Curriculum Scaffolding: What Have We Learned?

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Using a multi-faceted approach to learning, AIU addressed the challenge of disengaged and underprepared students by building a scaffolded curriculum, incorporating peer to peer experiential learning, developing a faculty community that cultivates best practices, and elevating the student body to engage early and frequently to support effective learning.


Molly Sheahan serves as Director of Faculty Development and Support for American InterContinental University (AIU). She has played an integral role in the successful implementation of adaptive learning in the classroom. As part of this effort, she developed and led a comprehensive system of training and support as well as created a community that cultivates adaptive learning instructional practices and student support systems. After earning an M.A. in Industrial Organizational Psychology, she has served in several capacities including leadership coaching, talent development consulting, and organizational development with a focus on leadership development and employee engagement. With over 15 years of experience in both the healthcare and higher education industries, she continues to pursue her passion for talent development through her current role with AIU.
Dr. Solari has over 20 years of experience in higher education, pre-dominantly in an operations role, focusing on organizational change and leadership development strategies within the non-traditional and online sector. Dr. Solari’s work with nonprofit institutions includes fiscal leadership at both Florida State University and Emory University. Her proprietary experience includes her current leadership position with Career Education Corporation (CEC) and ten years with Apollo Group. While with the Apollo Group, Dr. Solari mentored several college and university partners throughout the Northern and Southern regions. Dr. Solari has had the opportunity to play a role in addressing and implementing nontraditional models of education. She is experienced with identifying, compiling and analyzing key performance indicators and constantly seeking opportunities for improvement and optimization. She has assisted numerous universities with identifying obstacles inherent in traditional education models and has challenged universities to adopt a flexible posture to better meet student needs. Dr. Solari is passionate about providing all students with the highest quality educational experience. She appreciates the value of providing non-traditional learners with quality program offerings and creating a dynamic on-line learning environment rich in success-building skills. Dr. Solari joined AIU in 2014, and is also an active member and evaluator with the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Extended Abstract

Through Q&A and audience participation, participants will be introduced to curriculum scaffolding, experiential discussion boards, faculty instruction, and rubrics focused on meeting students where they are and connecting experiences with evidence of knowledge on course topics.

The nature of online learning necessitates advances in student engagement, assessment, and pedagogy.  Innovation in a fast paced online learning environment is a necessity, requiring curriculum to reflect industry relevance, accurate assessment methodologies, and interesting courses.  Higher education institutions have been drawn to rethink the classroom, the fundamentals of student learning, and the nature of the faculty role.  This requires an evolving faculty that grows with industry trends, classroom technologies, and engagement strategies; a student body that responds to course activities, engages early and often, and participates in the student community to affect positive outcomes.  This means administrators must devise meaningful programs that scaffold learning, support meaningful faculty interactions, and allow cultivation of classroom communities to activate learning and requires institutions to consider efficacy in curriculum, the classroom, faculty instruction, and in student learning.

At American InterContinental University, the College of Business approached the challenge of efficacy in the curriculum, the classroom, student learning, and faculty instruction using several approaches, starting with authentic classroom discussion activities.  Through intentional program scaffolding, students are able to build confidence through a structure that takes them from where they are when they enter the program in terms of knowledge, skills, confidence and competencies, to where they need to be at the end of the program (Judy Bullock 2016).  This scaffolding is designed in such a way that students are able to build on concepts from assignment to assignment, and course to course. This allows for students to master one concept before moving to the next.  Assignments are constructed in a way that alleviates the pressure of formatting and written formality and allows students to freely dialogue with student peers and instructors, allowing for organic knowledge growth and for students to evidence knowledge through that dialogue.  The goal is to meet students where they are, keeping in mind the reality of our student population.  This is also intended to address fear of inadequacy or quality of assignments that many students may experience.

Many students tend to lack academic preparation and tend to be reluctant to share their ideas and thoughts.  In an open enrollment environment, this is even more of an inherent issue.  The College of Business addressed some of the apprehension that is often inherent in this population by developing graded experiential discussions.  Ryan and Patrick (2001), contend that students are more engaged and motivated when they perceive their classroom is open to collaboration and individual ideas are welcome. By creating classroom learning activities that cultivate community learning, focusing on the outcome and premise of the conversation and not the formal structure, students are provided with an opportunity to freely evidence what they know, with reduced pressure on the structure of their knowledge.  Lower level courses are constructed in a manner that allows for classroom discussions that engage students earlier in a unit.  Through socially inspired dialogue, students are less apprehensive to discuss concepts in a public forum.  By creating an opportunity for collaboration, students are also more likely to seek additional assistance or support without fear of calling attention to learning challenges.   By eliminating the need for extensive research and formal formatting, students are able to engage in discussions in a dialogue fashion, allowing for free-flowing evidence of their knowledge on a particular subject.  This has proven to be a successful technique yielding a marked increase in student engagement data and assignment grades.

The proper balance of faculty instruction in this community environment is key to cultivating a student community that flourishes through the term.  Students’ lack of real world experience in a professional capacity requires directed support to help them to understand relevance and context of concepts and material (Bullock, 2016).  AIU faculty have developed a model wherein they are able to meet students where they are, coaching them individually and as a class, and adapting their instruction through authentic discussion board discussions.  Rubrics are designed to allow for faculty feedback on evidence of student knowledge, allowing students to relate their current knowledge to course concepts, not applying each discussion board as a separate assignment but as an ongoing dialogue through the course wherein they are able to safely develop their writing and critical thinking skills.  The success of this pathway depends on building a faculty community that believed in this direction and agreed to take the wheel to drive it forward.  Using a community model, we encouragefaculty interaction, practice-sharing, and course refinement to ensure support and instruction meet students’ needs.   In building this community, we work with faculty to develop instructional practices and expectations.  In fostering a faculty culture open to innovation, AIU supports a highly engaged faculty and a new interactive dynamic of learning anchored in student exploration and self-discovery.