Finding opportunities in higher education during a crisis

UTSA Campus Sign

By Melissa Vito

Posted on 09-25-2020

“Never waste a good crisis” is a cliché that I have used for years, though I used to chair emergency response at a university. When COVID-19 hit, my first thought was: What are our opportunities? And my next thought was: How do we rally others to see them? This was a global pandemic, not the usual flood or fire.

I’m fortunate to be working in higher education right now, leading the development and growth of online programs and degrees. I have a wonderful team and work with leadership that is committed to doing interesting work and is curious about how to do that. Faculty that were initially reluctant to teach online have become believers, and now know that good teaching is not dependent on modality.

UTSA letter in front of University of Texas San Antonio

Taking the opportunity to make lasting change

What did The University of Texas San Antonio do during this time? We set aspirational goals adopting a mindset that our work would position us for more innovation and accelerated change to take UTSA into the future. We never viewed this moment as a placeholder until things returned to normal.

Quality, accessibility, and active partnering with faculty and students were our critical values, along with a determined effort to collect data and use it to inform the work we did. In the spring, we moved 4,100 courses to remote learning over a period of two weeks. According to CHLOE 5, the national average this past spring term was 500 courses moved to remote learning. For summer and fall we had time to focus on quality. We moved 439 courses to online modality for summer and over 800 courses in the fall.

Woman watching a class online.

Key areas of success at UTSA

We built a team and engaged college deans and faculty members. Each dean appointed both points of contact, one per college, to coordinate college work and over 50 faculty champions, experienced online faculty, representing every department on campus. These teams emerged as pods of expertise extending our capacity and received institutional recognition and financial support acknowledging their extraordinary amount of work.

We offered varied training opportunities from weekend boot camps and webinars to town halls and individual consultations. In total about 1,100 (out of 1,200) faculty participated in training, generally delivered through our learning management system to get faculty comfortable using it.

We made Quality Matters (QM) training available for faculty and paid for it, including certifying one of our staff to enable more support throughout the year.

We added about a dozen new technologies to support all aspects of an extraordinary experience for faculty and students, including training.

We developed specific pipelines for feedback from students and faculty, working regularly with faculty governance and student government, in addition to working with other formal and informal groups and regular surveying.

Over 50 faculty, students, and staff participated in a “tactical team” that I co-chaired with our dean of Science to build out the plan to deliver education in the fall.

From that team, we implemented a Freshman Year Experience, enabling our freshman to fully appreciate that they are living in a once-in-a-lifetime moment, embedding experiences both in and outside of the classroom to help them develop and archive this year, which will become a virtual publication living at the library.

We are innovating in a number of key courses that can challenge the best online teaching, including the sciences and the arts; we are gamifying a physics course and continuing to encourage experiential learning. In one communications course, which included service learning, students using Adobe Creative Cloud tools developed marketing materials for the San Antonio Zoo. Digital fluency is an important goal for our students and these tools helped support our students’ growth, aiding them in both their coursework and also in developing critical career skills.

Finally, we developed a single interdisciplinary assignment that crosses four different courses — history, English, art, and architecture — built around this pandemic moment.

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Faculty and students asking for more meaningful engagement

Among the most important feedback we heard was from both faculty and students and was similar — both craved more meaningful engagement in the new online environment. We worked hard to develop ways to encourage that.

In 2019, UTSA offered support to 20 faculty to use Creative Cloud in their online courses as part of their pedagogy. We wondered if these courses saw higher rates of engagement, so we went back to our faculty to learn more.

Through a series of roundtables with these faculty, and asking a set of questions, we learned that there were multiple areas of impact. They represented diverse academic areas (Spanish, English, architecture, communication, environmental sciences and others).

All faculty felt that using Creative Cloud in their courses made a positive difference — some used Adobe Spark, others used InDesign and Premiere Rush — there was variety.

Key findings from using Creative Cloud in courses included:

Faculty also identified specific areas that impacted their own teaching

San Antonio

What does this all mean?

Our team will continue to work actively with the UTSA faculty and students to innovate as we look toward spring 2021 as likely mostly online. And, we will increase our assessment to help us understand the impact of our work, including more specific analysis of the impact of Creative Cloud in the curriculum, especially online, on student success and engagement.

Topics: Education, Insights & Inspiration, Digital Literacy, Creative Cloud,

Products: Creative Cloud,