Keep Calm & Develop On: Creating an Online General Education Program at a Traditional Liberal Arts Institution

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learn how Northwest Nazarene University developed a successful online general education program in collaboration with their traditional face-to-face faculty, benefiting both residential and non-traditional undergraduates. Participants will explore the impact of this initiative on teaching and learning at NNU through quantitative and qualitative results.


Dr. Bethany Schultz serves as the Director of the Center for Instructional Design and Technology at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. She is an experienced grant administrator and educator in blended and online learning in Higher Education and K-12 settings. She has helped build an online general education experience for students at NNU through the development of NNU Online. Previously at NNU, she served as a project manager for a grant-funded center for innovation called the Doceō Center. Overall, Bethany has secured and been a post-award grant administrator of $15 million of projects and initiatives to spur innovation in higher ed and K-12 education through the effective use of technology.
Crystal Nielsen, M.A., is an Instructional Designer & Technologist at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. With strengths in accessible design and website usability, she has collaborated with faculty at NNU (and formerly at Boise State) to design, develop, and deliver online courses in a wide range of subjects, including statistics, mathematics, oceanography, astronomy, literature, communication, psychology, music, nursing, and project management. In higher education since 2004, Crystal has provided training, technical support, and instructional design services with three learning management systems: Blackboard, ANGEL, and Canvas.

Extended Abstract

The intent of this session is to explain and demonstrate how one institution addressed the need for online general education options at a traditional liberal arts institution by developing procedures, policies, courses and resources to meet the need of both traditional and nontraditional students. Northwest Nazarene University identified key general education courses that were previously delivered only to residential students and developed an online general education program through NNU Online, expanding the availability to all NNU students. Three years into the program’s existence, it's become an indispensable resource for traditional and nontraditional students alike.

The development of NNU Online’s General Education program required several offices on campus to collaborate across institutional silos and infrastructure barriers. This session will cover the development process for the program such as stakeholder support, identification of funding, faculty engagement, and cross-college collaboration. Participants will learn how we added online options to the traditional general education program to meet the needs of students and will see the impact of the initiative through quantitative and qualitative results. Attendees will have the opportunity to identify challenges and obstacles to developing an online general education program at their home institution and to brainstorm solutions.

Large lessons learned from this development include:

  • As a small campus, we needed all stakeholders on board to be successful. This meant mobilizing campus stakeholders through building a culture of innovation, transparency, shared ownership, and shared vision.
  • This program needed to increase revenue with minimal long-term overhead expenses. NNU applied for and received a Federal Title III grant to develop this program and the services needed.
  • Course outcomes needed to be congruent with the traditional GE program. This meant it was best to have full-time traditional faculty develop the online courses regardless of their experience with online learning.
  • Our institution is divided between two colleges that separate traditional and nontraditional undergraduate students. This caused several barriers in collaboration and services. We have made steps toward streamlining and merging undergraduate general education programming.

Campus Stakeholders

When we identified the need for online general education offerings, we intentionally tied program objectives to institutional values and outcomes; this would help ensure that the campus administration and Board of Trustees supported the program. Through two administration changes, the support for this program has endured and evolved.

Identification of Program Funding

In the midst of budget and program cuts, an online general education program was not a likely addition to university resources. We identified an outside funding source - a federal Title III grant - that could strengthen and help us develop undergraduate online courses and support services.

Faculty Engagement

Faculty engagement in this process was twofold. We wanted traditional undergraduate faculty to be the core group of online course developers, and we needed them to be supportive of online learning. Both were huge barriers we faced. Reluctance to learn a new way of teaching and fear of taking away traditional enrollment in face-to-face GE courses initially kept some faculty from supporting the initiative. By communicating regularly, sharing student success stories, and making course development as easy as possible, we are seeing more openness toward online undergraduate learning.

Cross-College Collaboration

The separation of the College of Arts and Sciences (traditional undergraduate) and College of Adult and Graduate Studies (nontraditional undergraduate and graduate) caused tension and clunky processes during development. The online initiative led to conversations around general education and shared outcomes across both colleges. We are seeing progress in developing a seamless process for cross-college collaboration and in merging several duplicated efforts.

The outcomes of this session are for participants to explore solutions for challenges and barriers NNU encountered while establishing an online general education program. The goals of this presentation are for attendees to: 1) learn about NNU’s general education program, 2) see how we developed a plan to address the need for online options, 3) hear about lessons learned from the development process, and 4) share with other participants how they could address the same need at their institution.