Shifting Institutional Culture, Pedagogical Mindsets and Collaboration through an Online MBA Program

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Montclair State University has developed unique approaches to developing online programs since 2013.  Successfully launched in 2016, MSU’s online MBA program demonstrates the unique instructional design and faculty development approaches to shifting institutional culture, transforming pedagogical mindset, and enhancing collegial collaboration and relationships resulting in the fastest growing online program.


Dr. Yanling Sun is the Director of Instructional Technology and Design Service (ITDS) at Montclair State University. Her professional experience has been focusing on the academic integration of technologies as well as the assimilation of best practice of pedagogical strategies and instructional design methodologies into teaching and learning process. She strategizes and manages the instructional technology services to ensure members of the Campus Community are able to effectively integrate appropriate and enabling pedagogies and technologies into academic activities and administrative operations. With years of instructional design and technology experience and educational background in Instructional Technology, Dr. Sun initiated a social-collaborative course design model and a well-received faculty development program and leads the ITDS team to provide high quality course design services and faculty development support at Montclair State University. Dr. Sun's research interests are on the disseminated approach of incorporation or conversion of technologies into instructional activities as well as application of sound instructional design strategies to enhance instructional and learning outcomes. She has published research articles in peer-reviewed journals and presented her professional work in a number of national and international conferences.
Carolyn Demefack is a Senior Instructional Designer with Montclair State University where she focuses on the design, development and management of online initiatives. She is dedicated to developing innovative learning experiences rooted in adult learning theory and effective instructional design principles for online, hybrid, and web-enhanced environments. She leads online faculty development initiatives, facilitates training and one-on-one support. She began teaching as a middle school English teacher with the Peace Corps in Cameroon then worked in New York City schools to provide teacher training, in-class modeling and strategic planning support on leveraging technology in K-12 classrooms. She has worked for the University of Florida, Teach For America, Teaching Matters, the Bank Street College School for Children and the New York City Department of Education. She has also taught courses focused on “new literacies” and integrating technology into the K-12 curriculum as an Adjunct Professor for the Bank Street College of Education and Montclair State University. Carolyn has a BA in Communications from Antioch College and an MA in Educational Communication and Technology from New York University.

Extended Abstract

The design of online instructional environments requires attention from academic institutions to enhance teaching and learning outcomes. Montclair State University has launched seven online programs since spring 2013. What strategies have been designed and adopted to change the institutional atmosphere regarding online education? What unique methodologies and approaches have been created and implemented to mobilize faculty via instructional design services and faculty development support? What processes have been created to ensure the University provides quality-oriented education to online students? The online MBA program will be presented as an example of the unique instructional design and faculty development approaches to shifting institutional culture, transforming pedagogical mindset, and enhancing collegial collaboration and relationships.

Initiation of the Online MBA Program

Montclair State University (MSU), is New Jersey’s second-largest public institution. As online education continues its rapid-paced growth, MBA programs have been one of the most common degrees offered online.  In 2016, Montclair’s Feliciano School of Business decided to enter into this crowded online MBA market.

The school had experience in developing a hybrid MBA program and certain faculty offered individual courses online.  Therefore, when the decision was made to develop the online MBA, faculty members were contacted and told to start developing courses.  The results were disappointing - with no consistency among courses and some courses with sub-par recording of lectures. It was quickly determined that the develop efforts required a reset.

At this point the MSU instructional design team was brought on board.  The team worked with a faculty coordinator (FC) to develop the overall look and feel of the template for the learning management system (Canvas) and the guidelines that all course content developers (CCD) would need to follow.  The FC worked closely with an instructional designer (ID) to develop the first course in the program to serve as a model. Some of the features of this collaboration include; the use of high quality video recorded in a studio with slides projected using green screen technology, the extensive use of discussion boards, the development of rubrics used for grading discussions, and the use of authentic assessment techniques (project, papers, etc.).

Development of the courses was done on a rolling basis with each course targeted for completion at least a full semester before it would first be taught.  The IDs were primarily responsible for keeping CCDs on schedule and ensuring overall quality, but could reach out to the FC and/or MBA Director if needed.

Instructional Design Model and Approaches

Most CCDs have concerns when they approach online teaching for the first time. Some of their concerns included, how could online students interact with their peers and instructors without meeting in person, and how learning outcomes could be assessed and measured online. Obviously it was important to develop a sound course design pedagogical model and systematic, yet flexible process to work with them. At the same time, the method and process were expected to play a significant role in building an intimate and collaborative relationship to help faculty shift their traditional pedagogical mindset to an innovative online one. MSU developed an in-house pedagogical model to the design and development of online courses. An online course template was also designed based on the model. Both the model and template were guided by the nationally recognized Quality Matters Program (QM) in order to ensure high-quality online education. The model, which represents 4 essential elements: Orientation, Content, Interaction and Assessment, was entitled “OCIA”. Each module (or week of learning activities) in a course includes these elements to promote a social, interaction-embedded pedagogical approach.

