Last spring’s Covid-19 pandemic fast-tracked many efforts nationwide to move towards hybrid and online education, but many institutions held out hope of resuming at least some on-campus classes and operations. However, over the summer and fall, a growing number are trying to adopt primarily online models, with the Chronicle of Higher Education reporting that out of nearly 3,000 US-based institutions, just 4% are fully in-person, as of October 2020.
How can institutions take advantage of the shift to ensure high-quality, career-focused programs for students? National University had a strategy to scale 51 programs to offer asynchronously nationwide. In four months, the University’s Center of Innovation and Learning (CIL) collaborated with their NU faculty and LearningMate in order to reach this goal by enhancing 29 existing programs and building 21 new programs. This effort included the conversion of 300 courses, 120 hours of interactive student-engagement content, and 2,500 discussion boards.
Defining the Challenge
Following a Course Review Project that gathered data for core courses, both undergraduate and graduate, to evaluate preparation for a 100% asynchronous environment, eliminating the face-to-face online components, quality of resources and allowing the students to progress through materials as quickly as their schedule allows, National University’s Center of Innovation and LearningMate partnered closely with National University’s faculty to complete a Curriculum Scaling and Quality Assurance Project. This project began in June and continued through October 2020.
The goal of the Curriculum Scaling and Quality Assurance Project was to ensure the courses have key quality matter components and are asynchronous ready in order to support engaging student experience while keeping to the tight project timeline. The Center of Innovation and Learning (CIL) team, led by Shannon McCarty, Vice President, Teaching and Learning, and Shane Strup, Director, Curriculum and Instructional Design, planned a collaborative initiative where faculty updated key areas and the CIL team, with assistance from LearningMate, updated other components.
Following Quality Matter HE standards, the CIL, faculty, and LearningMate team worked together to address:
Course Update Areas:
- Course and Weekly Learning Outcome Mapping: Established eight learning outcomes per course and three weekly learning outcomes. These were clearly displayed in the LMS and in a student-facing PDF chart, aligned with course assignments.
- Discussion Board Text: Planned and implemented a format to ensure readiness for asynchronous learning, including a welcome message, virtual office, two content-based questions per week, and university-wide guidelines.
- Getting Started Section: A video and short introductory information to ensure all students have core university and course information centrally located.
- Rubrics: In collaboration with faculty, a built-in rubric was developed for each graded item, excluding exams and quizzes. Centralized rubrics were utilized for discussion boards.
- Interactives: Online learning experiences for student practice of key course areas. There was one interactive created for each week of content, beginning with learning objectives, followed by introducing content and then practice of related materials.
- Faculty Success Guide: A three-page PDF for core faculty materials for online course success was created and implemented into the LMS.
- Introduction Video: Collaboration for a welcome video script introducing the core program and course information.
The Project’s success was a result of strong collaboration and timely responses by Academic Program Directors, Course Leads, Full-Time Faculty, and contracted Adjunct Faculty. During the 16-week project, 45 Full-Time Faculty and 42 Adjunct Faculty were involved in updating core content and ensuring a final quality product.
A small group of faculty members worked closely with CIL and LearningMate to test our Curriculum Scaling effort with a Proof of Concept step in June 2020. Together the POC team developed a 3-week update plan for the 13 groups of faculty, which followed beginning in July and continuing through October 2020. Approximately 150 National University faculty members participated in the project, either as lead faculty or faculty member contributing to the new materials. This effort was in addition to all of their other NU duties and often involved review and updating of materials in tight timeframes (2–3 days) and occasionally on weekends or during vacations.
Course Content Updates
All courses were subjected to critical review for required readings, content, alignment with learning outcomes; assessments that reflect attainment of learning outcomes; and addition of more dynamic content. The students will have courses that have material and content that is more up-to-date and does not have the tech issues that the older courses had.
The students and instructors can focus their time and energy on high-quality content rather than struggling with glitches. Some of the courses have deleted traditionally required textbooks for open educational resources, including academic articles from the NU library and alternative texts (e.g., videos, podcasts) that offer a variety of ways for students to internalize the content and use it to demonstrate their learning in assessments (e.g., videos and podcasts tied to discussion questions). NU also provides relevant programs with completion certificates that students can add to their professional resumes. In most courses, each week is organized as follows: learning objectives, readings, lecture content, learning activities, student interaction modules, assignments, and quiz/exams.
A majority of faculty are most excited about the new student-facing interactives, which enable the practice of key learning objectives with 7–10-minute pathways. One lead faculty shared, “The interactives are excellent reviews of the weekly material, and should aid students in their understanding of the subject matter and encourage critical thinking.”
Several resources introducing program-wide skills are being shared in the University’s “Getting Started” sections to emphasize their importance.
Having the interactives reinforced by signature assignments and the new discussion boards, following a pattern of at least two conversations per week, is enabling substantial academic experiences that are uniform University-wide.
Both materials are supported by associated rubrics, which are connected with the National University Grade Center.
Career-Relevant Learning Experiences
A strong emphasis across courses was made to align learning outcomes, competencies, curriculum, and assessments to career skills, as well as to clearly communicate this information to students. Key items such as digital rubrics and course-specific curriculum maps show how students achieve skills on the course and program levels.
Key faculty noted the benefits of having outcomes clearly stated with assignments tied to them and in the courses that are currently active students also noted the value.
Many faculty noted how the customized rubrics will assist instructors in assigning grades and help students with core skills, such as improve their writing, to ensure the highest quality is delivered to National University students.
Further collaboration for evaluation is planned by National University’s CIL Team and LearningMate.
Benefits to National University
LearningMate’s close collaboration with program directors, faculty, and adjunct faculty have assisted National University with alignment for both online course material, goals for asynchronous courses, and methods for student collaboration, which will be maintained by the core university team. For many faculty, utilizing all course components such as rubrics, discussion boards, and the grade center was intimidating; however, due to the core infrastructure in place, there is a scalable process that can be followed.
“LearningMate was a collaborative, diligent partner in our effort to convert 21 Programs to asynchronous offerings. At first, the task seemed insurmountable, however, with LearningMate’s assistance and ongoing interactions, we were able to quickly update our courses, while still holding a high standard of quality,” shared Shannon McCarty, Vice President, Teaching and Learning, National University. “Our success is thanks to our Faculty effort and LearningMate’s hard work.”
Key to the success of the 5-month project was aligning faculty leaders as part of the Proof of Concept and ensuring that all faculty, including adjuncts, felt supported while developing content and preparing to teach their first asynchronous online courses. A group of National University and LearningMate team members jointly reviewed materials as part of the finalization process and assisted with unique course-specific needs.
Shannon McCarty, Vice President, Teaching and Learning, National University
Shane M. Strup, Director, Curriculum and Instructional Design, National University
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