Aug 19 2022

Digital Learning Offices Help Faculty Thrive in Hybrid Environments

University departments provide professional development to help faculty teach effectively with modern digital tools.

As executive director of the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida, Kelvin Thompson, a member of the 2022 Higher Education IT Influencers to Follow list, is focused on enabling digital instruction.

An office within the Division of Digital Learning, the center “is all about removing obstacles from the path of our faculty who teach online and blended courses,” Thompson says. His team of 100 full- and part-time staff members includes instructional designers, professional video producers, technical support staff and graphic designers.

The UCF center is just one example of how universities are building up offices of digital learning to equip faculty with the tools and technologies they need to deliver course materials effectively in an increasingly hybrid learning environment.

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Higher Ed Steers Toward Hybrid Learning

Many schools were already bolstering their digital learning capabilities before the pandemic. Now, online learning is here to stay, with 47 percent of staff predicting that classes will be mostly online in the near future, according to the Salesforce Connected Student Report.

That report also shows the need for faculty support, with 40 percent of staff reporting challenges in getting the technical support they need from their institutions as they create online course materials. Panelists who contributed to EDUCAUSE’s 2022 Horizon Report likewise said that professional development for remote and hybrid teaching could have a major impact on learning outcomes.

Digital learning offices can help close the gap.

“Some are focused on faculty development, digital literacy training and supporting faculty in the use of digital tools in their classrooms,” says Kathe Pelletier, director of the Teaching and Learning Program at EDUCAUSE. “Others are focused more on the technical element —procuring the tools, making sure that they are plugged in correctly and that the faculty receive technical support — or they are responsible for the broader institutional strategy about what the digital learning technology stack is going to look like.”

At UCF, Thompson’s office delivers professional development to help educators best use the technology tools at their disposal, especially in support of remote and hybrid learning.

“We try to provide a foundational experience for the faculty who are going to teach online and blended courses,” he says. “We start from the beginning: What is it you want your students to walk away with when they leave this course? We might refer to that as learning goals, learning outcomes, instructional objectives. What do you want your students to take away with them?”

READ MORE: Why Portland State University is committed to hybrid learning.

From there, Thompson’s team of experts help faculty members align their objectives with specific classroom technologies.

“It’s things like, you don’t put a 30-minute video online, because the student attention span isn’t going to support that. You don’t have a mile-long scrolling webpage in the learning management system,” he says. “You need to chunk things down to their essential components and break them out in a way that holds people’s attention.”

Hybrid Learning Professional Development Puts Tech at the Forefront

At the University of Nevada, Reno, the Office of Digital Learning’s executive director, Ed Huffman, taps a range of technology tools to help faculty up their game for digitally enabled learning.

“The Canvas LMS is key. Its use benefits the students and the faculty, as it helps to ensure things like accessibility, making sure things are available to all students,” he says. “We support faculty use of the LMS. It’s a cloud service, and all the administration is handled through my office.”

The office has also used its expertise to help outfit classrooms in support of remote and hybrid learning.

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“We use the ClearOne Chat 150 USB speakerphone on the podiums in all of our classrooms,” Huffman says. “That gives 10 to 12 feet of range from the podium where the instructor can wander through the room still and speak. We also use the ClearOne Unite 20 webcam.”

The office takes an enterprise approach to IT management to maintain standards for technology use across the university. “We have site licenses for things like Camtasia, which some of our faculty will use for creating asynchronous lecture content. We also have a campuswide Zoom license, which people are using for their remote synchronous courses, virtual office hours and other things,” he says.

The aim here is not just to promote technological literacy, but also to connect technology to pedagogy.

“We work with faculty to make sure that the incorporation of technology is done in a pedagogically sound manner,” Huffman says. “This includes the technology that’s in the classrooms to enable face-to-face learning, as well as academic technologies, like the learning management system, web conferencing, plagiarism detection, online proctoring.”

47%

The percentage of higher education staff who predict that classes will be mostly online in the near future.

Source: Salesforce Connected Student Report, June 2021

Digital Learning Professional Development Has Multiple Goals

At Boston University’s new Shipley Center for Digital Learning and Innovation, the mission is twofold.

“One is to support faculty with digital multimedia and course design. We have media producers and digital learning designers who can help with that,” Director Romy Ruukel says. “We work closely with our Center for Teaching and Learning and our educational technology group to collaborate in support of faculty professional development. When we do digital media production and digital design, for example, we do that in collaboration with faculty — how to integrate multimedia into coursework — and we are all learning in that process.”

“The second mission is no less important: to support pilots of novel educational technologies for the purpose of improving the BU student experience,” she says. The center is piloting an AR/VR implementation, for example, as well as a technology platform used in language courses for increased student engagement.

As with many such digital learning offices, the Shipley Center aims to ensure that faculty have the skills they need to teach effectively with modern digital tools.

The goal “is to help BU remain relevant in the quickly changing technology landscape of teaching and learning, and to improve the residential student experience,” Ruukel says.

NEXT UP: How community colleges are setting best practices for hybrid learning in higher ed.

Illustration by Maria Kovalchuk

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