Faculty and Student Support System for Blended Courses

Award Winner: 
2011 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Collection: 
Student-Generated Content
Author Information
Author(s): 
Zoaib Mirza
Author(s): 
Paul Collins
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Adler School of Professional Psychology
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Adler School of Professional Psychology has been offering blended courses since Winter 2009. The school was recently relocated and with almost 17% increase in student enrollment, the Leadership Team has taken an initiative to recognize and promote the efforts to create a support system for faculty and students.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Adler Online and the Information Technology department worked in collaboration to build a solid foundation to provide faculty and student support system for blended courses.

Surveys and Interviews

We conducted a student event to talk to students about their experience and expectations from Moodle, current support and instructor experience. We asked students and faculty to complete online surveys, which were created in Survey Monkey.  As a result of weekly reminder for couple of months, 44 faculty and 55 students completed the survey. Their information helped us to take the following actions:

Support and Communication

Information Technology department was already using a Helpdesk support account to support and troubleshoot the school’s technical needs. To use a focal point of contact for hybrid/online students and faculty we decided to create an Adler Online support account. This helped Adler Online to minimize response time and focus to hybrid and online students and faculty. This account became a center point of contact for sending mass communication and providing instructional design and Moodle support. Information Technology and Adler Online agreed on a decision tree to filter and forward issues based on the nature of the problem.

For remote support we are using WebEx, which has drastically improved our support to faculty and students.

For mass communication and timely notifications to faculty, we decided to use MyEmma - after comparing it against Constant Contact and MailChimp. From many MyEmma features, we are currently using listservs, email templates and stationery, and tools to track and email reports.   

Courses in Moodle

We did not have a system in place to know which courses should be copied over for the next semester. The hybrid courses had content created by the instructors, but there was no ownership of the content in place. This led to high volume of support emails from both students and faculty during the semester. We began a process, approved by the Chairs Council, and created a course spreadsheet to identify master course shells and course authors, so that our Moodle administrator had a correct list of courses to copy over. Without the course author’s approval we decided not to incorporate any course changes, and to make sure we copy the correct course shell, we locked the master shell and gave read-only access to faculty and course author for any reference.

We further decided to create an Adler course template to provide consistency to all course. The key attributes were color scheme, course navigation, and standard support resources for library, technical help, and student support.

Technology and Training

Moodle

We did not have an online resource section on our website. Therefore, as a short term solution, Adler Online and Information Technology department decided to used PBworks to collaboratively work together to create a process to identify students and faculty Moodle FAQs, and agreed to use Google Sites to post all the tutorials.

SMART

The Adler School has incorporated the Smart Technology© interactive whiteboard systems as its primary classroom collaboration technology.  We have found the interactive potential of the system to integrate multiple content sources through an intuitive, touch-based platform to have become and engaging and even compelling presentation medium for both our faculty and our students.  Combining this delivery platform with the flexibility of multiple content sources (embedded computer, external laptop, DVD, VHS, and HDMI inputs) as well as web-based has provided our faculty a powerful means to more creatively immerse our students with high-impact content that more actively received by our students.  The touch-based interface, apart from conveying a sense of sophistication, allows our faculty to present more naturally, thus focusing more on the content objectives of the course and less on its delivery.  The ability to capture the collaborative discussions and notes through this system and conveniently post them electronically or send them to students through email messaging extends the value and impact of the learning potential of our classrooms.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Support and Communication

Prior to the creation of Adler Online support account, the Director of Adler Online use to receive all the support and course related issues into his inbox. Adler Online support account as the primary departmental email account has helped drastically to receive, monitor, and send messages to faculty and students. 

For mass communication through MyEmma, we created stationeries, email templates, and listserv. To help us evaluate the effectiveness of all communication, we use Response tools in MyEmma to review who opened, clicked, shared, signed-up or opted-out. 

Currently, other departments like Marketing, Admissions, and Finance are in the process to discuss the possibility of using MyEmma for all forms of communications.

