At the Association of American Colleges & Universities Annual Meeting, Dr. Cynthia Kosso (the provost at Moravian College) and I gave a presentation titled “Building Online Capacity at a Liberal Arts College.” In this post I will share some quotes from the 60-minute presentation — giving you the real-world perspective of a liberal arts college that has successfully embarked on the journey to online learning.
Moravian College Moves Online
Following are edited excerpts from Dr. Kosso’s responses during our discussion.
Who is Moravian College?
We’re the sixth-oldest college in the country. We integrate the liberal arts and sciences with our professional studies and our civic engagement. Content is important, but skills have also been very important. It’s not that we don’t have faculty who are interested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake and building a better human being in that way. But learning, being able to do things with [that learning], has been very important to us. We have about 1,800 undergraduates and roughly 400 graduate students on our campus. We’re located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and we are in the Lehigh Valley region, about an hour north of Philadelphia.
Why did Moravian College move online?
I don’t know how many small private schools we have in the room [at AAC&U] here. But if you are one, you know that there are demographic pressures on us at the undergraduate level. We’re tuition driven in the same way that many of you are, and that demographic is difficult — either not growing, staying stable, or decreasing. Our graduate programs and our adult programs are financially significant for us. And so far this has worked in the ways that we had hoped it would to give some stability to our budget.
Why didn’t Moravian use an online program manager (OPM)?
We started by looking at an OPM. We began to talk about what it would mean to be online. And we worked with a very nice company that talked with us about setting up online programs. We were looking at perhaps nursing, perhaps business, we didn’t quite know. [An OPM is] a way of helping people build online programs, and it is in many ways more structured and more contractually difficult for a school like us. So we would have to guarantee them a certain number of programs over the course of 8 to 10 years. The commitment was really long. We also felt like we would lose control over the courses and course development. It felt like we would look like them rather than us. And Moravian College is deeply committed to its traditions. So that wasn’t working for us. We ended up talking to them for close to a year before we agreed — even the president agreed — that we couldn’t work with them. We just couldn’t sell our souls, in a way. And we chose not to.
Why didn’t Moravian do it themselves?
We didn’t have the capacity to do online courses ourselves. Individual faculty had some capacity to think about it, but we didn’t have instructional designers. We didn’t have educational technologists. We figured that we would need them, but we really didn’t even know what we would need. So when we started working with [Extension Engine], one of the things that was helpful to us was that because of the experience that [Extension Engine] had building programs elsewhere, they could ask us the hard questions, give us — in a sense — a direction to go. One of the things that we also learned from them is project management.
Why did it help for faculty to be involved in course creation?
[Extension Engine] helped us think about how long it would take to do course and program development. I think a lot of faculty think you can just take your course — you’ve got it, it might even be in Canvas — and you just move it online and it’s all good. But it doesn’t work that way. And that’s one of the things that makes it appealing to faculty later on, when they recognize that it’s both pedagogically a different thing and a valuable thing. And it’s hard. And we kind of like things when they’re hard, it makes them seem legitimate. Right? So that was good.
What was a major benefit of the in-depth design and planning work done by Extension Engine?
One of the things that, because of the work — this sort of discovery work that we did with faculty, with staff, with [Extension Engine] — was that I was able to go to our president and the board with a fully fleshed-out, really complete set of proposals, goals, and costs. We were able to convince them that it was worth a significant investment. The board approved the significant investment, and we’ve been working with them since. And because of [Extension Engine’s] flexibility, we’ve come in under budget in all the categories of work that we’ve done with them. So that’s been really helpful for us — and helpful for me — in talking about continuing the relationship in other programs. It was a complete plan, very helpful and compelling to the faculty. They could really see what we were doing, what the costs were, what the investments were, with that, in terms of new faculty hires — and there were a couple of those as well — in order to make this program work.
What’s it like working with Extension Engine as a partner?:
We had two programs that we were considering; one was in business — our Master’s in Predictive Analytics — and the other was in nursing. The [business] faculty were more invested and involved, so that was the one that we went with first. Now we’re talking nursing. We haven't really finished this discovery piece in the nursing [program], and the [EE] proposal as I’m seeing it develop is very different than the proposal that they brought to us for the Master’s in Predictive Analytics — which says some good things to me about working with them. Not only do we learn to build capacity, but so do they, and they responded really well to the different personalities and the different needs of the different programs. So we’ll see how that plays out.
How do you think the process has worked so far?
I think that in the end, [faculty] feel it is [within our mission]; it took some work, and there were some difficult points there at the beginning. But we worked through all of those, I think, successfully. We’re really happy with the product of the Master’s in Predictive Analytics. It looks really great.
What was an unforeseen benefit to going online this way?
Revisions to other online courses. We have a Doctorate in Athletic Training [DAT], which is now online. [Those] courses are being revised [while] looking at the courses from the Master’s in Predictive Analytics. One of [Moravian’s] instructional designers has been working so closely with [Extension Engine] on the predictive analytics that he’s now working with all of the faculty in the DAT program to redesign their courses and bring them up to the same standards that we have for the Master’s in Predictive Analytics. They’re looking really good too. I just recently looked at them. I’m very happy about that.
How has partnering with Extension Engine on marketing worked out?
I’m not a marketing person, as you can imagine. I’m a classical archaeologist. But all of our graduate programs have increased in numbers — every single, solitary one of them — since this marketing has begun.
That’s a lot of information about Moravian’s experience, and there is even more in the talk itself. I encourage you to read or listen to the complete discussion. You can see the transcript of the presentation here or download the MP3 recording here.
Why Extension Engine?
Moravian College’s story is indicative of the work that Extension Engine does. Some of my comments from the talk highlight our two missions:
The first mission is to get your thing — a program, a course, whatever it is — online. There’s work that has to be done, and we help you along that path. The two hardest things in academics are hiring someone and firing someone, right? So it takes a while to get up to speed. We help you fill in all the pieces: strategy, project management, learner experience, creative, video, marketing.
Eventually you’ll be able to do it without us. We want to build your capacity so that we can work our way out of a job. We walk away and you’ll be able to run the program yourself. That’s our goal. Sounds strange? What do we get out of it? We get a friend. And we get someone who will go to us for conferences and tell a story and provide good references. That’s what we’re looking for. We do not want to run your school. We want you to run your school in your way.
If this story intrigues you, let’s chat and figure out how we might work together or, simply, talk about what’s going on at your school in online learning. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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