CCDs and IDs were paired to work collaboratively on a course to design the best possible online learning environment based on the course and program goals. IDs introduced strategies to achieve the learning goals and promote active learning, teamwork, critical thinking and authentic assessment. Strategies included how to promote online interaction, how to enhance teaching presence, effective approaches to case study analysis, effective online teamwork practices, approaches to online student presentations, effective use of discussions, use of simulations and role playing, the development of assessment instruments and rubrics, and other areas.

IDs also worked collaboratively with the Online MBA Program Office to ensure program consistency and high standards of quality were implemented across all courses. Together,  they developed guidelines and expectations for faculty when developing and teaching the courses. As new needs arose, instructional design approaches and resources shifted to address these across all courses in the program.

Faculty Development and Support

Although online education follows many of the same methods and philosophies as its traditional, face-to-face counterpart, the online teaching environment provides a unique set of possibilities and challenges. The instructor’s role has also shifted from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" by facilitating student learning, rather than lecturing. The role of the student has become that of a more independent and active learner, who participates in a learning community and collaborates with peers and instructors to enhance learning outcomes.

While MSU has been moving quickly in developing online degree programs, it is well recognized that faculty development and support is the key to drive online learning initiatives success and it is also the most effective retention strategy in online learning. In order to support and help faculty prepare for online teaching, MSU has created a comprehensive approach to support faulty development, which includes a Pedagogical Track and Technology Track.

The Pedagogical Track is an online course entitled “Empowering Teaching Online”. This course provides faculty with an overview of teaching and learning online, introduces a variety of instructional strategies, presents methodologies on designing and facilitating online community and interaction, and acquaints faculty with effective online learning assessments. It also shares guidelines for integrating appropriate instructional technologies to facilitate online teaching and learning. This online course is delivered in cohort and facilitated by instructional designers. This course provides opportunities for faculty to explore online learning as a student. On the other side, they can also discover best online teaching practices by observing how this course is facilitated.

The Technology Track helps faculty build basic technological skills on how to deliver teaching and facilitating learning online by utilizing the LMS and other appropriate technologies.

Launching and Delivery of the Online MBA Program

The online MBA was launched as a general MBA or an MBA with one of four concentrations.  The MBA core curriculum consists of a total of eighteen courses and an additional twenty-one elective/concentration courses.   Using a carousel model to rotate the course offerings, MSU launched this program with six-starts per year. At scale, the number of starts and number of courses offered every 8 weeks means that the ID team needs to constantly load courses and ensure they are properly setup.  

The online MBA program was successfully launched in October 2016 and quickly found itself a victim of success.  The first cohort had 46 students enrolled - 15 were anticipated. It was determined that hiring adjuncts would not prove a sustainable model for the program.  Therefore, the program decided to outsource “academic coaches” through on outside vendor who screens and trains academic coaches to monitor the course discussions, help grade, and answer student questions under the guidance of the lead professor.  The ID team needed to ensure that the online courses were compatible for academic coaches and the IDs became involved in helping to onboard the coaches - via a conference call prior to the start of every class.

While the training provided by the ID team helped faculty build a foundation for online teaching, the faculty often  need ongoing assistance to throughout the course delivery. While the course is being taught, the ID supports the faculty and coaches to ensure the courses were set up correctly and assist with any how-to questions which may arise. During the course delivery process, the ID, CCD and coaches are in close contact when questions arise.  After the course ends, the ID and CCD arrange a debrief meeting to discuss what went well, review key takeaways from student course evaluations, and discuss areas that could be improved for the next time it is taught. The ID and CCD develop a plan for changes and the ID begins the revision cycle. The course is then prepared for the next session and this process begins again.

The online MBA program has proven a great success.  In 18 months the program went from 0 to over 180 students.  This would not have been possible without the collaboration between the IDs, the CCDs, MBA administrators, and coaches.  The IDs have become part of the core team that ensures the success of the online MBA program. This experience has also begun to change the culture among faculty.  In the past the ID was seen more as a resource - somebody to answer questions or provide technical support. The IDs are now seen as valuable collaborators that help ensure quality education in individual courses and programs.

During this session attendees will learn: how to integrate IDs, faculty, administrators, and outside partners to build an effective online program and change the culture of the organization.