Planning Instructional Variety for Online Teaching: PIVOT to Success

Concurrent Session 3
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Brief Abstract

While natural disasters are often in short-term academic continuity plans, COVID-19 can be devastatingly disruptive to campus communities. Beyond remote instruction and toward a deliberate preparation for online teaching, Planning Instructional Variety for Online Teaching consists of five daily webinars, focusing on course design, engagement, active learning, assessment, and accessibility.


As eLearning Manager, Dr. Mariann Hawken oversees several Blackboard applications at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and provides support for faculty course development activities. With more than 20 years of experience in educational technology, Mariann is a Blackboard MVP and a certified Peer Reviewer with Quality Matters. Past activities include distance education policy development and comprehensive faculty training programs for online/hybrid course redesign.
Dr. Sherri N. Braxton is the Senior Director of Instructional Technology at UMBC where she is responsible for leading the Division of Information Technology’s (DoIT) strategy for end-user support of instructional technologies including online, hybrid, and traditional, “face-to-face” technologies. With over 20 years of experience in traditional classroom instruction and adult education strategies grounded in instructional design models, she also possesses over 17 years of experience using learning technologies in higher education settings, including the design and facilitation of online and hybrid courses. Dr. Braxton is a dynamic presenter known for her ability to engage audiences and capture their attention, even for highly complex topics. She collaborates with her staff to devise learning opportunities delivered in multiple modes that meet the varied and shifting needs of both UMBC faculty and students. Dr. Braxton is also the DoIT representative on the University System of Maryland (USM) Academic Transformation Advisory Council, a group spearheaded by the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation. Dr. Braxton has crafted a national presence through her participation in educational technology associations like EDUCAUSE, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), and the IMS Global Learning Consortium; in addition to presenting at national, regional, and local conferences, she serves as a proposal reviewer, constituent group leader, leadership institute faculty, and both task force leader and working group participant. Dr. Braxton earned a Doctor of Science in Computer Science with Minors in Educational Leadership and Management Science from the George Washington University. She also holds a Master of Science in Computer Science with a Math Minor from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science from Wake Forest University.

Extended Abstract

In a recent survey of college presidents and provosts, 75% expressed concern about faculty readiness to deliver virtual instruction (Lederman, 2020). An earlier survey suggested many faculty desire to incorporate technology into their teaching practice, but feel underprepared to effectively use it (Brooks & Pomerantz, 2017). While natural disasters may be part of a university’s short term academic continuity plan, the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to be a devastating disruption to the social and academic progress of our campus community. This proposal outlines a professional development program to assist UMBC faculty who need to move face-to-face courses into an online format for summer 2020, and possibly beyond.


Just before spring break, UMBC announced a transition from mostly face-to-face and some hybrid/online course delivery to campus-wide remote instruction in response to COVID-19. Classes were cancelled for two days to provide time for faculty to convert to online course delivery. Escalating concern for community safety caused the campus to be closed earlier, resulting in only one day of face-to-face faculty support for the instructional technologies that would be used for remote instruction. Prior to the closure and throughout spring break, Instructional Technology staff and Academic Continuity faculty ambassadors assisted more than 250 faculty who sought support. Campus websites for Academic Continuity and Keep On Teaching offered additional information and resources.

Blackboard, the campus learning management system, serves as the central repository for instruction with supplemental tools available for web conferencing, screencasting and lecture capture, asynchronous engagement, and assessment security. Although faculty may know how to use the tools to supplement most forms of classroom teaching, when transitioning quickly to remote instruction or planning ahead for long-term virtual instruction, they also needed to know how to teach online with these same tools for effective pedagogical practice. 

Inspired by nearly 90 faculty participating in UMBC's Alterate Delivery Program (ADP), which focuses on redesigning select courses for winter and summer delivery in online or hybrid format, the Planning Instructional Variety for Online Teaching (PIVOT) program is grounded in the evidence-based principles for how people learn and shares many of the best practices of teaching in face-to-face classrooms, but leverages those principles and adapts the practices to the online environment. PIVOT leverages Quality Matters standards for effective online course design, and is ideal for participants who found themselves thrust into online teaching this spring, but would like to be more proactive and intentional about their future online course design and instruction. 

PIVOT topics were selected to focus on helping instructors achieve competency in areas related to pedagogy, course design and development as well as technical and administrative skills:

  • Preparing to Teach Online Faculty Panel

  • Active Learning Strategies

  • Engaging Students & Building Online Community

  • Reconceptualizing Online Assessments

  • Supporting Students and Monitoring Progress


The formal PIVOT program is delivered in two versions: PIVOT Live is a synchronous model consisteing of five webinars over five days. This option is ideal for participants who have some experience with course development and online instruction. Using Blackboard Collaborate for delivery, these webinars can support up to 250 participants simultaneously. PIVOT+ is a synchronous/asynchronous model consisting of five modules over 10 days. As a cohort, participants will review content and complete reflection activities asynchronously in a Blackboard course while preparing their course materials for online delivery. Effective practices for using technology and teaching online are core themes. Synchronous webinars via Bb Collaborate will focus on key essential tools. A self-paced option is also available to faculty called PIVOT Solo, which uses the PIVOT Live webinar recordings, supplemental resources, and related tool documentation for a robust reference collection. Faculty who choose this option are encouraged to join any synchronous session to engage in collegial conversation.

Faculty engagement in planning and delivering this important training is critical to establishing peer relationships (Bain, 2004) and building long-term social networks to reduce isolation associated with teaching online (Covington, Petherbridge & Warren, 2005; Shapiro 2006). As such, the PIVOT+ program includes two faculty mentors per cohort for pedagogical and technical facilitation. Synchronous, virtual chats, scheduled at convenient times, complement by asynchronous discussion opportunities, to provide support and encourage connections between cohort participants. As with the Alternate Delivery Program, participants who complete the PIVOT program requirements and acquire the identified competencies will earn digital badges. 


PIVOT Live was launched during the first week of May, before the spring semester ended and the summer semester began. UMBC recorded more than 1,000 registrations with 764 attendees during the week for one or more PIVOT sessions. More than 250 participants were unique during the week, nearly half of which were teaching online during the summer. Around 77% of participants said the PIVOT program would be helpful for their pedagogical shift to online teaching. 

Based on higher than expected turnout for the PIVOT Live prototype webinars, UMBC scheduled monthly repeat of the five 60-minute webinars during the summer. Additionally, based on feedback from participants and instructional technology staff reflection, the faculty panel was replaced with a session on Organizing & Designing an Online Course. Increased interest in supporting tools associated with student engagement and active learning drove further changes to training schedules. Finally, PIVOT+ organized into college disciplines and communities of practice (e.g., labs, large enrollment) for summer cohorts.


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brooks, D. C., & Pomerantz, J. (2017). The 2017 student and faculty technology research studies. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis & Research. 

Covington, D., Petherbridge, D., & Warren, S. E. (2005). Best practices: A triangulated support approach transitioning faculty to online teaching. Online Journal of Distance Learning Association, 8(1). 

Lederman, D. (2020, March 20). Presidents fear financial, and human, toll of coronavirus. Inside HigherEd. 

Shapiro, P. J. (2006). The evolution of peer driven training for teaching online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(3), 1-6.