For remote training and support, we first used Nefsis, but were not happy with the results. Later, we tried WebEx and so far it has met all our needs. The response has been very positive and the quality of the webinar and providing remote support has been very successful.

Courses in Moodle

The faculty and student surveys about their experience and expectations from Moodle helped Adler Online and IT work together to improve Moodle.

After reviewing the survey, a summary was submitted by the Instructional and Multimedia Consultant:

Faculty

  • They want their course layout to be transferred from one semester to another.
  • They would like a training seminar offered at various times to help them learn Moodle and where to find it.
  • Most professors (over 50%) have used Moodle for less than 2 years with over 20% using it for the first time.
  • The phrase “not intuitive” continues to come up.  There are too many functions on the left side of the screen which makes it hard for them to find what they want.
  • Perhaps on the log in page we could place the minimum hardware/software requirements for Moodle.
  • They want clear layout and everything easily labeled.

Students

  • Collapsible sections.
  • Clean up redundant links, such as multiple grade links or class participant links.
  • Discussion threads are long and are not easy to read.
  • Consistency between classes.  Students would prefer to have all classes set up similarly to make navigating class pages much easier.
  • Consistency between pages.  Many students reported difficulties finding similar links on different pages.
  • We need to clean up the fonts.  Many students didn’t like the different sized fonts.  Some students also think we should use different colored fonts for different classes or links.
  • We need to make links for joining different school organizations more obviously visible.
  • Use different colored links for article, discussion, and assignment postings.
  • We need to figure out a way to make member profiles/email addresses easier to find.  In general, student resources are found to be hard to find.
  • Can we make it so that students can differentiate between read and unread posts in discussion section?

Based on the above suggestions, Adler Online and IT have decided to take the following measures:

  • Upgrade the current Moodle version Premium 1.9 to Joule 1.9.
  • Change the current Moodle layout.
  • Design a sandbox with support resources for faculty and student and apply the same heuristics, course navigation and layout to all on-campus, hybrid and online courses.
  • Create a Master Shell of all courses, so that it we can monitor changes and lock it, and submit a final list to the Moodle Administrator.
  • No course will be made without the course author’s approval.

Faculty and administration though have not been asked to complete a formal survey, but are very happy with these changes.

Technology and Training

Moodle

After successfully using PBworks (wiki) to conduct Adler Online strategic planning for 2011-2014, Adler Online and IT decided to use PBworks for creating Moodle FAQs. These FAQs were submitted by our Moodle Administrator, who troubleshoots Moodle issues.  We realize that we need to create more content, but for now we created content for the following FAQs:

Moodle FAQ – Student

  • How do I post to a forum?
  • How do I attach a document to a forum response?
  • How do I upload an assignment?
  • Why isn’t my class showing up?
  • I forgot my password, how do I change it?
  • Where did my classes go?

Moodle FAQ – Faculty 

  • How do I make my course visible/invisible to students?
  • How do I create a forum?
  • How do I create an assignment?
  • How do I upload a document for students to see?
  • How do I make a web link available for students?
  • How do I grade assignments?
  • How do I communicate with students?
  • My class start date is wrong, how do I fix it?
  • My class has too many weeks, how do I fix it?
  • How do I move items?
  • How do I manage forum discussions?
  • I forgot my password, how do I change it?
  • There are broken items in my course; I can’t open them or view them. What do I do?

These FAQs were added to Google Sites and added to all courses in Moodle. Currently, we do not have a landing page on the Adler School website to create content, therefore the short term solution decided by IT, Adler Online, Library, and Center for Learning and Teaching was to use Google Sites. 

