Encouraging faculty to REACH (Re-imagine, Engage, Align, & Change) in online/blended courses via a partnership program

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

A faculty partnership program creating online/blended courses with an integration of emerging technologies, improvement of the student experience, and increase in student engagement will be introduced. A framework of faculty recruitment, project selection, and individual course project design along with example course projects and initial results will be explored.


Amy Kuntz is as Instructional Designer within Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State University and has been in the field of higher education since 2006. Her main role is to work with faculty in the design and development of blended/online/video-conferencing courses for shared degree programs. As Instructional Designer, Amy's work also consists of facilitating a university-wide Learning Design community with other members of her department, working on large/strategic pedagogical redesign projects for the university, and supporting shared degree programs by offering faculty development, technology pilots, and operational support initiatives. Amy Kuntz received a Master of Science in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University. She has been an active Quality Matters Peer Reviewer and adjunct professor since 2008 teaching for-credit academic courses in both the face-to-face and online environments. Her professional interests include emerging instructional design models, pedagogical research, and quality assurance in online education.
Julie Lang serves as the OER Coordinator within Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State University. Julie began her career in higher education at Penn State in 2003 with University Libraries. She moved on to work as an Instructional Designer at Penn State World Campus and from 2006-2014 served as the lead designer for online programs including the MS in Children Literature, MS in Project Management, and several BS degree programs. In 2014 she accepted an instructional design position with the newly founded initiative, Campus Collaborative Programs, an effort supporting both Teaching and Learning with Technology and Commonwealth Campus Shared Academic Programs. 2016 brought the opportunity to move into the role of Open Educational Resource Coordinator. Julie moved into the role of OER Coordinator in December 2016 and greatly enjoys partnering with faculty across the commonwealth to advance the adoption, adaption, and authoring of open content to benefit students at Penn State and beyond. Julie received degrees from Penn State University in Education as well as a Master of Science in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University. Her professional interests include faculty development in adopting, adapting, and authoring open educational resources, content sharing best practices and strategies, and the advancement of Universal Design for Learning through the use of open content.

Extended Abstract



Faculty development as part of shared degree programs encompasses three focus areas: foundational, practical, and innovative. On a foundational level, faculty teaching in shared programs are encouraged to participate in faculty development offerings that provide them with common terminology; preparing them to teach in blended, online, and video-based courses; and introduce them to best practices. On a practical level, faculty teaching in shared programs are encouraged to participate in faculty development opportunities that provide hands-on support with content development, course design, and delivery formats. The first two areas have been utilized in non-shared programs for many years, but a need for innovation in shared courses was identified.








Shared academic programs bring together faculty with a wide range of experience in various instructional delivery modes. As we blend the line between residential and online programs it is difficult to ensure that faculty have a common set of skills and proficiency. Penn State has a long tradition of online and blended course delivery and there exist many opportunities for faculty to develop new skills and make use of technology resources. As faculty in shared degree programs have become increasingly more proficient and comfortable with teaching cross-campus courses in a variety of delivery modes, a need was identified for a professional development opportunity  / partnership program that allowed for experimentation and innovation to increase faculty and student engagement along with identifying creative solutions to challenges.




Approach and Results:




The TLT REACH Initiative (Re-imagine, Engage, Align, Change) was created as a professional development / partnership program between the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses and Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) for faculty who teach in shared programs to be provided with a design team for a period of two semesters. The partnership program provides an opportunity for faculty to work with (TLT) staff in investigating centrally supported technologies and/or emerging technologies to improve the student experience and engagement in a shared course that is online or blended. New shared academic programs have and continue to be proposed in support of University initiatives to develop strategically important programs that are projected to be growth areas in Pennsylvania. TLT has worked closely with the academic program administration to support the implementation of these new degree programs and has developed the TLT REACH initiative to seed the development of showcase, best practice courses for the shared academic programs. As part of the first offering of the program, faculty were challenged to:


  • Re-imagine - Re-imagine their current teaching and course content, including but not limited to:
    • How they were currently teaching in various environments, including online, blended, blended with video conferencing, and video conferencing.
    • Content delivery methods.
  • Engage - Implement, practice, and evaluate engagement in their teaching practice including faculty/student, student/student, faculty/faculty, and faculty/TLT staff engagement.
  • Align - Design a course that aligns with:
    • the vision/mission/strategic plan of the university, shared degree programs, and TLT.
    • the academic goals of the particular shared program.
  • Change - Implement change of:
    • the culture of a shared course environment.
    • their teaching, course content, and course assignments to include innovation (doing things in an innovative way as well as allowing students the freedom to be innovative in their coursework).


