Think globally, act locally - a model for central collaboration and decentral support

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

When it comes to supporting faculty and instructional design, the argument is often local versus central, but leveraging combined approaches fosters mutually beneficial relationships that share best practices, encourage innovation, and pilot strategies and technologies. This discussion will share the experiences of four institutions from the college and institutional levels.


Dr. Tawnya Means is the Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to this role, Tawnya served as the Assistant Dean and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center for the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, leading teaching and learning support and providing faculty development programs and resources for instructional innovation and adoption of pedagogical best practices. With 20 years of experience in higher education, course design, and educational consulting, Tawnya has also taught courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, technology, and leadership in remote teams. Dr. Means received her B.S. in Education, M.S. in Educational Technology, and Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis on learning systems design, all from the University of Missouri. She completed the AACSB Post-doctoral bridge program in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in online and blended learning, active learning, learning space design, technology for teaching, access to digital learning resources, and faculty preparation to teach. She has long been a leader in campus initiatives and committees and actively presents at conferences and other institutions and organizations on technology-enhanced learning.

Additional Authors

Christie Nicholas is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning at USF’s Innovative Education. She has been part of the Digital Learning team since 2011, where she began producing weekly news videos for pre-K to fifth grade students. She joined the course development team in 2012, where she now leads a dynamic team of instructional designers and project managers in the creation of high-quality online course. Christie has been involved in secondary education since 2006 and utilizes her experience to create engaging and effective online courses and programs at USF. Christie received her M.Ed. in Instructional Technology in 2014 and her B.A. in Creative Writing in 2005.

Extended Abstract

We live in a globalizing world, characterized by a knowledge-based economy. Universities take on a special importance in this economy as they "train the highly skilled workers and contribute to the capacity for innovation that determine competitiveness" (OECD, 2009, p. 13). To sustain this process, they must continuously innovate.

Supporting faculty in pedagogy and instructional design are important components of universities’ innovative efforts, especially since the globalized world’s inescapable feature of competition have forced many to open their doors to new methods of teaching and extend access with online and hybrid learning. Depending on their size and availability of resources, universities support faculty in a myriad of ways. In some institutions, such support is centralized in university level organizations, whereas in others, support is provided in-house by college-level organizations and initiatives. It is tempting to ask which of these organizations are most influential in shaping faculty development and student learning.

In this panel conversation, we argue for the need to move beyond the argument of local versus central and look at what happens when these organizations link forces together. Panelists from four institutions will share experiences/examples of leveraging combined efforts to benefit faculty development and instructional design in areas of online, hybrid, and flipped learning. Panelists will address:

  1. How a university level organization can leverage college teaching centers to demonstrate best practices, encourage innovation, pilot strategies and technologies on a smaller scale before taking initiatives to a broader audience.
  2. How a college level teaching center can leverage the resources available at the university for funding, administrative support, faculty development, multimedia production services.

Each panelist will share how fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between university level instructional design organizations and college level teaching centers and initiatives works at their institution, what challenges and opportunities exist, and provide recommendations and considerations for other institutions. The following examples demonstrate:

University of Florida:

In 2001, the Warrington College of Business hired their first instructional designer to manage the course design for the online MBA program. Over time, the college added to their efforts to support instructional design and faculty development with a full-fledged Teaching and Learning Center that employs 3 instructional designers, a graphic designer, a student assistant, an assessment specialist, an accreditation specialist, and a director. The Center supports all fully online courses and programs, conducts teaching observations and provides feedback to new and PhD student instructors to enhance their teaching practices, offers regular pedagogical workshops and panels, and coordinates numerous resources for enhancing teaching and learning within the college. In addition, the Center coordinates closely at the university level, participating in task forces and committees, providing leadership in online initiatives, and its members are heavily involved in the campus wide instructional design community.

University of Nebraska:

In fall 2017, the College of Business at the University of Nebraska opened its doors on a new building and a new Teaching and Learning Center. The center supports both student success and faculty development, as well as coordinates with the university level instructional design unit to support online courses and programs. While the vision of the Center is just taking shape, the new director brings a number of the lessons learned and considerations for success from the University of Florida.

