Online Introductory Math
Jointly Designed Courses to Leverage Collective Faculty Expertise and Enhance Instructional Quality
This strategy relies on collaboration among multiple faculty members either within a single institution or across a network of institutions to jointly design and deliver courses by drawing on each faculty member’s expertise and skill set. The jointly developed courses can be shared with other instructors and institutions to achieve economies of scale, and can be delivered by a single faculty or a team of faculty. This approach emphasizes innovation and collaboration, with a coordinated support system for a team of faculty.
This collaborative approach to online course development and delivery has a number of benefits. It can spark intellectual and pedagogical growth for participating faculty, and produce richer learning experiences for students. By working together in identifying learning outcomes, producing content, and designing appropriate assessments, faculty can consider different perspectives, learn new ways of thinking, reflect on their own teaching philosophies, and discover new teaching methods and technologies. In addition to being intellectually stimulating for those involved, this type of collaboration can reinvigorate faculty’s investment in curriculum development and nurture a sense of community. Moreover, faculty collaboration can potentially reduce the overall burden on each participant by dividing tasks in ways that maximize their individual and collective expertise.
Examples in the Field
- Liberal Arts Collaborative Digital Innovation (LACOL)is a consortium of ten selective, private liberal arts colleges. The leadership team is composed of presidents, chief academic officers, and faculty representatives from each campus, as well as the consortium director who serves all campuses. As the backbone entity of the consortium, LACOL leverages consortial relationships and activities across the colleges to promote excellent and innovative teaching and learning in the liberal arts, with a special emphasis on using and adopting emerging technologies. The consortium prioritizes collaboration among consortium institutions, creating projects that can be accomplished jointly and would be less effective for any of them to undertake alone. Teams of faculty, librarians, technologists, and academic support specialists are engaged across the consortium network to develop, share, and assess the most effective modes of digital teaching and learning. For example, an online data science course was offered in summer 2020 through the consortium by a team of faculty from five institutions, supported by an overall course coordinator, teaching assistants, learner experience specialists, and course designers and technologists from multiple consortium institutions.
- Western Governors University (WGU)uses a competency-based learning model as opposed to the traditional, cohort-based class model used at most colleges and universities. Educational programs that incorporate competency-based learning measure acquired skills and learning rather than time on task, which means that students can progress through courses as soon as they’ve mastered the material, rather than advancing only when the semester or term ends. As an integral part of their learning model, WGU also uses an unbundled faculty model where a team of faculty, each with a specialized role, work together to provide personalized instruction and support for students in their individual courses and the overall degree program. In a nutshell, there are three types of student-facing faculty (i.e. program mentors, course instructors, and evaluators) who interface with students regularly on the phone or online to provide tailored instruction and support, and provide constructive feedback on their assessments. While students interact with faculty who specialize in instruction, support, and evaluation, there’s another group of faculty who work behind the scenes to develop curriculum and assessments, ensuring the quality of what students are learning and the value of their degrees. This separation of roles and clear division of roles and responsibilities enable WGU to provide on-demand, personalized faculty support to students without sacrificing their ability to continually align and make improvements to their courses and programs. Since the team of student-faculty faculty know their students well, they are able to make instruction better by providing learning experiences that are attuned to students’ interests and major field of study. At the same time, the use of common curriculum and assessment tools developed collaboratively support faculty imparting knowledge to students that are aligned with industry-endorsed competencies.
It is important to recognize that collaboration almost always requires more effort and time than going it alone, so there must be a clear reason and incentive for taking a collaborative approach to course design and delivery. The reason for collaboration should not focus solely on cost savings, but rather on removing any duplication of efforts or inefficiencies that may exist in traditional, individualistic approaches to course design, and creating innovative learning experiences for students by strategically tapping into diverse expertise and knowledge of faculty members. This kind of collaboration could be especially beneficial for introductory or gateway courses that almost all students with different academic and career interests have to go through. Institutions can recruit faculty from different disciplinary backgrounds that use foundational math to contribute to content development to expose students to applications of math in a variety of contexts. Institutions can also differentiate their faculty roles by key areas of course design and delivery (e.g. curriculum, assessment, pedagogy, mentoring) to enable faculty members to play to their strengths and further enrich students’ engagement and learning.
One of the big challenges is determining the amount of credit each of the faculty members receives for teaching the course. Sometimes an instructor receives only a fraction of the credit that they would receive for teaching a course independently, while in reality team teaching usually requires each instructor engage in more work than being the only instructor. Collaboration must be prioritized by departments and institutions, and faculty members’ individual and collective efforts must be visible and recognized in order to sustain and promote continuous maintenance and improvement of jointly developed courses.
While this strategy has the advantage of potentially engaging students in deep learning by leveraging the diverse and broader expertise of a multi-faculty teaching team, misfortunes could occur if the team is not well organized and connected. Because successful implementation of this strategy rests on close collaboration between faculty and other support staff across departments and institutions, it requires a central team to provide leadership, project management, and coordination support throughout the development processes. Participating institutions must be willing and able to invest resources to support the central team’s operation as well as the collaborative course design workflows.
- Jenna Joo and Richard Spies, “Aligning Many Campuses and Instructors Around a Common Adaptive Learning Courseware in Introductory Statistics: Lessons from a Multi-Year Pilot in Maryland,” Ithaka S+R, November 9, 2019, https://sr.ithaka.org/publications/adaptive-learning-courseware-introductory-statistics/.
- Martin Kurzweil and Daniel Rossman, “Faculty Collaboration and Technology in the Liberal Arts: Lessons from a Teagle Grant Program,” Ithaka S+R, January 29, 2018, https://sr.ithaka.org/publications/faculty-collaboration-and-technology-in-the-liberal-arts/.
- Jessica N. Lester & Katherine R. Evans, “Instructors’ Experiences Collaboratively Teaching: Building Something Bigger,” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 2009, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ869322.pdf.
- Mark Lieberman, “Team Players in Teaching,” Inside Higher Ed, April 24, 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/04/24/instructional-teams-challenge-tradition-dividing-teaching-roles.
- Mark Lieberman, “The Future of Digital Learning Collaboration,” Inside Higher Ed, September 5, 2018, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/09/05/digital-learning-consortia-diversify-priorities-amid-shifting.
- Penelope A. Moon, “Building Online Courses Communally,” Inside Higher Education, March 27, 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2019/03/27/we-can-do-better-master-model-online-course-development-lets-build.
- Michael T. Nietzel, “Scaling Higher Ed Collaboration: An Interview with University Innovation Alliance Executive Director Bridget Burns,” Forbes, June 1, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2020/06/01/an-interview-with-university-innovation-alliance-executive-director-bridget-burns/.
- Tanya Roscorla, “Collaborative Course Design Helps Colleges Scale Online Learning,” Center for Digital Education, January 14, 2016, https://www.govtech.com/education/higher-ed/Collaborative-Course-Design-Helps-Colleges-Scale-Online-Learning.html.
- “Team/Collaborative Teaching,” Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teamcollaborative-teaching/.
- John Villasenor, “Why Colleges Should Pool Teaching Resources,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 4, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Colleges-Should-Pool/248927.
- Founded in 2014, LACOL is a consortial partnership between Amherst College, Bryn Mawr College, Carleton College, Davidson College, Hamilton College, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, Vassar College, Washington and Lee University, and Williams College. For more information, visit the consortium website, https://lacol.net/. ↑
- Western Governors University, Our Faculty, https://www.wgu.edu/about/faculty.html. ↑
- Western Governors University Instructional Design Model, https://wgu.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=b496c370-a645-4d95-b9c6-a886014cf40c; Mark Lieberman, “Team Players in Teaching,” Inside Higher Ed, April 24, 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/04/24/instructional-teams-challenge-tradition-dividing-teaching-roles. ↑
- “Unbundling Versus Designing Faculty Roles,” American Council on Education & Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Unbundling-Versus-Designing-Faculty-Roles.pdf. ↑