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Online Learning Response Team: Case Studies

The pandemic has challenged higher education institutions to move their courses online quickly. The different statuses of every school do not allow a one-size-fits-all prescription for what to do. Extension Engine has put together its Online Learning Response Team (OLRT) that works with schools with varying needs and defines (and help the school execute) an efficient, holistic, adaptable approach to getting online.

Our team has had engagements with two very different institutions with correspondingly different needs. We started working with each in May 2020 in preparation for this fall semester. One is a small liberal arts college that needed quite a bit of help with assessing, planning, coordinating, and implementing; the other is a large R1 university that mostly needed help with planning and implementing. Both are on their way to a successful launch in September though each will be arriving via a different path.

Small liberal arts college

The school has about 400 faculty and 1200 courses that they need to get online and ready to go for this fall. Leadership did not have a clear understanding of how many faculty wanted help, how many courses needed attention, or the extent of the work that might be needed on particular courses. The faculty have, so far, not fully endorsed the idea of using their campus LMS to manage information (syllabi, documents, assignments) for their courses let alone be integrated into the delivery of course content. 

Given the combination of scale and unknowns, leadership needed help in understanding how to think about their exposure to the risk of not being able to deliver courses face-to-face for September. First, we created a stakeholder map of the organization to help identify who the college needed to enlist in this effort. This also highlighted those faculty and staff that the team should coordinate with in order to build a unified strategy and plan. 

Second, we created an online survey to gather information about the college’s fall courses and the faculty teaching them. This survey had several purposes:

  • Information for professors: The survey provided information for professors. First, the questions themselves provided clear information about expectations for the fall. After submitting the survey, professors immediately received an automatically generated survey results document with a numerical rating on the school’s risk assessment of the faculty’s courses. 
  • Information for administrators: The main purpose of the survey was to capture information about the state of fall courses in terms of their readiness for remote teaching. The Extension Engine team worked with the college’s leadership team to determine their expectations for “acceptable” online courses in the fall. Our team designed the survey around their particular needs. Administrators also received a copy of each professor’s survey results; they could provide guidance to the Extension Engine team on a course-by-course basis if they thought that would be useful. 
  • Shared planning document: Each professor’s submitted survey was also accompanied by a shared planning document (available in Google Docs). This document contained initial recommendations for what needed to be done in preparation for the fall. This document is used by Instructional Designers as a starting point for providing individual guidance to faculty. These professionals could contribute to the document, and it could provide a living record of recommendations and completed tasks. 

Once we saw that faculty were not getting as involved in the training and preparation process as the college had hoped for, our team helped run a more visible outreach program (including internal marketing videos to describe the program and the help that is being provided). We also started to run office hours to help specific faculty. Finally, we developed training materials for the faculty. All of this is, as usual for us, the property of the college even after the engagement is over.

Large R1 university

In contrast with the previous example, this university determined that they wanted to improve the online course experience for their large freshman-oriented courses in a variety of schools and subject areas. University leadership decided that they would be delivering the courses online no matter whether or not the campus was open. They found the faculty who would be teaching the courses and working with us to improve the courses for the fall. We would be working with the faculty to help them reduce the risk of going online in order to build the faculty member’s confidence in teaching online. 

We have been working with faculty individually. We collaboratively developed reasonable project goals (given the time available) while leaving space for faculty to identify their own priorities, all in service of helping them restructure their courses so that they could be more flexible with their teaching methodology and approach. 

We also developed a set of resources before even working with the faculty based on the school’s metrics of success and overall mission. We coordinated these resources with those developed around the university to make it easier for a faculty member to know what to do and not be overwhelmed.

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The Online Learning Response Team

The pandemic has challenged higher education institutions to move their courses online quickly. We work with your school to define and execute on an efficient, holistic, and adaptable approach to getting online.

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Dr. Scott Moore

Dr. Scott Moore is the Principal Learning Strategist at Extension Engine. He leads our global Custom Learning Experience practice. In his 5+ years with us, he has worked with dozens of nonprofit, higher education, and learning business organizations as they considered using online learning to support their mission and margin. He has a deep understanding of organizational dynamics, online learning, strategic differentiation, decision-making, and more. Prior to joining Extension Engine, Dr. Moore was a faculty member, administrator, and dean at Michigan Ross and Babson College for 20+ years. Scott holds an MBA from Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences from Wharton.

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