University of South Florida:

Innovative Education (InEd) is an academic support unit at the University of South Florida whose goal is to improve access to quality online educational opportunities through courses, certificates and programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. InEd began developing distance learning courses in 2007. In the Spring of 2014, InEd scaled its approach and began supporting a high volume of courses for each college within USF Tampa’s main campus. This new centralized unit of InEd, called Digital Learning, primarily focuses on the development of high-quality online courses and offers services in learning and multimedia design, video production and faculty support. Learning designers partner with faculty to assess student needs and develop effective methods to deliver content online, ensuring that course materials align with student learning outcomes. Digital Learning leaders work closely with the associate deans of each college to identify potential candidates for partnership.

Also in 2014, the USF College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) created a new internal position--Director of Online Academic Initiatives. It is the role of the Director to spearhead CAS’ efforts related to online instruction and to serve as a liaison with InEd. As the largest college in the university, CAS needed a full-time resource in this area, rather than relying upon the associate dean position (as the other colleges were doing) to allocate the college’s available resources with InEd and to lead strategic efforts for expanding online offerings. The Director works to identify areas for online growth with department chairs and prepares selected faculty for their work with InEd by setting and managing expectations related to the nature of the partnership, including outcomes and workload. The college also supplements the InEd development process by providing additional professional development opportunities for its faculty working with InEd.

With the goal of achieving high-quality online courses that facilitate significant learning, the result of this partnership between CAS and InEd has been a better system for supporting faculty through their development of online courses and the ability to generate greater buy-in from the college’s academic units. Further, by partnering with a centralized academic support unit like InEd, efficiencies are achieved by allowing CAS term-by-term flexibility in the degree of its utilization of InEd’s talent and resources as well as providing greater opportunity for the CAS director to address administrative tasks related to online initiatives that would not be as easily achievable if the college managed its own course developments locally.

While working with faculty from CAS, InEd benefits from a dedicated contact to help keep developments on track and ensure that both college goals and university standards for online learning are achieved. Additionally the strengthened college relationship has allowed InEd to pilot new approaches with a limited audience before adopting these practices as their standard operating procedure.

University of Houston Downtown (UHD):

In 2016, the UHD’s Davis College of Business created the Office of Instructional Excellence (OIE) that serves as a resource for the faculty within the College (N=95) in the area of instructional development. The OIE is staffed by: a director with a Ph.D. specialization in online/hybrid learning; a graphic designer that enhance the communication and quality of instructional materials; and a video engineer that helps faculty create video lectures/tutorials for their classes.

Davies College offers the largest MBA program within the Houston area and offers nine BBA degrees. All of the courses in the MBA program use the flipped approach where students’ exposure to new concepts/topics take place online and class time is devoted to active learning. The leveling courses for students who do not have the foundation to start the MBA program are offered fully online. Undergraduate courses offered within the College use all three modalities: online, face-to-face, and hybrid.  

The OIE was given the task of implementing scientific methods to identify improvement aspects for instruction within the College and to develop an improvement process that responds to student needs and provides quality learning. To that end, several initiatives have been established and are underway.

The OIE leverages the resources within the College to benefit instructional development on a smaller scale before taking initiatives to the university-wide audience. The OIE uses the College’s mission of “educational excellence” as a positive leverage to its operations. For example, classroom observations, interviews with faculty, and analysis of end-of-course student surveys in MBA classes revealed that the degree to which some faculty understand and execute flipped learning is limited. To help faculty develop an understanding of the flipped approach, a 4-week workshop was initiated. Participants of this workshop learned about flipped learning while experiencing it. The workshop led faculty through the process of intentionally designing a flipped course. The OIE leverages university’s “applied research” mission to inspire faculty to conduct research on online teaching and learning-related topics that matter to them. Finally, the director of the OIE leverages her academic background in online teaching to create “buy in” among faculty who perceive online learning as ineffective to traditional learning.


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2009). Higher education to 2030, volume 2, globalisation, educational research and innovation. Paris: OECD Publishing


Joleen Cannon

Director and Manager, Center for Online Innovation and Production

University of Florida


Tawnya Means, Ph.D.

Director, Teaching & Learning Center

Warrington College of Business, University of Florida

Assistant Dean and Director, Teaching & Learning Center

College of Business, University of Nebraska


Christie Nicholas

Assistant Director Innovative Education

University of South Florida


Sedef Uzuner Smith, Ph.D.

Executive Director of Instruction and Faculty Development

Office of Instructional Excellence, Marilyn Davies College of Business, University of Houston-Downtown


Erin Bryan Sutliff

Director of Online Academic Initiatives

College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida