Last Updated: Mar 28th, 2013 - 15:54:01
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Initiative explores the best of both worlds

By Cliff Foster

MSU Denver has launched an initiative to promote course redesign and blended learning, joining other colleges and universities that are rethinking how education is delivered to students in the 21st Century.

The pilot effort, funded by the office of Vicki Golich, provost and vice president of academic and student affairs, has two tracks. One track involves 31 faculty members from across disciplines who are working individually or in teams to revamp the content, practices and other elements of their courses that affect the achievement of learning objectives. After implementation, outcomes will be assessed and this information will demonstrate just how much the redesign has impacted student learning.

The second track is blended learning and involves 20 faculty members who teach sections through the First Year Success program. Facilitated by Jeff Loats, associate professor of physics, this track is exploring how to use technology to augment face-to-face interaction in the classroom.

Both components of what�s called the 21st Century Learning Initiative will be implemented in classrooms in the fall and next spring. Feedback will guide instructors in improving subsequent iterations of their courses. The hope is that faculty members involved in the initiative will become champions of best practices and sources for colleagues who want help in reevaluating their courses. The Center for Faculty Development (CFD) is also developing resources on its website.

The overall effort is driven by the desire to improve student engagement and success, to promote more efficient use of institutional resources, and to meet the challenges posed by the technological revolution and growth of e-learning ventures.

�Our goal is not to mandate the use of technology but to say, �what do we need to do to help students learn,� and technology is often a very good tool,� says Sheila Thompson, associate vice president of curriculum and academic effectiveness. �Most people here believe that the face-to-face interaction is really important in the learning experience. This is about combining the best of both.�

Thompson is coordinating the redesign of 19 courses with Lunden MacDonald, associate professor of Spanish and interim director of the CFD.

MacDonald says there is no single formula for course redesign. Some participants want to explore new content, others to look at approaches and activities such as flipped courses that emphasize discussion over lecture; still others on migrating a face-to-face class to an online environment. But whatever form it takes, course redesign goes well beyond tweaking.

�Basically it�s reconsidering the entirety of a course,� says MacDonald.

Shawn Worthy, associate professor of human services, is among the course redesign cohort. He wants to consider new approaches to his Family Systems course, which he teaches in a classroom as well as online. �I really wanted to get a fresh look at what are the ways I could do this differently�that engages the student more and is more enjoyable,� he says.

While the redesign part of the initiative allows participants to rework their course in whatever way they find useful, the blended learning project is more targeted in terms of the audience�First Year Success teachers�and the technological options presented to them.

�My guiding principle is to look for ways in which technology can offer us not just a more efficient way to do what we�ve always done, but a way to do something�you couldn�t have done 20 years ago,� Loats says.

One of the options, Loats says, is Just-in-Time Teaching. Simply put, a professor might post an open- ended question on a website, the students would respond online, and the professor would evaluate the answers to frame a classroom discussion. He�s also presenting classroom response technology to engage students in ways that enhance deep learning and retention and flipped teaching�taking didactic lecture out of the classroom using small, focused videos and leaving class time free for active engagement, application and discussion.

�I very much hope that either through more initiatives like this or just through sharing between colleagues these techniques will spread both in those courses and further throughout the curriculum,� Loats says.

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