Program Redesign of Undergraduate Online Courses to Improve Student Experience

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session describes the internal professional development process used to enable faculty with different levels of online experience to redesign their courses to create greater consistency across courses, thereby increasing faculty presence and building a richer “community of learners” among students.  Attendees will be able to apply this model to professional development in their colleges and universities. 


Marian Stoltz-Loike, PhD Vice President, Online Education Dean, Lander College for Women-The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School As vice president of online education, Dr. Stoltz-Loike oversees Touro College’s full range of online offerings. Dr. Stoltz-Loike initiated a plan of building toward excellence in online education by building greater strategic and tactical collaboration across graduate and professional programs and creating consistency across online courses. Dr. Stoltz-Loike is the dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women/The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School (LCW) for a decade. LCW has enjoyed unprecedented growth in both number of students and quality of academic offerings during her tenure. She has introduced several honors programs for academically talented women, expanded STEM offerings in math and computer science and new programs in education. A professor of psychology and human resources management, she has served as a global corporate consultant with Fortune 100 companies in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America on how to build better strategies for using technology to simplify communication across borders and enable multinational businesses to work more effectively in a 24/7 world. She has written two books and over fifty articles relating to diversity, work/life issues, cross-cultural management and the maturing workforce. She has delivered presentations to over forty industry groups at domestic and international conferences on women’s career issues; building effective global business strategies; work-life balance; the impact of technology in the workplace; managing global teams; and generational diversity. Dr. Stoltz-Loike received a bachelor’s degree cum laude in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology with a focus on developmental psychology from New York University.

Extended Abstract

Over the last decade, advances in educational technology have led to dramatic changes in what can be offered online as well as best practices in online education.  While this introduces exciting new possibilities for the delivery of online courses, it can represent a challenge for faculty with long experience in teaching online.  In an educational environment where faculty members create and deliver their own courses, ensuring uniformity and best practices across courses is necessary.  This session will review the process that was used to effectively redesign our undergraduate online courses.  The description of the strategy and tactics used are valuable for others undergoing a strategic redesign of their online courses.

Touro has a long history in offering online courses.  Many faculty members on the undergraduate as well as the graduate level have been offering online courses for almost fifteen years.  Some faculty members routinely change their courses, including the new and most up-to-date technology available; whereas other faculty members update content but are slower to change their online content delivery. 

Faculty members design and deliver all of their online courses.  Although all faculty members use the same Learning Management System (LMS) they have options to customize colors, fonts, look at other features of the platform.  Additionally, while there were guidelines regarding where specific content was to be input, faculty often took great liberty in the look and structure of their courses.  That meant that a student taking several online courses during the course of a year might have a very different learning environment in every online course.

Over the last two years, we decided to enhance all of our undergraduate online courses and to build greater uniformity and consistency across courses at the same time that we increased the “faculty presence” and enhanced the student experience..  An undergraduate online task force was developed to work together with the Instructional Design team on the redesign.

The first step was to create a uniform course template, along with a uniform syllabus template.  Faculty was trained on the course template which was created as part of the course shell.  Additionally, guidelines and reminders for what information should be included in a section and what should not be included became a part of the course shell, thereby  creating greater uniformity across courses.

Next, group training was developed for faculty on two levels:  for those faculty members who were advanced and had more experience   teaching online and those faculty members who needed more basic information because they were at an intermediate level.  Faculty training began with three sessions on the Progressive (advanced) and Refresh (intermediate) levels.  Initially, the plan was to deliver six sessions to each group.  We found that some faculty members had great content but lacked the structure needed to optimize the student experience.  There were also significant gaps in the familiarity of many faculty members with educational technology tools as well as with many Blackboard Tools.

Both at the Progressive and Refresh levels faculty members participated in a series of three webinars once every two to three weeks and were also required to submit deliverables after each webinar.  Several cybercafes were held between sessions and the instructional designer facilitating the session was available to answer questions or meet with faculty on an as-needed basis. 

Changes in course design as a result of training was visible for the Refresh group but less evident for the Progressive group.  Consequently, it was decided to explore whether one-on-one training might accelerate the redesign of course material for both groups.  Before beginning this process, the Online Education team reviewed the course material in every online course and evaluate content using various criteria (that was eventually incorporated into a new course evaluation rubric), such as course design, course logic, instructor presence and learner engagement.

The course evaluation was shared with the instructional designer who would be working with each faculty member.  Faculty was invited for an online chat to discuss their courses.  Feedback on their courses was provided along with an action plan, milestones and timeline for course redesign was developed with each faculty member during this initial chat. It was assumed that once faculty members had mastered the necessary change in one course they could extrapolate that redesign to other existing or new courses.  Instructional Designers are routinely available to assist faculty make these changes.

Most faculty members were receptive to this process and welcomed the one-on-one sessions. In many cases, the content in their courses was excellent but the courses needed structural changes.  Some of the more advanced faculty were resistant to training. Positive student evaluations also increased faculty resistance to changing the course.  We found that the transition to one-on-one training broke down the resistance and also made faculty more interested in learning new strategies for improving student experience.

In summary, this session will describe the professional development process used to enable faculty to enhance and redesign their courses to create greater uniformity and consistency across courses, thereby enhancing the student experience.  The session will describe the process used, beginning with group training of all undergraduate online faculty and then migrated to one-on-one training so that each faculty member could get the customized skills needed to enhance their courses.  In this session, we will describe the scaffolding model used to train faculty and specific changes made in each course to increase faculty presence and to build a richer “community of learners” among our students.   This information will be a valuable model to colleagues at other schools experiencing similar needs for course redesign.

This program is designed for all audiences with a focus on Higher Ed at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Participants will learn about an applied strategy for enhancing online courses, as well as ideas for improving faculty support for this professional development.