Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the “Pandemic” Bathwater: Sustainability Strategies for Blended Practices in Response to COVID-19

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The onset of the pandemic thrust thousands of educational systems into the proverbial unchartered waters of innovative non-traditional program delivery. This session will focus on how institutions, historically averse to change, can develop strategies to sustain “what worked” in terms of blended teaching and learning. 

Presenters

Greetings from Sherman College in the Upstate of SC. I serve in the role of Director for the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL). I have been in higher education, in various roles, for 23 years. I've discovered that empowering faculty to excellence in teaching and learning is my passion as well as ensuring students enjoy a high quality classroom experience. The mission of our office centers on these two elements. With about 50 full-time faculty, I have been able to provide our faculty with individualized faculty development - tailored to their specific needs. My husband, Charley, and I are empty-nesters. Our favorite pastimes are traveling and checking out new restaurants with various types of cuisine.
Dr. Rossi has been a practicing chiropractor and educator for 45 years. For the last 6 years as Dean of Clinical Sciences at Sherman College of Chiropractic near Spartanburg, South Carolina, he has been tasked to bring newer technology to the faculty as well as initiating a program for pediatric chiropractic in the institution.

Extended Abstract

There are few things that incite the greatest level of concern for college faculty than a suggestion of change. Particularly change that affects their teaching. The role of academic support professionals, such as those in centers of teaching and learning, have the challenging task of shifting the faculty culture in the direction of current innovations in pedagogical strategies. We all, to some degree, were involved in the shift to survival mode. The pandemic necessitated the shift from traditional on-campus lecture-driven instructional methods to more innovative techniques driven by instructional technologies. On many campuses, this may have been some faculty’s first exposure to online teaching and learning. Centers of teaching and learning, in many instances, became the catalyst for maintaining excellence in teaching and learning in unchartered waters. Academic support professionals in concert with academic deans and departments chairs ensured the survival of many campuses by guiding faculty in best practices in online instruction. Elements of blended instructional practices became the vehicles for transitioning many campuses back to some sense of normalcy within the constraints of social-distancing guidelines.  

This session will be valuable for participants as the presenters share their story of how the pandemic created the opportunity for a shift in lecture-ladened pedagogical practices to methods focused on innovations in blended teaching and learning. The flipped learning model introduced transformative shifts in the roles of faculty - from teaching-focused to facilitator and that of students from consumer to active participant in their learning process. The takeaways for this session will focus on (1) perceptions of how the pandemic forced colleges to reconceptualize their position and/or marketability; (2) strategies for supporting faculty in the adoption and sustainability of new instructional practices; and (3) tips for supporting students as their role transitions from passive to more active with the adoption of the flipped learning model. 

Throughout the session, the audience will be engaged with thought-provoking inquiry through the use of audience engagement technology to include but not limited to Kahoot!, Word Cloud creation and Nearpod. 

The prompt and unprepared shift to online learning was led by our Center for Teaching and Learning. A two-person office facilitated the shift of an entire professional program to fully online delivery in a matter of weeks. Despite the fact that our faculty had little to no experience in online teaching and learning, we attribute the success of our online program delivery to the foundational elements of a campus-wide technology initiative established five years prior to the pandemic. This technology program created an environment to centralize the technology assigned to faculty and students to the Apple iPad, a web-based learning management system and campus-wide utilization of Microsoft Office 365. In five years prior to the pandemic, faculty were engaged in ongoing development in a plethora of areas to support their daily use of various instructional technology and broaden their exposure to various elements of blended teaching and learning. Early adopters focused on the creation of instructional videos and the incorporation of various assessment technologies to enhance student learning. The technology initiative involved annual evaluation of faculty technology usage. As a result of the ongoing support for faculty through individualized and group development sessions, our faculty demonstrated a strong level of comfort with the use of technology in their classroom teaching. For example, in 2019, 96% of faculty (n= 41) reported strongly agree/agree to the statement “Technology has created a positive transformation in my courses.” Of the respondents, 88% agreed that “I have a high level of comfort using technology in my classroom” while 93% agreed that “I feel confident about using the iPad in my classroom.” Additionally, 91-95% of respondents agreed the use of the iPad attributed to their being more innovative, creative and organized in their teaching. As evidenced in this survey, this campus-wide technology initiative fostered a comfort level among our faculty in the use of technology that resulted in our successful transition to online instruction in response to COVID-19.

