Although, this department (ETC) has been a fixture of UF’s College of Education for a number of years, this year has been a year of optimization of services. Throughout the past year, our department has coalesced into a very agile and forward-thinking group composed of five distinct sub-teams. These teams, usually not found clustered in one department, all work intimately to help our faculty to reinvent online education practice, implement new ways of teaching and learning; build engagement and support for alumni, current, and future students; create web designs that leverage learning, usability, and aesthetic design; and, support the building of collective efficacy and collaboration through internal marketing and awareness. The main pursuit of this office is to become leaders of instructional design for the university and the field of higher education.
Instructional Design for Online Learning in Higher Education
It is generally acknowledged that online educational experiences offered by most institutions of higher education do not reflect identified high-yield learning strategies (e.g., Hattie, 2009; Marzano, 2009), specific strategies (including frequent and specific feedback) for the online environment (Mandernach & Garrett, 2014; Mayer, 2015), or the teacher presence (Ragan, 2015) found in their analogous face-to-face counterparts (Berrett, 2016). A recent national survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2016) suggests the problem may rest in multiple areas, including the preparation of faculty and staff to create pedagogically sound digital learning opportunities. The report suggests, “high-impact educational practices are offered by many institutions, but rarely required.” Additionally, the findings indicate that approximately 36% of Chief Academic Officers report that “most of their current faculty members are using digital learning tools effectively in their courses.” This seems to ring true. Incidentally, the UF College of Education (CoE) has earned its first #1 ranking from U.S. News and World Report for our online graduate programs during my tenure. However, “faculty credentials and training” was still cited as an area of need in the scores that make up this ranking.
Our College of Education and its faculty have the greatest experience on campus in planning and implementing innovative pedagogical change in any context, including but not limited to online learning. This wellspring of expertise must inform future University of Florida endeavors in online education. Recent work in the area of multidisciplinary approaches to teacher preparation being offered online include the newly formed Center for Elementary Excellence in Teacher Preparation, the cross-department institution of teacher observation and mentoring through synchronous and annotated video solutions, cutting-edge research agenda (including the exploration of cognitive and social neuroscience methodologies and technologies) of Educational Technology faculty, video-based research conducted in SESPECS, and the digital outreach efforts to communities of learners led by our CoE-based centers. It is imperative that the teaching and learning research ecosystem fostered here at the College of Education is leveraged in support of the growing need for expanded online degree offerings and highly individualized learning environments.
Brief Notes re: Strategies in Redesigning ETC in 2015-2016
Communication and Collaboration
One of the main goals for this past year for ETC has been investing in relationships, connecting departments doing similar or complementary work, and supporting the improvement of all online activities. The first collaborations included the analysis and restructuring of hardware (servers) and the gap analysis of current websites. This massive undertaking (three months) was a change that could happen through collaboration with IT and wouldn’t necessarily impact the ETC staff directly. In effect, this change, and the rebuilding of the relationship between the two offices, allowed the instructional and cultural changes to happen more gradually. This direction allowed for the planning of slower change of “behaviors of people” in our department over time (Deutschman, 2005).
Relationships with key stakeholders of faculty, specifically department chairs, were revisited with renewed vigor and transparency. I led this charge, supported by our administration and instructional design. Additionally, the web design team leader assisted with the “soft sell” of our services, creating digital “profiles” for key department areas.
Employing Research-based Attributes of Highly Effective Online Learning
Our team has led the way for the implementation of attributes associated with effective online learning, backed by the understanding that designing online educational experiences founded in learner motivation and interest rely on shared contextual learning activities that promote the use of technology in service of creating authentic online collaboration and interaction (Sawyer, 2016) while supporting a personalized learning approach (U.S. Office of Educational Technology, 2016).
Specifically, we have worked to offer online learning opportunities that promote explicit articulation of student outcomes, the integration of assessments (formative and summative), learning designs promoting self-directed and collaborative learning, and implementing professional development strategies that assist faculty in embracing and utilizing technology effectively for teaching and learning (U.S. Office of Educational Technology, 2016).