Workshops and training for on-campus and faculty and students have not been finalized, but the following list has been submitted, which has been reviewed by Adler Online, IT, Library and the Center for Learning and Teaching:

Moodle

  • Moodle Introduction
  • Moodle Announcements: Effective ways to create and manage announcements
  • Moodle Discussions: Effective ways to create and manage discussions
  • Moodle Groups: Effective ways to create and manage groups
  • Moodle Assignments: Effective ways to create and manage assignments
  • Moodle Gradebook: Effective ways to create and manage Gradebook
  • Moodle Quizzes: Effective ways to create and manage quizzes
  • Adding resources in Moodle: Course content, videos and links

Suggestion to be conducted by Adler Online 

Library

  • Overview of library and its services
  • Copyrights compliance
  • Access overviews into its electronic holdings

Suggestion to be conducted by the Library

Technology – For both faculty and staff

  • Adler school technology systems overview
  • MS Word 2007: Basic to Intermediate
  • MS Excel 2007: Basic to Intermediate
  • MS PowerPoint 2007: Basic to Intermediate
  • MS Outlook 2007: Basic to Intermediate
  • MS Word 2007: Intermediate to Advanced
  • MS Excel 2007: Intermediate to Advanced
  • MS PowerPoint 2007: Intermediate to Advanced
  • MS Outlook 2007: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Beyond PowerPoint: Prezi
  • Web 2.0 tools to increase interaction and collaboration

Suggestion to be conducted by IT and Adler Online 

Special Topics – For both faculty and staff

  • From Workplace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing Through Dynamic Engagement
  • Nourishing your body: Facts and Secrets 
  • Effective ways to design instructions

Suggestion to be conducted by outside speakers

Currently, we do not have our own media servers, therefore Adler Online and IT decided to use Vimeo to host all our meeting archives and video tutorials. It is an excellent hosting service; administratively we only have to upload videos, and add the link to our online resources.

Our long-term technology strategy will explore the potential impact and benefits of in-house multimedia content streaming, archiving, access, and management systems deployment for access by the Adler faculty and student communities.

SMART © (Classroom) Technologies

  • SMART Interactive Whiteboard overview training
  • Classroom technology training (Smart systems, embedded computing, A/V resources, connectivity options for external devices, etc.)
  • Classroom technology reservation and usage policies overview
  • Notebook© software overview (Smart© interactive software)
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access

Web-based applications like Google Sites, PBworks, Vimeo, and YouTube have allowed instant accessibility to resources to support faculty and students. Administratively, our content is centralized, easy to access, update, integrate, and share. To our end-users, all the information is on a consistent platform, which greatly improves accessibly.  These capabilities are supported by a robust network, wireless, and Internet access infrastructure that supports current needs as well as provides for future scalability.  Adler Online, IT, Library and Center for Learning and Teaching are very happy with this approach.

Faculty and Student Satisfaction

Anecdotal feedback from staff, faculty and students has been very positive. At this stage, not all content has been developed. However, the changes in terms of Moodle layout and creation of online resources have shown dramatic improvement in both faculty and student engagement and satisfaction.

We are confident that, based on surveys results collected from students and faculty, our online resources like New to Online, Technical Support and Student Support, and Moodle training resources will have the following benefits:

  • Decrease overall technical and course support requests
  • Faculty can direct students to online resources
  • Students have on-demand access to resources to review before they can contact Adler Online or IT Helpdesk
Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Online Applications

The hardware required for access to and interaction with online applications is a webcam and microphone. 

Minimum Hardware Requirements for Moodle© Course Interaction

PCs:

  • Access to high-speed network connection (not dial-up, i.e., cable, dsl, etc.)
  • Processor: Pentium IV 3.0 Ghz / equivalent or better processor (dual core processor recommended)
  • Operating System: Windows XP Service Pack 3, Windows Vista Service Pack 2, Windows 7 with all current updates installed
  • Memory: 2+ Gigabytes RAM Memory
  • Hard drive: 120 Gigabyte
  • Sound card and speakers
  • Headset with microphone that plugs into your sound card (not a USB connection)
  • Monitor with 1024 x 728 pixel resolution or better
  • Software – install latest versions unless otherwise specified:
  • Internet Browser: Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 
  • (Firefox is the preferred browser to use Moodle)
  • Internet explorer:  http://www.microsoft.com/ie  
  • Firefox:  http://www.firefox.com 
  • Current anti-virus software
  • Microsoft Word 2003 or newer (or Word-format compatible word processor)
  • Java/JRE: http://java.sun.com/javase/downloads/index.jsp  
  • Adobe Flash Player: http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ 
  • Adobe Reader: http://get.adobe.com/reader 
  • QuickTime: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/  

Chrome, Opera, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, and other ISP-provided browsers are not supported.

