COVID-19 has created many challenges for higher education, not the least of which is implementing online learning. Many colleges and universities across the world found themselves in entirely new territory, trying to pivot in-person classes to a virtual format in a fairly short amount of time.
Thanks to 25-plus years of leading the way in best practices for creating high-quality online courses, University College at University of Denver was able to quickly adjust to the pandemic challenges. Not only did this knowledge benefit all of the University of Denver but it has also proven to be a valuable resource for other universities trying to implement online learning, including La Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile.
This summer, Professor Molly Smith, academic director for the Organizational Leadership and Strategic Human Resources programs, and Allison O’Grady, assistant director of teaching and learning and co-leader of the Learning Experience Design team, laid out the foundations of online learning during a virtual presentation to faculty, administrators, and staff across two different campuses at La Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile.
Because of University College’s expertise in online education, as well as a prior relationship with the Universidad del Desarrollo, plans for a presentation had been in the works since winter of 2019. Then, COVID-19 hit, and the topic became even more critical for the educators in Chile.
“It was a great opportunity for University College to be positioned in the international scholar community as an expert in online learning and teaching,” Smith said.
Faculty members from La Universidad del Desarrollo were surveyed prior to the webinar to assess what they wanted to know; questions around creating interactive, experiential activities, teaching best practices, encouraging participation, and change management were common themes. Using these topics, Smith and O’Grady designed a presentation to address common challenges around virtual learning, as well as provide guidance and tips to help their colleagues a foundation to start transitioning courses online.
“The presentation was equal parts inspiration, technical, and tactical. We wanted to present a nice balance of academic underpinnings while also addressing some of the tactical and strategic questions from faculty,” said Smith.
The presentation discussed University College’s framework for online learning, as well as theory around learner motivation, strategies for building an online community, and more. In addition, Smith and O’Grady went over some of the tried and true technical tools that are crucial for a successful online learning program, as well as how to cultivate technical competence and reinforce a behavior pattern of technology use among students.
“Institutions that are starting from zero with regard to online learning are hungry for information. We wanted to share some approaches and strategies we thought would be helpful to consider. That includes recognizing culture change, modeling best practices, engaging the community, and more,” Smith said.
Faculty that attended the presentation expressed that it was transformative and that they were encouraged to consider topics that they may not have thought of before. The webinar was such a success, Universidad del Desarrollo has also expressed interest in continuing training once it has moved past the first phase of online-learning implementation.
“The presentation was well-received, helpful, and will perhaps change the trajectory of online learning experiences across the globe,” said Smith. “Here at University College, we do online learning very well. As a private university dedicated to the public good, if we have knowledge to share, it’s great that we can do so to help transform the learning experience for students and faculty half way across the world,” Smith said.