Bold Ambitions at St Francis College: Purposeful Learning Design in Action

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

Purposeful learning design is at the core of effective learning experiences. Join this session to learn how the faculty at this college partnered with designers to bridge the gap between learning design and teaching.


For over 25 years, Carrie O'Donnell has been a change-agent in the education industry, focusing on digital learning solutions for the workplace and higher education, and on using customer insight to build great learning experiences. Her firm, O’Donnell Learn, is a leading learning experience (LX) design agency in higher education. Founded 30 years ago as a virtual company, the team includes hundreds of learning designers who partner with institutions and their faculty to improve virtual or blended learning.
Corinne Smolizza is the Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology and Instructional Designer at St. Francis College. In this role, Corinne is responsible for assisting with online education's overall administration and operation by promoting distance learning initiatives. Corinne is the principal instructional designer for online course development, support, and supervision while providing technical support to produce artifacts and tools that sustain instructional delivery. Throughout her 17-year career in higher education, Corinne has served in a variety of positions. Most notably, Corinne has taught for 14 years as a faculty member in the Management and Information Technology department. Corinne's focus has been and continues to be on students' academic success by encouraging their engagement and their development of real-world skills through stimulating and active pedagogy. Corinne's 3-year tenure in administration has been an Assistant Director and Director of Faculty Center for Curriculum and Technology Development. Corinne is a solutions-oriented professional recognized for supporting faculty in developing online and blended courses. Adept at writing syllabi to define curriculum requirements with a wealth of experience training faculty to incorporate new and emerging technologies into their courses and lecture materials. Corrinne is consistently recognized for mastering technologies to support performance-driven outcomes successfully. Corinne's educational philosophy is technology is a transformative tool whose purpose is to enhance pedagogy and enrich students learning experiences. Corinne earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business at St. John's University and a Master of Business Administration from Adelphi University.

Extended Abstract

Key Takeaways-

  • Understand what makes a professor react, “This was the best (professional development) program I ever had.”
  • Analyze how purposeful learning design can help an instructor bridge the gap between course delivery and course design.
  • Apply tools used in online learning (Padlet, Answer Garden, Breakout rooms) in professional development opportunities.
  • Discover how to organize a learn-by-doing program.

O’Donnell Learn and St. Francis College recently partnered to help professors and instructors become confident and effective online teachers. The virtual workshop was grounded in 8 core elements of purposeful learning to help the attendees re-imagine their courses for online learning.

“For more than 160 years, St. Francis College has been driven by dreams—powered by big ideas, bold ambitions, and the courage to bring them to life.” This mission was clearly demonstrated by its investment to ensure all faculty were provided the resources and opportunities to offer the best possible learning experiences to their students. St. Francis has clear guidelines and support to help professors and instructors develop their skills and abilities to teach online or in a blended modality. One requirement is participating as a student in a five week online course that models an effective course to the instructor. The main objectives are to ensure the instructor organizes her course appropriately for virtual presentation, the instructor understands the need for some social presence and engagement strategy, and the instructor acquires a basic understanding of the pedagogy of how to teach online.

The rapid move of all instructors to online last spring quickly showed additional support was needed. It became more clear that there is a disconnect between what faculty learned about the tools of online learning and what they understood about “pedagogy” (i.e. how to use tools effectively). For example, many of the instructors simply said things like, “I am going to just Zoom.” There is still work to be done to show that synchronous learning doesn't define online learning.

Like all schools, St. Francis relies on their professors to deliver effective instruction while compassionately supporting learners to succeed. The goal was not to teach instructors how to be instructional designers, but rather, to help their professors bridge the gap between design and delivery.

St. Francis needed instructors to take it to the next level for their students’ sake. They needed all instructors to recognize the difference in online learning vs. face-to-face delivery, learn new tactics, and create actual solutions like outstanding course “welcome” pages. They needed instructors to take existing content and transform it to be more engaging, interwoven with assignments and quizzes. They wanted faculty to continue to use video lectures, but to do it better by using chunking strategies, or basic script writing skills.

St. Francis partnered with O’Donnell Learn to create an effective professional development program that focuses on learning by doing. Faculty participated in a workshop that modeled techniques for effective learning. Meanwhile, each instructor worked one-on-one with a designer to implement specific changes to her course. In one week, faculty walked away with a few completed course modules that would serve as a model for this and other courses.

O’Donnell Learn’s existing programs were designed to reinforce purposeful learning principles while aligning with our partners’ institutional best practices. The St. Francis program was developed to live on: during and after the program, the instructors had on-call access to learning design professionals to assist them in their work; faculty continue to have access to the course after the training; and faculty continue to have access to the resources created for them and shared with them.

Join the folks who created this impactful and timely program to learn about how one university answered the call to fully support the faculty they rely on so much.