On Friday, February 28, Speed School Dean Neville Pinto sent the following message to engineering faculty and staff. It connects the school’s strategic plan with recent course evaluations to create a call for action to improve the design, development, delivery and assessment of Speed’s online courses and programs. We welcome your feedback and invite you to share your experiences with online learning, suggestions for improvement and ideas for potential new programs. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-852-5012.
A core element of the Speed School’s mission is to serve our university, community and profession by providing high quality engineering education programs. To realize our vision of becoming the preeminent provider of high quality, accessible and experiential-based engineering education, we must strive for excellence in all that we do. This includes not only attracting a greater diversity of motivated, prepared and talented students into all degree programs, but also engaging students with state-of-the-art engineering curricula and enhanced modes of delivery in our classrooms, labs and online.
We have analyzed course evaluations from 19,793 students enrolled in 1,604 sections of 363 courses taught by 177 instructors in eight departments from Fall 2011 through Fall 2013. While there are many reasons to celebrate and be proud of our departmental and individual accomplishments in both face-to-face and virtual settings, we must strive to close the gap between the two. In general, online courses are not as highly rated by students, particularly in the areas of instructor preparedness, content delivery, course format, use of illustrative examples and overall effectiveness. Students have also reported concerns about the quality and variety of course materials, appropriate use of learning technologies, communication with instructors and interaction with fellow students, as well as responsiveness to program inquiries and admission applications by prospective students.
Despite these general shortcomings, we know that online courses can be equally effective and successful compared to those delivered in the classroom. In its first semester last fall, our new online engineering management program outperformed the averages for all eight quantitative measures when compared not only to all other Speed online courses, but also to all Speed classroom-based courses. Moving forward, we are working with the university’s Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning to develop and implement plans that will help us improve the quality and consistency of both face-to-face and online courses.
- Preparation: If they have not done so already, faculty planning to teach online courses should participate in specialized Delphi Center training. Those teaching this summer are asked to attend Survivor’s Guide training at the Speed School on four Fridays this spring. Those scheduled for next fall or spring will be asked to complete Delphi U prior to teaching online. Additional details will be communicated directly to faculty through the Office of Academic Affairs later this week.
- Improvement: As part of the above training, current and future online instructors will be educated about Quality Matters, a faculty-centered peer review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. The QM Rubric will help us improve course design by assessing 41 clearly defined review standards and providing substantial, constructive and specific comments about course strengths and suggestions for improvement. At least eleven existing Speed online courses will be reviewed over the coming year and all new Speed online courses and instructors will be evaluated after one or two future offerings.
- Development: Delphi Center staff will support us as we continue to develop, improve and expand our online offerings. Among other things, they will assist with faculty development; teaching with technology; instructional design; online program development, marketing, recruiting and student services; and Blackboard and other technology support services. They are a valuable on-campus resource for anyone wishing to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms or online.
- Recognition: Two years ago, U.S. News and World Report started its annual ranking of Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs, which provides another opportunity for us to promote our growing online degree and certificate programs. Although the university decided not to participate while the methodology was still being developed in the first year, the Speed School was listed, but not ranked, in the most recent 2014 survey. Student engagement (30%), faculty credentials and training (25%) and student services and technology (20%) account for most of each school’s ranking. These broad categories include smaller factors, such as the presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty with terminal degrees, online teaching best practices training, certified instructional designers, technological infrastructure, collaborative coursework, required course evaluations and more. The above plans for training and assessment will help us communicate a more favorable message about the quality and value of a Speed School graduate degree or certificate.
In conclusion, there are many benefits to embarking on this plan to improve our online programs, including clearer standards, improved teaching quality, enhanced learning outcomes, expanded online offerings, more student enrollments, increased revenues for the school and academic departments, broader recognition, higher rankings and more. It is my hope that you will join me in adopting, supporting and participating in these new initiatives so that we can accomplish our goals, fulfill our mission and realize our vision together.