The flipped classroom model became the vehicle for transition back to campus from a period of three quarters completely online in response to the social-distancing protocols outlined by the CDC. The integration of the flipped classroom model produced multi-faceted benefits for the overall program delivery. The ease back to campus from three quarters completely online would begin with a quarter at 50% on-campus learning.  We faced the dilemma of how to utilize the significant reduction in on-campus instruction most effectively while maintaining program rigor. The flipped classroom model was the solution. For asynchronous online content delivery, the faculty created mini-instructional videos based on topics in their courses to guide the instruction of students in weekly modules during the fully online courses. As we transitioned back with 50% campus-based instruction, the faculty utilized the weekly videos so students would have first exposure to the course content at their own pace – to review as frequent as each learner deemed necessary while jotting down questions from the videos to guide the course discussion in the campus-based sessions. 

The flipped learning model became the mechanism for a shift in our campus culture from a focus on teaching to a more student-centered model. The roles of our faculty and their students experienced a redefining. The requirement to review the course videos prior to class set the students in a more active role in their learning process. Our history of straight-lecture content delivery allowed students to take a passive role during the class meetings and then engaging in cramming for exams. The cramming and dumping of content for exams resulted in the absence of long-term retention of valuable knowledge necessary for successful progression through the program. The faculty experienced a critical shift from “teacher” to more of “facilitator” or “coach” in the classroom. In an idea situation, students would review the videos before class, gaining that lower-level exposure to course content, and the faculty member would dedicate the on-campus time to expanding through the student questions and engaging them in active learning activities (i.e. case study analysis, discussion, etc.) to foster higher order thinking on the topics. 

This was not their first exposure to the flipped learning model but had it not been for the onset of a global pandemic, the critical shift away from traditional teaching methods would not have been facilitated. “Out of necessity is born innovation!” The campus rhetoric centered on “returning back to normal” was obliterated with evidence that our faculty was capable of integrating innovative blended teaching and learning during a pandemic. With the support of the administration and our knowledge that to maintain our marketability as an institution of choice, we must adopt a “new normal” focused on the utilization of strategically adopted educational technology and re-envisioning our instructional practices. The next steps would focus on sustainability. 

Our recently renamed – Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning functions as a faculty (and student) development “superstore” for our campus. We are the leaders in the sharing of the most current in innovative teaching methods and instructional technologies to enhance teaching. Our faculty receive monthly newsletters focused on current research in teaching and learning. The major project for this year focused on individualized faculty development for each full-time faculty member on the campus. The faculty member would share an area of teaching for which they desire to see growth and the director would develop a document with a plethora of resources focused on that area. A follow-up hour session would allow the director to present the resources and introduce how the faculty member can apply the material to their specific courses. The regular (group wide) faculty development sessions did not allow the director to focus detailed application for the individual faculty member’s specific needs. This project allows the faculty member to receive the specialized development to grow them in their desired area of teaching. 

Additionally, our Center offers the significant level of support to students in the use of technology to enhance their learning experience. As students enter the program, they are assigned an iPad for use until they graduate. The Center provides training in iPad Basics on Day One that extends to the use of Office 365, their notetaking application and the campus learning management system. We ensure they begin with a stable-footing and extend our support throughout their enrollment. In addition to a solid foundation in the use of campus technology, students are introduced to the flipped learning model and their role in this process during their orientation. The Center, in the role of teaching and learning customer service to faculty and students, ensures the stakeholders in this institutional shift are fully supported as we sustain the flipped learning model as our “new normal” and the “baby” that we fully intend to keep.