Distance Education Champions

April 28, 2020

When the UNCW Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Distance Education and eLearning put out a call for help to establish a mentoring program for faculty shifting to remote instruction, the response was overwhelming.

Within a few days, faculty known for being campus leaders in online instruction were nominated by the deans and an online orientation was held to put the program in motion. Following the extended spring break, the faculty were ready to help fellow colleagues.

“We were concerned about the amount of people who were going to have to transition in such a hurry,” said Amy Ostrom, interim director of the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. “We were building more of a community, and we wanted to make sure people had access to the support that they need in the moments that they needed it.”

There was a systematic approach to the selection of the champions to ensure the colleges had the coverage that they needed, she said. Today, there are 32 champions representing three of the four colleges. “What has stuck out about the champions is their dedication and their willingness to jump in at a moment’s notice,” Ostrom added.

Diana Ashe, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an English professor, first pitched the idea of “DE Champions” as a means to address academic continuity. The champions are able to advise faculty new to online teaching and provide insights on how to best engage students online.

“It’s a really big shift for the students and they weren’t expecting it. It was a tough transition. It’s requiring us to check in more with our students because this isn’t what they came for,” Ashe said. “The DE Champions play a really big part because they know what works for our majors and ways to reach out to students within each of those specific majors. There is not a lot of time left in the semester, and having people with the experience within the discipline, who know the students in those courses, can make a big difference.”

The DE Champions program is supplemental to other support programs for faculty provided through the Keep Teaching site, the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Distance Education and eLearning.

Although departments are working to solve their issues collaboratively, the DE Champions function as a central point of contact, said Jeremy Tirrell, an associate professor in the Department of English and a member of the DE Champion team. Tirrell has taught online courses since 2007.
“UNCW has been very proactive and several institutional units have offered support resources, but it can be challenging for faculty to navigate the abundance of information. The DE Champions address that need,” he said. “Helping faculty leverage technology for instructional purposes is squarely in my wheelhouse, so I'm appreciative of the opportunity. Although this is a terrible situation and a daunting task, I'm confident our faculty, students, staff and institution not only will rise to meet it, but also gain productive experience we can apply in the future.”

-- Venita Jenkins