Collaborating with Continuum to Create Meaningful Online Learning Experiences

During the past several years, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more faculty members than ever before into online teaching. And while lockdowns and quarantines have disappeared, online teaching has real benefits, such as increasing enrollments by serving students where they are, that faculty partners can carry forward.

If you’re looking to extend your reach, University of Washington Continuum College’s knowledgeable Learning Experience (LE) team is here to help. Here are a few ways the LE team can support you while collaborating to develop programs that use evidence-based approaches to online teaching and learning.

Integrated Faculty Support

When moving to online learning, often one of faculty member’s biggest concerns is how time-consuming the process is to produce their course in an online format. When faculty partners in the Scandinavian Studies Department noticed their in-person Summer Session courses were seeing a dramatic downward trend in enrollment, they were excited about the opportunity to transform them into new online courses. 

I hope that as people consider working with us, they think about us trying to give as much time and value back to faculty members as we can to help them achieve their goals. 

 — El Schofield, Associate Director of Instructor Development, Learning Experience

Although the faculty members were eager to develop new programs, Andy Nestingen, chair and professor of the Scandinavian Studies Department, notes his colleagues had some concerns. “With the pandemic and the move to online learning, people had a variety of experiences with what it took to deliver an online course,” he says. “One begins to wonder how much time am I committing? Can I interact with the students as I'm accustomed to in the classroom?”

Knowing that faculty time matters and there’s a shortage of it currently, the LE team strives to be valuable by supporting faculty with limited impact on their already busy schedules. 

“We can take some of that hard work, research and planning off the faculty members' plates by doing it collaboratively, by providing structure and expertise,” says El Schofield, associate director of instructor development on the LE team. “I hope that as people consider working with us, they think about us trying to give as much time and value back to faculty members as we can to help them achieve their goals.”

Building Curated Learning Experiences 

One of the best parts of intentionally designing an online course is the opportunity to use a wide variety of content as part of the instructional strategy. “We have a talented team covering a range of different specialties and disciplines, but ultimately they're all working together and collaborating with the instructor to develop a program greater than the sum of its parts and create an excellent experience for students,” says Bryan Blakeley, assistant vice provost for digital learning innovation.

The LE team includes learning designers skilled at developing measurable learning objectives and sharing how to present content correctly to create a cohesive learning experience for students. Similarly, the instructional media team is exceptional at taking a lecture or presentation and adapting it for the online environment.

“Our team members love collaborating with instructors on inclusive learning design,” says Schofield. “Making choices to not only design a set of learning experiences that everyone can engage with but also help students thrive in the unique life they're leading and how they plan to apply education in that life.”

Nestingen says the faculty members in his department enjoyed collaborating with the instructional designers in this way. “It was stimulating and exciting for faculty members because it allowed them to get down to a nuts-and-bolts level with courses they taught for years and to rethink what they had been doing in the classroom and how to redesign the courses for an online interface,” he says.

Developing Online Teaching Skills 

The LE team values the subject matter expertise of faculty partners and their knowledge of their student audience. The team doesn’t expect to replace either of those areas but rather help increase your skillset as an effective teacher in the online environment.

“We work as academic collaborators,” says Schofield. “Our goal is to combine your expertise in the content and our expertise in the specific ways people learn online and fit those two together the best way possible.”

Schofield explains the LE team has experience in research- and evidence-based strategies for teaching online, as well as numerous resources they’ve developed through their specialization in different areas. “We’ll teach how to use tools such as Canvas, Zoom and Panopto, so you learn how to fit them into your course,” Schofield says. 

This is a thoughtful consultative process between faculty members and instructional designers. The outcomes show improvements and you’re reaching new students.

 —  Andy Nestingen, Chair and Professor, UW Scandinavian Studies Department 

“We can also coach how to approach grading and create good rubrics or to design effective assignments aligned with what you want students to get out of the course.”

Ensuring Accessibility

Every learner’s experience is unique, so Continuum’s LE team strives to make their online classrooms a positive experience for all students. “We have a strong focus on accessibility in all the courses we develop and make them inclusive as possible,” Blakeley says. “We go beyond accessibility, but also think about representation in media throughout the course and ways to welcome your students into a course environment.”

There are several different abilities that are impacted by web accessibility, so the learning designers, learning technologists and course production specialists on the LE team help check accessibility throughout the content development process. 

“The team’s very thorough and up to date on what the most recent guidelines and recommendations are for accessibility,” says Schofield. “We can be the specialist in the room explaining what it means to adhere to the highest principles of accessible and inclusive design to ensure the learning experience helps support students, rather than putting up barriers and obstacles.”

Creating Positive Program Outcomes

For fully online programs, Blakeley notes that it’s essential to design a program that has a cohesive look and feel for students, such as creating navigation that’s similar between courses, so students know where to go and what work they need to be doing at any given time. 

“We’re trying to think about your program outcomes and how they map to the various courses in that program,” Blakeley says. “Are there assignment types or design elements that we can build some prototypes of so that you can use those across a whole program?" 

According to Nestingen, this approach has improved students’ assessment of the quality of the course, providing evidence that online teaching is working. “I noticed that scores for the sequential presentation of concepts increased in the online version of these courses. Student evaluations are also higher for these courses than in-person courses for the same faculty member,” he says. “It seems to me that these improvements are related to that re-look at instructional design, which elevated the course's quality in the students' minds.”

“This is not pandemic learning. This is a measured, thoughtful consultative process between faculty members and instructional designers,” Nestingen adds. “The outcomes show improvements and you’re reaching new students with the material you can offer in these courses in the department curriculum. That's exciting.”

To learn more about working with the Continuum LE team to develop online courses and how they might benefit your academic programs, contact your Partner Success Lead (PSL).