By Dr. Leslie Madsen, Teresa Focarile, Dr. Tasha Souza, Dr. Lisa Berry
After the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted the spring 2020 semester, Boise State University faculty looked toward an uncertain fall with some trepidation. Because students might have to quarantine for weeks or miss several classes due to illness, instructors realized they would not only need to be ready to shift modalities as they had during spring semester, but potentially teach in multiple modalities simultaneously. To help faculty plan their fall classes, the campus units responsible for supporting instructors’ course design, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and eCampus Center (eC2), worked together to create a three-week Flexible Teaching for Student Success Institute (FTSS).
While the collaboration between the two units led to several locally novel developments in the design and delivery of the summer Institute, a simple document template at the heart of the effort proved to be its most significant—and useful—innovation. Drawing on the tenets of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the Flexible Learning and Instruction Plan, or FLIP, expands on the traditional course-design table by: asking instructors to build in adjustability and to provide students with multiple ways to access course content; allow for students to engage with the course and each other via multiple pathways; give students choice in demonstrating their achievement of learning outcomes; and very deliberately plan how they as instructors would be present in the course regardless of modality.
In late spring 2020, as it became evident the COVID-19 pandemic would extend into the next academic year, Boise State University’s academic leadership and faculty support staff recognized instructors needed to advance their course planning beyond the improvisational emergency measures faculty adopted to complete their spring-semester courses remotely. In spring, faculty largely operated in a reactive mode, responding to students’ emerging needs as they arose. Future semesters would require more deliberate and imaginative course design. Going forward, instructors needed to proactively design their courses to anticipate students’ (or their own) extended quarantines or illnesses, to account for varying access to technology, and to be sensitive to students’ and their own workload in the face of learning curves and collective trauma. In short, instructors needed to learn to be exceptionally flexible in their teaching.
Both the CTL and eC2 had well-developed pathways to help faculty design and develop in-person and online courses. Prior to the pandemic, the CTL had offered a week-long, in-person Course Design Institute for faculty at least once a year, while each semester and during the summer eC2 facilitated a 14-week online course design and development process with one-on-one support from instructional design consultants. Those programs, however, were insufficiently responsive to the student and faculty needs that had emerged during the pandemic and it would be difficult to scale them to serve hundreds of instructors. By April, the leadership teams of those units recognized that because of the changes to teaching and learning the pandemic created (Johnson, Johnson, Veletsianos, & Seaman, 2020; Miller, 2020), and in response to the student inequities that the pandemic was exacerbating and laying bare (Aucejo, French, Araya, & Zafar, 2020; Davidson, 2020), eC2 and the CTL would need to bring together the expertise and people power of both units.
In addition, at that point in the year our campus had not yet defined how learning would happen in the fall—online, remote, hybrid, or in-person. Faculty needed to be prepared to teach in any of these modalities and ready to switch among them in response to individual student needs and public health directives. In response to all these challenges and needs, the team pivoted faculty course-design support efforts and collaborated to create the Flexible Teaching for Student Success (FTSS) Institute. The FTSS Institute allowed us to engage faculty in online learning that better prepared them for meeting the challenges of the immediate future and beyond.
Resources and opportunities
Once the goals were articulated, we began to develop the content. The Institute needed to introduce flexible teaching to several hundred instructors with wildly different levels of experience with backward course design, online teaching, learner-centered instruction, and utilizing digital tools. It also needed to ensure faculty understood the very real challenges facing the university’s students, many of whom live below the poverty line, do not own computers, and/or lack reliable internet access. To ensure ample opportunity for all interested faculty to complete this training with a healthy degree of individual support and feedback from facilitators, we had to develop and launch our new offering within a month.
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