The program was designed to measure student and faculty satisfaction regarding the innovative design, development, and/or delivery of a shared course that has been created using the TLT REACH Initiative. The first co-hort of the TLT REACH Initiative is in it's final phases and their findings will be shared with key stakeholders including other faculty.




The TLT REACH model was built to ensure that project outcomes such as student and faculty satisfaction regarding the innovative design, development, and/or delivery of a shared course are captured. The first co-hort of the TLT REACH Initiative are in their final phases and their findings will be shared with key stakeholders including other faculty. A key component of this program is the dissemination of the practices and examples generated by the intensive course redesign process. Ensuring that other program faculty learn about the successes and failures associated with the projects is a key component of this process, and faculty who participate in the program commit to sharing their project results with their peers as part of TLT's annual Symposium that has a large audience from the entire geographically dispersed university.





Throughout this process, faculty have developed innovative and engaging courses that are shared between multiple campus locations either in an online or blended format. Each course in the TLT REACH Initiative was charged to:



  • incorporate sound pedagogical practices for students at multiple campuses
  • increase opportunities for engagement and innovation between students and faculty at multiple campuses
  • provide learning opportunities in a variety of formats to meet the needs of all learners
  • leverage resources to provide seamless, consistent, and efficient student and faculty experiences


Faculty who participated in the REACH Initiative were charged to:


  1. Foster an engaging student experience in a multi-campus course in a shared program by:
    1. Providing resident students a broader range of curricular options and richer experiences as they engage with students and faculty from at least one campus outside of their home campus;
    2. Creating engaging cross-campus student opportunities that align to clearly articulated course learning outcomes in shared programs.
    3. Assessing students in  social presence and engagement in the course.
  2. Investigate technology resources that can be used to move beyond a classroom to classroom model and thus reduce physical footprints. These resources should:
    1. Utilize innovative communication and interactive technologies;
    2. Move beyond classroom-to-classroom model (as seen in standard Polycom video courses)
    3. Enable active learning.
  3. Develop teaching practices that align to middle states assessment including:
    1. Assessing students  on achievement of learning outcomes
    2. Mapping course objectives to overall program goals.


As a result of the initial offering of the REACH Initiative, faculty within the Biology and Rehabilitation Health Services disciplines have:


  • established online discussion experiences that extend beyond traditional online discussion boards
  • created and implemented  online/geographically dispersed projects
  • utilized uniquely applied synchronous polling features either in an online environment or across geographic boundaries that were followed by engaging interactions
  • generated instructor created video with worked out examples
  • employed robotic presence in a blended course across geographic boundaries
  • applied student engagement activities in a geographically dispersed environment that are also applicable in all blended learning courses


Assessment of each project is in progress and is expected to be completed later this year. Initial strategies to utilize the results of the initiative as a method to disseminate best practices and encourage faculty communities of practice have been planned since the TLT REACH inception. Additional strategies are currently being identified along with modifications for the second iteration of the TLT REACH project. In addition to the benefits of the development of new course approaches, there have been increased connectivity and engagement with TLT technology initiatives, a broader discussion about the nature of technology's potential in higher education, as well as additional discussions about how to improve students experience in programs overall. 




Session Information:




This session will focus on the REACH Initiative planning and implementation, initial results, and plans for dissemination. The session attendees will have an interactive experience as the presenters will model best practices of increasing engagement for geographically dispersed blended courses and online courses during the session. 




By the end of the session, attendees will: 



  • Recall the guiding principles / rationale of the REACH Initiative
  • Paraphrase the steps in the REACH Initiative project design/implementation including: faculty recruitment, project selection process, faculty integration design / individual project design, and individual project implementation.
  • Analyze the explanation and demonstration of example course projects and their initial results.
  • Discuss and brainstorm additional strategies to utilize the results of the initiative to disseminate best practices and encourage faculty communities of practice.