By Fenton Broadhead and Clark Gilbert
When President Hinckley announced the creation of BYU-Idaho in 2000, he foresaw the opportunity to bless the lives of many more students. He stated, “BYU-Idaho will operate on an expanded year-round basis, incorporating innovative calendaring and scheduling while also taking advantage of advancements in technology which will enable the four-year institution to serve more students.” The January 6th announcement of the expansion of BYU-Idaho is remarkable in the context of this and other visionary statements about the future of BYU-Idaho.
As the Online Initiative expands, the University will be required to innovate in new ways in order to deepen the institution’s online capabilities and academic offerings. To enable a high quality, consistent experience across all online BYU-Idaho courses, the primary responsibility for online course delivery will be managed through a focused online organization in the Division of Continuing Education, reporting directly Clark Gilbert, the associate Academic Vice-President over Educational Outreach. This will allow the new organization to focus on hiring, managing, and training a set of remote adjunct faculty. These distance faculty will enable the university to expand its capacity and reach to the many committed instructors across the Church with advanced degrees and an orientation toward online instruction. Campus Departments will maintain oversight over the position descriptions, review candidate applications, and approve sections, seats, and contract renewals. The creation of all new online courses will move to a team-based approach that matches content expertise from campus with rigorous online instructional design from the Curriculum Development arm of the online organization. While the efforts and organization are still evolving, we have discovered a series of common misconceptions we wish to discuss.
The online medium is inherently less effective than the classroom. There are some things that happen in the classroom that simply can’t be replicated online. The power of looking into someone’s eyes, hearing their tone of voice, or reading student body language can lead to teaching experiences that become magical. There are, however, things that cannot be done in the classroom, for which the online medium is uniquely attuned. For example, an entire class can participate in an online discussion or blog, whereas time constraints in-class may otherwise limit a student’s opportunity for engagement. Real-time assessment, monitoring students’ progress, individualized feedback, adaptive learning activities, and other interactive learning tools can provide instructors new ways to engage and manage student learning. The key is to avoid making point-per-point comparisons and to focus on the unique opportunities that the online medium can create. Not only does online increase schedule and geographic flexibility for the student, but several large sample studies demonstrate that when online courses are well designed, both student satisfaction and measured learning can perform at levels comparable to even the most successful campus courses (see link).
Our “old” online courses reflect our future. Beginning under Elder Bednar and continuing with President Clark, BYU-Idaho faculty began experimenting with online courses. Some of these efforts have been quite successful, while others have had mixed results. Most of these courses were designed before the Learning Model. Many were designed around an asynchronous, self-paced learning experience that minimized faculty involvement. Most of these courses were designed to be taught by the same person who wrote the course. President Clark has established a target of delivering 20 percent of the university’s student credit hours through new online courses by 2012. As we reviewed the need to scale online courses, it became clear the university would need to create a more formal institution-wide capability to bolster this effort. This focused, team-based approach has led to significant quality improvements for the new online courses when measured on internal standards or in student evaluations.
Beginning in fall 2008, and under the direction of Alan Young, Curriculum Development Director, and the newly created Curriculum Development organization, all new online courses were moved to a team-based course development process. This includes a campus faculty team lead, a curriculum development manager, an assistant project manager, and other faculty peer involvement. Every new course is aligned with the BYU–Idaho Learning Model. Accordingly, each course is designed around a cohort, semester-based model that allows students to progress together and learn from each other. Each course is evaluated along a defined set of quality standards and goes through a peer and student review process. Moreover, department chairs review the learning outcomes and assessments for every course. (For more information, see http://www.byui.edu/onlineinitiative/.)
Remote site instructors will not fit the profile and capabilities of a BYU-Idaho Instructor. Most of our old online courses were taught by full-time BYU-Idaho campus faculty, typically as an overload. All of the new courses will be taught by remote adjunct instructors to teach at a distance. Under the direction of Peter Williams, our Online Learning Coordinator, these remote instructors will be hired, managed, and developed through the Division of Continuing Education’s online department, with oversight and input from each campus department. We will not discontinue the old courses immediately but will phase in the new courses as we grow.
