Faculty from Across the State Converge at UNCW for Online Education Fellowship

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Laura Cruz opened the 2015 Instructional Innovation Incubator conference (i3@UNC) with a bold statement.

“We aren’t here to follow best practices - we’re here to set them,” the i3@UNC founder said.

In its second year, i3@UNC was hosted May 31-June 7 by the UNCW Center for Teaching Excellence. The 28 UNC faculty participants selected for the competitive fellowship were able to interact in a collaborative learning community of expert instructional developers, designers and technologists like Cruz.

The director of the Coulter Faculty Commons and associate professor at Western Carolina University, Cruz encouraged fellows to “get out of the same RSS feed in your brain by rethinking how and what we teach. A high-end, high-impact course starts out with a well-thought-out, solid foundation. Do not organize your course around themes and topics or textbooks,” she said.

Matthew Rascoff, vice president for technology-based learning and innovation for the UNC system, said the conference served to embed the process of professional development into course development. “This is a unique opportunity to meld the two,” he said.

The easel-sized Post-It notes ever-present on the walls of the UNCW Education Building during the conference weren't for the fellows’ massive to-do lists, but served to map an actual course onsite.

Lynn Gregory, a professor in the communication department at Appalachian State University, used i3@UNC to map out her strategic communications undergraduate course, designed specifically for military and non-traditional students.

“I began by thinking about what skills and knowledge I want the students to leave with. The first step is for them to design a strategic message, then analyze and critique based on resources available to them.” She hopes her students gain awareness of their perceptual filters in the process. “People communicate in the way they want to be talked to,” she explained.

Making a guest appearance at the event was UNCW Chancellor-Elect Jose V. “Zito” Sartarelli, who shared a recommitment to online learning at UNCW. As chancellor, he says he will challenge UNCW to offer more online options. As dean of the WVU College of Business and Economics, he oversaw the launch of its online Master of Business Administration program, which has been nationally ranked for its quality and affordability.

John Sherer, Spangler Family Director of the University of North Carolina Press, was a presenter at last year’s conference. He established the office of scholarly publishing services based on his experience at last year’s incubator.

“The conference has helped us become a more efficient publishing house, broadened our skill set to publish a wider variety of materials and programmatically engage with the UNC system,” he said. 

Through gaining knowledge of print-on-demand services, he no longer has extra books collecting dust in a warehouse and was able to drive down costs for all involved in the process. He credits learning the value of working in a collaborative platform, thinking big in terms of creating content and using technology for the benefit of learners for the success – all themes of the i3@UNC experience.

On Thursday, the fellows traveled to the UNCW Center of Marine Science for presentations and demonstrations by technology partners.

Kevin Oliver, an i3@UNC alum who teaches in the digital learning and teaching program at NC State, demonstrated a course he developed with adaptive learning tools.

“Interaction compels students to rise to the challenge of the assignment, not just get it done,” he said. “When a room full of all-star teachers take advantage of the resources and networks such as i3@UNC and integrate content, it results in an optimal learning experience.”

Diana Ashe, interim director for the Center for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Leadership (CTEFL), says it is rare that faculty members have such an intensive experience in which they are given the time, resources, expert assistance, and technological support they need all at once to accomplish a major undertaking like the development of a new course.

“Our team at the Center for Teaching Excellence, with crucial help from our Office of e-Learning, worked alongside experts from across the system and speakers from around the country to provide everything our fellows would need while they created their course designs,” she said. “The resulting courses will be stronger for this process and will benefit thousands of students throughout the UNC system for many years to come.”