Macs:

  • Access to high-speed network connection (not dial-up, i.e., cable, dsl, etc.)
  • Processor: PowerPC G4 or Intel
  • Operating System: OS X 10.4.9
  • Memory: 2+ Gigabytes RAM Memory
  • Hard drive: 120 Gigabyte
  • Sound card and speakers
  • USB Headset with microphone
  • Monitor with 1024 x 728 pixel resolution or better
  • Software – install latest versions unless otherwise specified:
  • Internet Browser: Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 
  • (Firefox is the preferred browser to use Moodle)
  • Internet explorer:  http://www.microsoft.com/ie  
  • Firefox:  http://www.firefox.com 
  • Microsoft Word or Word-format compatible word processor
  • Java/JRE: http://developer.apple.com/java/download/ 
  • Adobe Flash Player: http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ 
  • Adobe Reader: http://get.adobe.com/reader 
  • QuickTime: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/  

Chrome, Opera, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, and other ISP-provided browsers are not supported.

SMART (Classroom) Technology

To maximize classroom technology familiarity by our student and faculty constituencies, we have designed our 24 classrooms with complete consistency in terms of technology resources:

  • Embedded computer workstation (2.2Ghz Core Duo platform with 4GB RAM and gigabit wired network interface) in a secured storage credenza
  • Combination DVD / VHS device
  • Long-range, frequency-programmable wireless keyboard/mouse unit
  • Connectivity for external laptop or other VGA or HDMI device
  • Convenient access to USB inputs for ad-hoc use of other equipment (microphone, webcam, etc.)
  • Built-in content input control panel for selection of the above input sources
  • 15 of these classrooms feature the Smart© 685ix interactive whiteboard system
  • Multiple high-speed wireless network accessible for our faculty and students (to provide varying levels of network access for each of these constituencies)
  • Built-in audio system with integrated audio volume control
  • In-classroom phone for convenient access to IT helpdesk should support be necessary 
Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Online Applications 

The choices of all the online applications are very affordable.

  • PBworks - $99 /yr 
  • Vimeo – $59.95/yr
  • WebEx - $ 49/ month

SMART Technology

We recognize the significant investment that was leveraged in the development of our classroom technology environment.  We feel that this investment reflects our commitment to provide our faculty with the innovative and collaborative technology infrastructure to fully engage our students and consequently maximize their learning experience with us.

An approximate breakdown of the technology investment per classroom follows:

  • Smart© interactive whiteboard system - $3,000
  • Embedded computer meeting specifications outlined above - $700
  • Combo DVD/VHS playback device - $120
  • Audio system – approx. $250
  • Long-range, frequency-programmable wireless keyboard/mouse unit - $250
  • Wiring / integration installation costs – approx $2,000 
References, supporting documents: 
  • WebEx - http://www.webex.com/
  • Vimeo - http://www.vimeo.com/
  • PBworks - http://pbworks.com/
  • Google Site - http://www.google.com/sites/
  • Survey Monkey -  http://www.surveymonkey.com/
  • Smart© Technology – http://smarttech.com/
  • Evaluating Total Cost of Ownership for Smart© Interactive Whiteboards - http://downloads01.smarttech.com/media/research/whitepapers/tcowhitepaper.pdf 
Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Zoaib Mirza, Director of Adler Online
Email this contact: 
zmirza@adler.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Paul Collins, AVP of Information Technology
Email contact 2: 
pcollins@adler.edu