One benefit of this approach is that it allows campus faculty to focus on courses that are taught on-site in Rexburg, where the need for their classroom expertise and background is most acute. Another benefit is that BYU-Idaho can now access a pool of remote talent from around the Church that can bless the campus from a distance. Every online adjunct instructor will be required to have an advanced degree in the field which they teach. Some will fit specific course profile requirements as determined by department chairs and the associate deans who work with Foundations. Each candidate will be reviewed by the relevant department chair and interviewed by the Division of Continuing Education’s online department. Most will have some online teaching experience and be willing to focus their skill development to the online environment. While each instructor must have the required content, teaching, and technical background, every candidate is asked about the Spirit of Ricks and the Learning Model. All will have ecclesiastical endorsements. Moreover, final approval for all hires is given through the Academic Vice President and the two Associate-Vice Presidents.
Online courses are easy to teach. Many people share a perception that online implies mass-enrolled, self-paced courses where the faculty only proctor performance and grade papers. BYU-Idaho online courses are capped at 60 students or less and instructors are expected to:
While most of the remote online instructors have some online teaching experience, every new hire will enroll in a 40-hour online instructor training course. It is taught by Janine Gilbert, a former BYU-Idaho English faculty member, who now heads the Instructor Development area of online learning in the Division of Continuing Education. This faculty development course is taught online and covers topics ranging from the institutional values around the Learning Model and Disciple Leadership, to very specific online facilitation skills including online discussion management, I-Learn tools, tracking and monitoring skills, etc. Moreover, on-going evaluation will include student and peer review for every course taught.
Online courses are easy to take. Some faculty worry that online courses are simply an easier version of the classroom experience. Through the revised course development process, all courses will now be aligned with their corresponding on-campus course learning outcomes and assessments. Thus, students will be expected to reach the same level of demonstrated performance as in campus courses. Additionally, given the cohort, semester-based approach, students will need to meet weekly preparation and assignment deadlines, engage in graded participative activities, and work within a semester schedule. Nearly 70 percent of online student enrollments will be on-track students taking one of their courses online. It is critical that each course has the same rigor, performance, and assessment as its campus analogue.
Campus departments have little input into the online initiative. It is true that the primary responsibility for online course delivery resides with the Division of Continuing Education’s online department. However, campus departments have a considerable amount of oversight throughout the entire process. In the area of Online Course Development, department chairs and college deans determine which courses are developed and set the prioritization schedule. They assign which faculty will work directly in developing the course. Departments also approve all course outcomes and assessments. College deans and department chairs are given monthly updates on progress toward the development timeline. Over the next two years more than 150 campus faculty will have the opportunity to help develop these new online courses. For Online Course Delivery, departments select the hiring criteria for instructors, review candidates to be interviewed, and approve the contract renewals. Departments will also receive reports on all course and faculty evaluations and student performance. Starting Spring Semester 2009, a final review process for all candidate hires will go through a Vice President hiring committee that includes input from both the departments and the Division of Continuing Education.
The online strategy is completely fixed. While we have tried to build in many quality checks and controls, the online initiative will not be perfect. We will make mistakes and continue to learn as we go. In many ways, the transition to Online Learning is like the transition from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho. If we had waited until everything was perfect, we might not have made the expansion at all. An Online Task Force was created in January 2009 to ensure that there is appropriate departmental review in the online initiative. Deans, Larry Thurgood, Robyn Bergstrom, and John Ivers; Associate Deans, Jon Linford, Mark Bennion, and Alan Dutson; and Department Chairs, Scott Galer, Ron Bennett, Craig Bell, and Sid Palmer, were asked to serve on the task force and will help us continue to evolve. In addition to their input on the online learning initiative, we hope this task force will incorporate elements of the online learning initiative into campus. In particular we believe the campus can benefit from the areas of course design and adjunct faculty hiring and development.
In conclusion, we return to President Bednar’s inaugural response where he taught that, “Nephi was commanded and instructed to build something he had never built before in order to go someplace he had never been before.” President Clark stated in his inaugural response: “I doubt [these innovations] will appear on our doorstep one bright morning. But I know they will come. They will come because of the faith and devotion and the unity of heart and mind of this university.” We are learning and the Lord will help us get to where we need to go.
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