Course Success Self-Review: Self-directed learning and targeted resources to support teaching and course design

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learn about a unique self-directed learning tool and website that helps strengthen the design and delivery of remote, blended, and online courses. We introduce the tool, discuss how it was created, and highlight how it can be used by instructors and designers to improve teaching, course design, and student learning. 



Karen Skibba, PhD, is an Online Faculty Development Program Manager for Educational Innovation Program Development in the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As project manager of a faculty learning community called TeachOnline@UW, she is responsible for helping instructors learn how to design and teach quality online courses. She authored book chapters on educational technologies and online and blended teaching and learning, and presents her research at international conferences. Karen received her doctoral degree in Adult and Continuing Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Extended Abstract

The Course Success Self-Review combines a unique tool for self-directed learning and a comprehensive supporting website to help instructors and support staff strengthen the design and delivery of remote, blended, and online courses — leading to better learning and student satisfaction. Using the Course Success Self-Review, instructors can review a course with an anonymous self-survey and receive a tailored report directing them to informative and actionable resources. 

A remarkable array of materials have been created to address the needs of instructors teaching in a remote, hybrid, blended, or online format. But it can be overwhelming to locate and sort through all the available resources to meet specific challenges and needs. A spring 2021 University of Wisconsin-Madison survey found: “Instructors observed that whether instructional support was useful or not, they often simply did not have time to make much use of it. Instructors ... praised staff who curated resources or found documentation for them and more often wondered if documents in various knowledge bases could be more instructor-facing and better organized.”

Likewise, frameworks such as the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, and the Quality Matters Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist provide rigorous and comprehensive sets of principles and recommendations, but are not designed to connect those guidelines to context-specific resources and examples which can directly guide an instructor to put them into practice.

To assist instructors in finding the most relevant, actionable resources to meet their specific needs, a team of experienced teachers and instructional technologists developed the Course Success Self-Review, a tool and website that leads instructors through a process of self-directed needs analysis for one or more of their courses.  This tool fills a gap between consultation-based instructional design support, and purely self-access sites. It responds to a request from instructors for better curation of resources, and for documentation to be more organized and instructor-facing. 

Because the self-review is anonymous, it provides a new avenue for instructors who may lack the time to engage with a consultant, or who, for various reasons, may not feel comfortable discussing their teaching and course design with a consultant. The Self-Review is thus designed to enable instructors to better understand and address their own needs and challenges. In addition, it provides a detailed report that an instructor can choose to share with a consultant, as an itemized analysis of their perceived needs, and a starting point toward deeper engagement.  

The Course Success Self-Review is freely accessible for all users, regardless of role or institutional affiliation. For academic technologists, the design and organizing principles of the tool and website can also provide a template which may assist in planning and creating similar tools to address the unique challenges of other schools or colleges. 

The self-review identifies six success factors from research and practice that lead to improved student learning: Course Planning, Assessment & Feedback, Supporting Students, Materials & Media, Student-to-Student Interaction, and Instructor-to-Student Interaction.  Within these categories, it describes 31 recommendations, ranging from practicalities like “Writing Clear Instructions,” to more abstract areas like “Managing Students’ Workload.”  These draw on multiple sources including Quality Matters and Universal Design for Learning. 

Depending on how many of the six Success Factors instructors select, the review process takes 20-60 minutes. This guided self-review, conducted using an anonymous Qualtrics survey, helps instructors identify and prioritize areas for improvement, and matches them to helpful strategies and resources in a succinct report. The report points instructors to the corresponding Course Success website, which offers an organized and detailed set of pages in a clear and consistent format related to each recommendation. Instructional designers, consultants, and program coordinators don't have to take the survey: Instead, go directly to the website to view, use or share any of the pages. UW-Madison leadership has said that the Course Success Self-Review also “scaled the ability of our small and overwhelmed support staff to reach any and every instructor or staff member who needed or wanted help.”

Instructors follow four simple steps to complete the Course Success Self-Review: 

Step 1: Start the Self-Review. The Self-Review will take 20 to 60 minutes depending on the number of success factors you select. You may take the survey as often as you like.

Step 2: Choose the specific success factors in the Self-Review that you would like to strengthen. It is possible to choose all six, though we suggest focusing on two to four that are most important to work on for your course. 

Step 3: Read the recommendations and rate how effectively you feel you are achieving each of these recommendations. If you choose “Somewhat” or “Not effectively,” you will receive feedback on that particular recommendation. If you choose “Very effectively” you will not receive feedback.

Step 4: After completing the Self-Review, you will be provided a report that will point you to resources that can help you put these ideas into practice.

Next Steps: After completing the Self-Review, you can browse the resources related to any of the success factors and recommendations. You may choose to act on the recommendations yourself, or share the Self-Review report with a consultant or designer, to help target and enhance the instructional support available through your school or college.

At its back end, the Course Success Self-Review also provides a snapshot of instructor priorities through anonymous data collected by the Qualtrics survey and website usage (Google Analytics).  In its first semester of use, over 900 unique users have visited the site, and the Self-Review survey has been completed more than 45 times.  Data collected through the survey shows that the top three recommendations during its first semester were “Health-Promoting Practices,” “Unit-Level Objectives,” and “Academic & Learning Support” (selected by 80-90% of users). By contrast, the recommendations with the lowest interest were “Selecting & Explaining Technology,” “Maintaining Presence,” and “Expectations for Communications” (selected by 33-36% of users). While this indicates a wide range of priorities, it also shows that all the recommendations included are of interest to a sizable percentage of the instructors who have used the Self-Review.

Visitors to this Discovery Session will learn about the principles, process, and approaches used to build the Course Success Self-Review.  In a short video presentation, you will be introduced to the Qualtrics survey and website, and learn about the framework of success factors and recommendations which was used to organize the information. You will also be introduced to the complementary Course Success website that provides a synopsis and rationale for each recommendation, along with ideas of where each approach most likely appears in a course.  This includes the main text, “How to put into practice,” which provides detailed explanation and actionable tips, suggestions, and links to further resources. Finally, we will discuss how other institutions could utilize a similar approach to organizing their own resources. 

During and after our Discovery Session, we invite your questions and feedback. Points for reflection and a summary of the presentation are shared in an accompanying Session Guide, and an open forum is also included for questions, comments, and suggestions. 

The Self-Review survey and Course Success website are open and available to all. Taken together, the tool and website, and the novel approach used to build it, will be of value to instructors or academic technologists working in remote, blended, and online environments. It shows an innovative approach to identifying teaching and design challenges, and can inspire new thinking about how to assist instructors in finding and applying the right resources to address these challenges in their own context.