A pilot born from necessity
It isn't always easy for students to get the courses they need when they need them. Sometimes instructors aren't available, or perhaps not enough students registered for the class to keep it open. In a limited pilot this fall from the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Regional Campuses and Online Education, with support from UITS eLearning Design and Services, students in three courses at regional campuses were able to register for the class they needed on another campus and attend remotely.
The initial pilot included three multimodal courses: Japanese I, taught by Yoshiko Green of IU South Bend; Methods of Teaching Secondary Math, taught by Karen Koelm of IU Northwest; and Methods of Teaching Secondary Science, taught by James Hollenbeck of IU Southeast. Green and Hollenbeck conducted in-person classes on their respective campuses and welcomed students from other regional campuses via video. Koelm had only one student enrolled from her campus, so everyone in that class attended via live videoconference. Based on early feedback, multimodal classes provided benefits for both students and instructors.
"The faculty have been very excited about being able to offer this to students, but they've also been really interested in what it offers them," said Alex Penn, an online instructional designer for eLearning Design and Services. "They get the opportunity to reach a wider range of students and to potentially teach more interesting courses that wouldn't make it on their own campuses. Two of the three instructors have already asked to do this again."
A welcome change of pace for some faculty
Faculty in smaller departments on regional campuses don't often get the luxury of teaching courses that align with their research interests, said Renee Petrina, manager for campus priorities at eLearning Design and Services.
Some faculty might be the only full-time instructor in their department, so they have to teach the core courses that students need for degrees and programs. That doesn't leave a lot of room to branch out.
"Instead of having a larger department (because the student population can't support it at some of our regional campuses), they can share courses with faculty from across IU," Petrina said. "There is already program sharing and course sharing going on through the Office of Collaborative Academic Programs, which is growing in the number of fully online programs and courses that are shared. This pilot represents an additional effort of individual campuses to talk to other individual campuses, with a lot of intention and tech support behind it. There are agreements at the dean level to share these courses, which is what makes it unusual."
Engaged students connecting with instructors and peers
Students not only get to take the courses they need to fulfill degree requirements, but they also have been much more engaged than anyone anticipated.
"We've seen things you think are impossible," Penn said. "We've seen students in the room speaking directly to students online who are unmuting and replying. It's the dream of that kind of instruction, where it's not just people online passively watching. Instead, the students really get to feel like a community with their peers and get a lot of that one-on-one interaction."
Students are making connections, too. Some of the Japanese students from different campuses plan to travel to Japan this summer with their instructor.
A multi-campus group effort
In support of the multimodal course effort, UITS pitched in from several angles:
- Multiple divisions of Learning Technologies, together with academic teams and campus-based UITS staff at South Bend, Southeast, Northwest and Kokomo, did whatever they could to make life easier on the instructors in this pilot.
- The Office of Online Education made sure students had seamless access to registration and Canvas sites, no matter what campus they were from.
- Penn met with the faculty weekly to talk through learning outcomes, provide techniques, and share recommended tools.
- UITS Classroom Technologies worked to find the most appropriate classrooms for each course. IU South Bend even went so far as to routinely send an employee to the classroom to ensure the tech was working.
- UITS supported instructors by allocating staff time to help build out some of their course in Canvas, all to allow the instructors to focus on what they do best: teaching.
Going forward, eLearning Design and Services and its partner teams in the Learning Technologies division of UITS will be exploring important questions that arose during the pilot, like what kind of classrooms are best for multimodal instruction, what kind of audio-visual arrangement each room should have, and whether additional employees should be hired to assist faculty in the classroom.
"This has truly been a combination of tech and pedagogy coming together, and we recognize that it's not a one-size-fits-all situation," Petrina said. "We cannot build a single room that will work for anyone who wants to do this. Even in the three courses now, the pedagogy is different."
"There are some things you don't even realize till you see how the instructor is teaching, and then you see what they really need," Penn said. "Some of it requires being creative."
The pilot could also have wider-reaching implications. According to one of the faculty pilot participants, multimodal instruction is also needed at the high school level to help alleviate a shortage of specialized instructors by reaching students at multiple locations. Representatives from the pilot will be sharing their experience at the Online Learning Consortium in April.
Regional faculty who are interested in sharing their courses across campuses should speak to their deans about the opportunity.