Taking Templates To The Next Level: Using Them To Mentor New Teachers Beyond Providing Consistent Content

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Current research supports the use of templates to increase student success and retention, but could they also mentor instructors improving our teaching effectiveness? Different departments mentoring templates will be reviewed. Audience members will compare and contrast anticipated costs and predicted success. Participants will evaluate the best method for personal implementation.


Ann's passion for education began 25+ years ago as contingent faculty for a small community college. In 2005, she started designing and teaching online courses and served as Online Learning Coordinator, with a focus on budget-friendly instructional innovations. Ann has presented at Blackboard World and the Higher Learning Commission on how using templates can improve course quality, student success, and student satisfaction. In 2013, she joined KU leading the Educational Technology team who support and train on Blackboard and other teaching and learning tools. She collaborated with CTE and CODL to investigate how Blackboard could support assessment initiatives on campus and presented those findings at the Teaching Summit with valuable faculty partners. In 2016, she joined the KU Center for Online & Distance Learning as an instructional designer where her experience as Blackboard (Bb) Exemplary Course Reviewer, Bb Certified Trainer, Bb Advanced Teaching and Learning, and two decades teaching Psychology and Sociology provide a great foundation in pedagogy and technology.

Extended Abstract

Over the last 5-10 years, schools have been looking for ways to improve student success and retention in online courses. One of the technologies which can provide ample opportunities for educators to incorporate new innovations in online education is the course template. Some of the great ideas that have brought about significant change, include a mandated left navigation so that students are familiar with the location of course materials. In this way students spend more time learning content and less time learning navigation. And as creativity increased and Quality Matters suggested best practices, these templates expanded to include a Getting Started area that incorporated ways to build community with an introductory activity/discussion board, ways to provide services to online students with links/contact information to student services, ways to increase information literacy by connecting services like Library chat or Library modules, and ways to educate about policies like academic dishonesty with plagiarism modules. These are great improvements to online education, but even the best designed course can be less than successful with a poorly prepared instructor. As the number of GTAs and adjunct instructors teaching courses increases, can we provide them similar support? This question extends beyond traditional professional development. Instead, can we provide them mentoring on an individual course level?


Any innovation benefits from continuous improvement. The first step at KU to provide instructor support was incorporating an Instructor’s Notes area which was a link on the navigation menu which included a word document with a list of areas that needed updated each semester. This was successful in making sure the course was updated consistently with due dates, instructor’s name and info, and personalized welcome video, but it did little to give the new instructor a vision of the course design or mentor them in ways to provide good feedback or ways to encourage student engagement.


Most departments at KU had assigned mentors to GTAs but with staff reductions and increased work loads, ensuring that this support was provided consistently became increasingly difficult. Departments started to look at templates as a way to provide some consistent timely support. This educational session with explore three different ways to use a course template to increase teaching effectiveness. These examples explore how this innovation can be encouraged on a departmental level or individual basis.


Innovation at the Department Level.

Women and Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) began building course templates for all courses starting with their 101 course. WGSS collaborated with an instructional designer who led a short training for all first year instructors to familiarize them with the content.


Innovation with a Departmental Coordinator.

Psychology also saw the advantages of this partnership, so each time a template course is taught an instructional designer is provided as a partner to the instructor of record. Psychology’s innovation was hiring a staff member who would coordinate the process of keeping track of templates for each course, develop a redesign/update schedule for courses, and assign instructors who would be assigned instructional design partners. But innovations don’t always occur at a departmental level.


Innovation by an Individual.

One instructor in Communications saw the benefits of ensuring consistent mentoring information and time savings that could be harnessed if she developed a more robust Instructor’s Note area.  She created a video that introduces the course to the new instructor – what it includes, what assignments are incorporated, the importance of course objectives, and how the assignments align to those objectives and the importance of the course as a whole. She also created a unit by unit instruction guide providing examples of common student questions, expectations on the flexibility of assignments, and examples of feedback to provide.


This session will focus on participants discussing, brainstorming, and answering the following questions: How can you increase faculty support for GTAs and adjuncts? How can you mentor consistently? What are the costs and benefits of the three examples provided? Which of these examples might be implemented at my institution? And most importantly, how might these ideas be improved upon for even better teaching effectiveness?


Let’s increase outcomes for everyone by supporting not just students but instructors.