Staying on the Cutting Edge of Learning

Posted on August 19, 2020
Lance Crawford

60 South faculty members took part in the Innovation in Learning Center's four-week Summer Institute emphasizing online teaching techniques. data-lightbox='featured'
60 South faculty members took part in the Innovation in Learning Center's four-week Summer Institute emphasizing online teaching techniques.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for higher education, forcing institutions to quickly pivot. South was no different, when the pandemic shut down campus in March forcing online learning only, life changed rapidly.

Taking proactive measures, University leadership approved funding for a four-week Summer Institute, through the Innovation in Learning Center, focusing on online instruction proficiency.

“For the fall term, most faculty have been asked to teach in a blended format to allow for social distancing” said Dr. David Johnson, provost and senior vice president for student affairs. “We wanted to provide support to help faculty with the transition.”

ILC staff scrambled and put the program together in a matter of just weeks.

“We banked on the combined extensive experience of the team that assembled the Summer Institute plan, combining general teaching strategies good for all modalities with specific considerations for technology-enabled instruction,” said Dr. Raj Chaudhury, director of the Innovation in Learning Center.

The response was overwhelming. Initial plans were for 40 faculty members to attend, 109 signed up. Capacity was expanded to 60 and still, tough decisions had to be made about who would be initially invited to attend. Many of those decisions were made by Dr. Philip Carr, faculty coordinator for general education.

“I was particularly concerned that our first-year students would find online or hybrid classes daunting,” Carr said. “So, I wanted faculty who were teaching general education courses, especially large enrollment courses, to be able to participate in the summer institute.”

The ILC identified objectives it wanted faculty to achieve with an overall goal of increasing student engagement and academic success through effective online tools and inclusive teaching strategies.

“Deciding which techniques were more important than others was tough,” said Dr. Lisa LaCross, assistant director of faculty development. “However, we kept ourselves on track by targeting the most practical resources, such as those that directly support course design and address potential obstacles that faculty were facing in teaching online.”

The ILC staff’s planning and direction should pay dividends now that students have returned to campus.

"I truly enjoyed the enlightenment regarding online course building, driving student engagement, increasing effectiveness, and fostering a community of learners,” said Dr. Robert Thompson, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management. “My courses will be greatly enhanced because of my participation in the 2020 Summer Institute."

In addition to online instruction techniques, the Summer Institute offered attendees an introduction to Canvas, the University’s new learning management system. LaCross said, it is a more responsive system, compatible with mobile devices — another tool to keep South on the cutting edge of higher education while living in era of COVID-19.

“This unfortunate situation has opened doors and minds and fostered conversations about teaching that I could not have imagined under normal circumstances,” Chaudhury said. “I am very grateful that I have a great team at the ILC to call upon in times of need to help us offer this experience for faculty.” 

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