Online Learning 2.0Feb 18, 2021
BC Gears Up to Improve Online Classes Using Faculty Peer-to-Peer Approach In the early days of the pandemic when classes at Bellevue College shifted from in-person to online, math instructor Luke Rawlings needed a whiteboard. He didn’t have one at home. So instead, he sat on the floor and used his washer and dryer as…
In the early days of the pandemic when classes at Bellevue College shifted from in-person to online, math instructor Luke Rawlings needed a whiteboard. He didn’t have one at home. So instead, he sat on the floor and used his washer and dryer as a whiteboard to write out equations for students.
It’s that kind of creativity that helped BC maintain quality instruction during the unprecedented shift to remote learning last March. CARES Act stipends also provided much needed financial support to compensate faculty for the extra time they spent transitioning their classes to an online format.
Now BC is ready to take online learning to the next level. Beginning in Winter Quarter and running through spring, the college’s eLearning Center will facilitate a Peer-to-Peer Design Project. Faculty with more experience teaching online will review and provide feedback to other instructors who’d like to improve the student experience. Courses will be reviewed according to a rubric, with an eye for design, usability and accessibility.
“When the pandemic hit, we had to react fast. And our faculty did a tremendous job pivoting to online learning in such a short period of time,” said Sue Nightingale, president of the BC faculty union and a biology instructor. “Now that we’ve had a few quarters to adapt, we wanted to use remaining CARES Act funding to improve online instruction. Eventually the pandemic will end, but we expect interest in online learning will grow.”
It wasn’t just faculty that had to make a sudden shift. The college’s eLearning Center went into overdrive when all classes went online right before finals, supporting the surge of faculty who needed guidance.
“We’re a small team and at first the need seemed overwhelming, but I was confident that this was an opportunity for us to shine,” said Sukirti Ranade, director of eLearning and multimedia. “When we were approached by the faculty union for ideas on how to scale and improve even more classes, we thought the best way was a peer-to-peer approach. The eLearning Center can offer best practices for design, usability and accessibility, but faculty would get that extra insight from a peer who knows what it’s like to teach online.”
Approximately $260,000 of CARES Act funds will be allocated for faculty stipends and benefits during the winter and spring quarters. Faculty who serve as a peer reviewer will be eligible for a stipend, and faculty can submit two courses for review and receive a stipend for each course. Up to 700 courses could be served by CARES Act funding.
The benefit is expected to have a cascading effect that will impact future students too.
“Once a course is reviewed, the improvements won’t end with the quarter, or the academic year. They’ll continue as long as the course is taught,” said Nightingale. “And faculty will be able to apply what they’ve learned to multiple sections, or other courses too.”
Nightingale noted that even before the pandemic, in-person classes had a significant online component through CANVAS, the online learning system used by faculty to post syllabuses, course material, and communicate with students.
“It’s all about usability and accessibility, not the specific content of the course or curriculum, so the training will have broad applications,” said Nightingale. “This is an exciting way to extend the benefit of CARES Act funding.”
There’s also a question of what classes will look like in the future when the pandemic ends—whether the demand for online classes will increase, decrease, or perhaps shift to an online/in-person hybrid.
“We’re definitely seeing people enjoying online classes who never thought they would before,” said Ranade. “It’s a great option, for students who are balancing work and family.”
Nightingale agrees. “While this isn’t the way we wanted to offer more online classes, I think the experience has been eye-opening for both faculty and students. We’ve all learned that we can adapt, be flexible, and still achieve good outcomes. That’s something we can take into the future whether we’re on campus or a laptop.”