, UH, UTA, and UTSA all offer comprehensive support and training for instructors through their technology departments. UT–Austin and TAMU offer training on the various multimedia technologies offered by the university but not necessarily on course design and pedagogy. UTEP’s instructional designers will design a course for the instructor or they offer consultations on how to bring technology in the classroom. UTD was the only university reviewed whose technology training was not found or not easily accessible. The Sloan Consortium (Sloan–C) also offers a course to certify instructors to teach online.

Even though some universities offer some training, instructors are still reluctant to teach online courses. Schifter (2002) lists some inhibiting factors as “concern for faculty workload … lack of merit pay … [and] lack of credit toward promotion and tenure”. “One of the major issues facing faculty and their institutions as they prepare to teach online is compensation … there are still many institutions where online teaching is considered simply a part of the overall course load” (Palloff and Pratt, 1999). Monetary compensation is “necessary to attract and sustain effective online instructors” (Sellani and Harrington, 2002 as cited in Kosak, et al.). It has been suggested by several researchers “that providing support, such as training, administrative, monetary, and promotional, is essential for administrators to ensure the quality of online education” (Yang, 2010).



Quality assurance

Another main concern about online instruction is quality assurance. Faculty and institutions alike wonder how they can convert a traditional course to an online course without affecting the quality of instruction and learning. Proper training and support, of course, is the simplest way to improve quality. If instructors are (a) knowledgeable not only in their course material but in the technology available to them; (b) have the support of administration and the instructional technology (IT) department; and, (c) have proper training in effective teaching, then quality instruction can be improved. As mentioned above, more and more universities are offering training to online instructors. The challenge is making sure there is 24–hour support in the event of technical difficulties. Many non–traditional students take online course because it fits into their schedules even if that means being online at two in the morning.

Regional accrediting agencies such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — of which Texas is a member — has lists of “core requirements and compressive standards“ for distance education or online learning. The list gives expectations, questions and considerations, and best practices for teaching distance or online courses including “regularly evaluate[ing] the effectiveness of faculty members who teach distance education courses”. Quality matters (QM) is another resource available to review the quality of online courses. “QM is a nationally recognized faculty–centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online course and online components” ( The Texas Distance Learning Association ( also provides resources in training, support, and quality assurance for online instructors.




Online courses are growing in popularity and demand particularly among non-traditional students. Even though more and more universities are offering online courses, faculty are still reluctant to teach online courses. They are concerned about planning and developing the courses, the overall quality of online courses and the lack of credit toward merit, promotion and tenure. The findings in a recent case study conducted by Zhen (2008) “[suggest] that institution[s] should give credits toward promotion and tenure, recognition and rewards, and funding or merit pay based on how effectively faculty use or integrate technology in learning and teaching practices. The results of the case study point to the significance of technological professional help and monetary support, the need for “computer resources … provided to all faculty members, especially for departments that do not have discretionary budgets” (Zhen, 2008). Planning online courses can be as time–consuming or more so than planning traditional courses. It requires increased skill set, training, and a change in pedagogy. Quality training and IT support are key to quality course development. There are accountability systems in place to assure teachers are qualified and that courses meet university and regional standards. Advances in technology necessitate multimedia and technologically dynamic instruction to better prepare students to meet technological demands in the future. Faculty need to be encouraged to teach online courses and institutions can encourage faculty by showing their support in the form of incentives. Universities need to revise their merit, promotion and tenure systems to provide incentives to faculty who teach online courses in order to continue to attract quality teachers. End of article


About the authors

Lori Kupczynski, Ed.D., serves as an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Texas A&M University–Kingsville. In addition, she works as an educational consultant across the United States at multiple institutions of higher learning. Her research interests center on Internet–based instruction and the role of the adult learner, with emphasis in instructional design.

Angela M. Gibson, Ed.D., serves as the Instructional Design Project Leader for the Instructional Design and Development Team at the American Public University System. With a background in educational leadership, adult education, community college education, and student affairs, her research interests include student engagement and success, the role of online technology in course design and instruction, and Hispanic student success.

Linda Challoo, Ed.D., currently serves as Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator of the Instructional Technology Graduate Program in the College of Education at Texas A&M University–Kingsville. Her research interests are diverse and include artificial intelligence and robotics, e–learning, instructional technology in education, assistive technology, educational leadership, and STEM education.



1. Schaffner and MacKinnon, 2002, p. 4.

2. Elmore, 2008, para. 1.

3. Schaffner and MacKinnon, 2002, p. 7.

4. Elliot and McGreal, 2002 as cited in Caplan, 2004, p. 178.

5. Caplan, 2004, p. 178.

6. Allen and Seaman, 2008, p. 1.

7. Allen and Seaman, 2008, p. 7.

8. Allen and Seaman, 2008, pp. 8–9.

9. Caplan, 2004, pp. 183–184.



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Editorial history

Received 4 January 2011; revised 31 January 2011; accepted 20 February 2011.

Copyright © 2011, First Monday.

Copyright © 2011, Lori Kupczynski, Angela M. Gibson, and Linda Challoo.

The role of online course development and teaching in the merit and promotion process: Is credit necessary or applied?
by Lori Kupczynski, Angela M. Gibson, and Linda Challoo.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 3 - 7 March 2011

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