Learning Asset Production and Digital Asset Management
Early on in the transition, it was agreed that investment in high-quality videography and other learning material design was a priority in enhancing and/or redesigning the existing online courses, and we created a mobile video unit and a small studio. Furthermore, the investment in these resources would help other areas of the College of Education, including the Office for Alumni Affairs and News and Communications. The video and photography digital learning assets produced support three main areas of work:
- Research-based video observation for learning (e.g., teacher video self-reflection or leader preparation in observation practice to inform instructional improvement). This focus is supported by recent research in video-based teacher observation for reflection on practice (e.g., Gates Foundation, 2010; Stigler et al., 1999), in teacher preparation and professional development support (Guaden & Chalies, 2015), and evaluation (e.g., Kane, Wooten, Taylor & Tyler, 2011).
- Classroom video examples, lectures, and expert interviews as digital pedagogical support. The literature informing this work includes the measurement of student engagement in video-rich MOOCs (e.g., Guo, Kim, & Rubin, 2014), the examination of the impact of case-based video assets for instructional design (e.g., Gomez, Zottman, Fischer, & Schrader, 2010), and the review of the impact of teaching video used in professional development courses (Borko, Koellner, Jacobs, & Seago, 2011).
- Marketing and awareness video for external stakeholders of the College of Education (including alumni, partners, and legislators).
In addition to video, which has increasingly become vital to our work, our department has employed instructional, user-centric design principals to everything from websites to paper-based marketing material for programs. The team has built and maintains a digital asset management (DAM) system with photography and video archives that may be accessed by media and communications personnel throughout the college. Illustration, animation, graphic design, and branding were all employed to assist in redesigning the aesthetic look of courses, websites, ideas (e.g., STEM Hub and logic models for grant applications), and physical space (e.g., banners, posters).
In the effort to improve the culture of the College of Education’s Office for E-Learning, Technology, and Creative Services (ETC), we have explicitly engaged in an initiative that has motivated the internal stakeholders of our office to revisit our commitment to improving and supporting online and hybrid instruction for all degree and certification programs. I have worked closely with each of our internal teams (instructional design, web design, creative media production, systems administration, and student support services) to establish attainable but rigorous goals and have provided opportunities to build processes to achieve their goals. We planned a retreat to revisit and explore our identity and better understand our mission, to interrogate our shared beliefs and values as a group, and to plan strategies to build and strengthen relationships across our college and the university (Wheatley, 2005).
Mark Dinsmore (Associate Director for Enterprise Systems) and I targeted staff to take on informal and unofficial but recognized leadership roles, mentoring and reinforcing goals and objectives daily within small groups. We instituted a weekly department huddle with a focus on shared “project-based” discussion. We also created an “on boarding” series of strategic meetings for all new programs and those being redesigned, including every facet of the department. This continuous project/program-based improvement model in group meetings and individual mentoring allowed all teams to engage in discussions.
Implementing Uniformity in Processes of Support and Production
All sub-departments of ETC have been assisted in documenting and codifying processes for production of digital learning assets, courses, websites, reports, etc. This work has been difficult but has provided uniformity to the stages of design and delivery of learning experiences for all courses and programs. Our team has worked to become cohesive and build on strengths associated with assisting faculty, students, and the College of Education.
Some Foci of the Department in 2015-2016
- Creating innovative CoE course content production that includes video, photography, graphics, animation, software, etc.
- Designing or optimizing online pedagogy, supported on researched best practices.
- Refining of data analysis for strategic support for all departments.
- Supporting faculty innovations, research, and outreach/communications.
- Supporting student recruitment, alumni and student engagement, and success through effective web strategy (social media, web redesigns, graphic design, illustration, etc.) and student services.
- Hosting and supporting infrastructure of products as diverse as web applications to large databases used in research or in testing.
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