With the coronavirus pandemic causing disruption and shutdowns across the country, universities have had to transition, quickly, to remote learning.
At the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, the huge job of facilitating the transition fell to the Office of Transformational Learning. It’s OTL’s wheelhouse, after all. The office routinely works with Smith faculty, students and leadership to design courses and enhance learning experiences. It just usually operates under a more generous time frame.
When the university announced in March that it would be moving to online classes following Spring Break, the transformational learning team had to figure out a way to move roughly 200 courses online.
"It may take six months or more of back and forth between an instructor and our course development team to complete a well-designed online course," says OTL director Dan Carchidi, explaining the challenge. “What we were faced with was the mandate of getting all the courses online in about two weeks.”
The team employed a unique approach in response to the challenge, which they started developing even before UMD’s official announcement about shifting online. "We drew on the pedagogy expertise of OTL's Doireann Renzi and Jennifer Hoeritz, our course development team leader, to identify the essentials for transitioning instruction," Carchidi says.
The team took their most experienced instructional designers, including Candice Binuyo, Marni Blachowicz, Leslie Lindsey, Diann Maurer and Jonathan Southgate, and aligned them with a particular department, creating a more specialized relationship with faculty.
Other team members, such as technologist Jiming Wu and instructional designers Joshua Shannon-Chastain and Meg York were called upon to address emerging support issues as requests peaked.
Meanwhile, they also created a triage system, staffed by team members, including OTL’s Non-Degree Program lead Jarrett Carter. It was designed to solve initial questions from faculty through documentation or quick answers.
However, finding answers to faculty questions early on presented its own challenge since Zoom, the video conferencing tool the university had adopted, was also relatively new to the team.
“It's always a challenge to make the transition to new tools, learn them quickly, and then support others in using them effectively,” Carchidi explains. “Theresa Ewing and Suzanne Hurley from our Educational Technology team were exceptional not only in supporting faculty, but also in getting the OTL team up to speed on newly deployed technologies.”
As questions from faculty began picking up during Spring Break and in the weeks following, the team created and posted over 50 articles and videos on its Faculty Resources Website, which has played a pivotal role in relaying important information in a timely way. Team members such as instructional designer Carrie Lindeman, graphic artist Nikk Bonneau and media expert Garrett Mollman were instrumental in the rapid creation of these resources. The Students Success team, led by Alexis Li and OTL Coordinator Pam Whetstone, created similar resources in support of students.
Support for faculty was also offered through weekly webinars and daily department-based office hours, which were offered in the weeks following Spring Break.
Carchidi attributes the successes of the shift online to Smith faculty, whom he credits for taking full advantage of the resources provided and for trying to learn as quickly as they could, in addition to the work of his team.
“These are professionals who are highly productive and who we can count on, whether they’re working in the office or working remotely,” Carchidi says. “They’ve got great expertise, and as this case shows, they have the ability to work really well together and adapt quickly.”
Despite the challenges associated with the switch to online learning, Carchidi says there are many positive takeaways. He highlights the opportunities faculty now have to create “a varied set of learning experiences that can be valuable for students.”
“That’s probably the silver lining in all of this,” Carchidi says.
Going forward, he says the office will remain in close contact with the dean, department chairs and students in preparation for continued online learning through the summer. The team’s main goal is to continue supporting faculty in providing effective learning opportunities for students.
–By Sean Liu, Maryland Smith special writer