When UCI shut down a few days before the finals in Winter 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, faculty had only days to transition final exams to an online format and a week during spring break to prepare for remote teaching. Many of them, like History professor Sarah Farmer, did not have prior training in online learning. “It was extremely stressful since I had no experience teaching with Canvas, Zoom, or other learning technologies,” Farmer explained.

To offer faculty much-needed assistance, the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) launched a full-scale remote course development program called the Digital Learning Institute (DLI).  The DLI was designed to support UCI faculty in developing courses and preparing for remote teaching during the pandemic.

The DLI was based on the five evidence-based principles provided by UCI’s Online Learning Research Center. Participating faculty started with scoping course elements and timelines and ensuring curriculum alignment. Then, they used a Canvas template and sample syllabus to design a learning pathway for students. Each faculty member worked with a designated instructional designer throughout the eight-week program and had access to a video producer for consultation as needed. In addition, 12 Digital Active Learning strategies and nine learning technologies were introduced in the program to boost remote student engagement synchronously and asynchronously. The program wrapped up with a self-assessment using the Online Course Quality Rubric developed based on Professor Di Xu’s work at the School of Education.

The program was immediately popular, with faculty from across campus eager to participate. “We planned to recruit 20 faculty to join the program, and we received more than 100 applications within a week,” says Megan Linos, Director of Learning Experience Design and Online Education at the DTEI. Today, nearly 150 UCI faculty have completed the program and have successfully developed quality online courses embedded with interactive digital active learning components.

Speaking of her experience working with the DLI, Chemistry professor Elizabeth Bess shared, “The DLI program and the instructional designer helped me organize online course content for my Canvas course in a way that substantially improves the clarity with which students can view and access the content.” Claire Kim, a faculty member in Political Science, also reported, “I am navigating the transition to online teaching with the minimum of disruption and stress after working with an instructional designer through the Digital Learning Institute program.”

Additionally, many faculty including Huy Nguyen (Nursing), Roberto Pelayo (Mathematics), Hillary Berk (Social Ecology), Julia Lupton (English), and Amir Saeidi (Engineering), all received “thank you” letters from students after they taught courses developed through the DLI. The students expressed their gratitude for how the course design with a clear learning path and navigation, which facilitated their learning success and eliminated stress during the pandemic. “My students found that my Canvas page was one of the best organized and accessible among the classes they were juggling,” Farmer proudly shared.

For Linos, knowing that the DLI has helped students and faculty during such a difficult time is rewarding, and she and the rest of the team are excited to continue offering support:

We are thrilled to learn that faculty have found that the DLI experience benefits their course design and teaching experience. We look forward to working with more UCI faculty to explore new teaching strategies that foster teaching excellence and enhance the student learning experience.

In 2021, the DLI experience will focus on hybrid and flipped instructions. A series of summer workshops will cover four areas:

  1. Transition from remote to online and instructional video production
  2. Course design for flipped and hybrid modes of teaching
  3. Implementing digital active learning with Canvas and external tools
  4. Bootcamp training for returning to campus in Fall 2021

Looking forward to Summer 2022, the DLI will be back for its third year with the theme of course redesign with mastery assessment design and grading structure.

For more information on the DLI, check out the webpage here. To learn more about DTEI and its various services and resources, visit their website here.

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