Common Template For Adult Basic Education Faculty
This case study examined the challenges and solution at College of the Mainland (Texas City, Texas) for teaching Adult Basic Education (ABE) within a learning management system (LMS) in order to have better course management regarding structure and materials. However, the instructional staff’s usage of an LMS spanned from ‘no use’ to ‘basic user, to ‘advanced user’ to ‘super user’. We report on how the ABE instructors (n=6) contributed and cooperated in order to assemble, organize to use a common syllabus, worksheets, assessments, subject matter, early alert system and a common grading scale. These components were then stored into a master template LMS for subsequent deployment into all ABE sections (all ABE sections meet face-to-face with the students). One week prior to each semester, instructors (current and new hires) are given training, lasting about an hour, on using the LMS, navigating the coursework and scoring assignments. Results show that using the common LMS template for ABE requires very little training and continues to be in effect with 100% participation, due to the satisfaction of the faculty. The advantages of using a common template, in specific cases at least, are examined. Legislation in Texas has mandated, via the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to make provisions ‘for using technology, to the greater extent practicable consistent with best practices, to provide developmental education to students. In order for the College of the Mainland (COM) to follow through on this mandate, the Adult Basic Education department began (and completed) a project to use technology to better organize course materials and make them electronically available to students. Course management technology, as it is known, or sometimes referred to as a learning management system (LMS), involves using technology to organize and present course structure and materials in an structured way. Prior to this project, it was discovered that each ABE instructor, while using a common paper syllabus, oftentimes used his or her own worksheets, assessments and grading scale. As for on-boarding new instructors, some adjunct instructors were hired the week classes began, and thus, these new instructors often had little or no content to begin the semester with. Furthermore, across all sections of ABE classes, use of the LMS by the instructional faculty ranged widely. Usage ranged from ‘no use at all’, to ‘basic user’ (e.g., starting with a simple template and posting the class syllabus), to ‘advanced user’ (e.g., use of grade-book, posting lecture notes, study guides, power points).
Finally, there was the ‘super user’ (e.g., use of interactive tools, discussion boards, assessments, real-time rubrics), using the taxonomy suggested by Oliver & Harrington (2001). In other words, there was a wide technological gap amongst ABE faculty. This creates barriers to faculty’s use of technology and this is more so for part-time or adjunct faculty. One barrier to the use of instructional technology that is often written about is the ‘resistance to instructional technology’. However, as community colleges continue their trend of increased utilization of distance education, faculty resistance must be addressed and resolved. Another barrier to the use of instructional technology is the lack of time available to develop a course, as many adjuncts had full time jobs. This report suggests an alternate solution. The suggestion that the way to close the technological gap is to have a common LMS pre-built template, in certain cases. This solution not only reduces the barriers, namely, ‘resistance to technology’ and ‘lack of time’, but also does so without the massive outlays of moneys and training, reported by Hinson and LaPrairie (2005), yet provides quality online subject matter that requires little training time. Course management technology: using a common pre-built template Using a common pre-built template, in certain cases where applicable, may be a viable option with a number of advantages. For example, faculty that were part of the design group that helped contribute subject matter and content would tend to use the common template that they themselves contributed to, thus increasing their stake in ‘ownership’. Another advantage of a common template is that all faculty, including new instructors, would be using a “super user” template (the “super user” template is one that includes interactive tools, learning modules, discussion boards, assessments, and real-time rubrics. Third, training is directed more towards giving faculty a walk-through of the LMS template. Faculty is given training on how to score assignments, assessments, and discussion board submissions. This is in contrast to a number of studies that indicate that a long-term (a year, say) faculty development program is needed to teaching online technology. Fourth, curriculum mapping is standardized for all students in that student learning outcomes can be assessed the same, regardless of which section they are enrolled in. A common template is sustainable for subsequent semesters, with little maintenance, outside of, say, updating the common syllabus, videos, or quizzes, as needed. Once the common template is completed, instructional designer costs are significantly reduced for subsequent semester classes.
Start-up of a just-in-time template ABE at COM is typically staffed with part-time and adjunct faculty, some with no teaching experience. Last minute hires are thrust into the classroom with merely a paper syllabus. The challenge for the ABE project was to provide quality, preparation and training to instructors, even when they are often hired within a month, or sometimes days, of their first class. Although the faculty was agreeable to using a common LMS pre-built template, there was one problem – there was no template! Leading up to one week before the start of the new semester, due to late resourcing of the project, the template was non-existent. Therefore, the LMS content was built during the current week and subsequently deployed just-in-time for next week’s ABE classes. The solution was for the ABE instructors to submit (via email or in-person) their subject matter to the instructional designer (who also a taught ABE) during the week. This allowed sufficient time to build the content into the LMS (Blackboard™, in this case) for next week’s classes. Anywhere between eight to 12 hours per week were spent putting the material into the LMS. The mechanics for the just-in-time template deployment were simple and straightforward. The content was built into a ‘master’ template. Each lesson plan underwent ‘user’ testing in order to be sure the quizzes and tests deployed properly and that the material was clear, accurate and precise. Once the ‘master’ template testing was completed, the lesson plan, modules and tests were copied and exported from the ‘master’ template and imported to all other sections of the ABE classes (in order to do this, the instructional designer’s name must be added to each LMS class as an ‘instructor’). Once the content was deployed to all other ABE sections, each ABE section was re-tested to confirm that all the material deployed properly, identical to the ‘master’ template. Now, each week, ABE faculty had access to a “super user” template, built just in time for the next week, until the end of the 16-week semester. Results All participants (n=six; four current and two new instructors) who used the new intervention had not used an LMS beyond syllabus placement. With this project, all participants now used the new common pre-built template constructed to include assessments, rubrics, discussion boards, study guides, videos, worksheets and power points that they, themselves, had contributed. All participants submitted content (via email or in person) throughout each week of the semester in order to help the instructional designer put together the weekly LMS common template.
In informal interviews and discussion and a questionnaire, there was full agreement that the ABE common LMS template made each instructor’s job easier, particularly for the new instructors. The participants were satisfied with the feedback, training, and technology of the new implementation. Training faculty was directed more toward navigational walk-throughs of the ABE template. In a single one-hour training session, instructors were shown how to use the electronic grade-book and how to score submitted work. All participants concurred that they were open to new technology and that they would like to continue with the LMS common template. It appears that the use of a common pre-built template was instrumental in reducing instructor turnover. As one instructor stated, “I was increasingly frustrated that we did not have a structure. I was ready to quit.’ A year later repeatedly using the template, this instructor continues to teach ABE. The common template is in effect, in large part, due to the satisfaction of the faculty. From the students’ perspective, using the common template has benefits, as well. For example, due to changes in her work schedule, when this student was not able to attend her Friday class, she attended the Saturday class, instead. As she stated, ‘allowing me to come to either class and keep up, helped reduce my stress.’ Implications Interviews and informal discussions with adjunct faculty teaching ABE at COM indicated that ‘resistance to instructional technology’ was not the issue. Up until the project, no time was ever resourced to developing a common template, given that many instructors were working full-time jobs, whether on campus (e.g. support staff, student services, academic advising) or off campus. With the high growth of community college online enrollments, it is important that an LMS is successfully delivered. In this case, the barriers to using online instructional technology were addressed by establishing a common pre-built template. By addressing the use of course management technology via a common pre-built LMS template, in specific cases at least, the technological gap may be closed in much less expensive ways than had previously been reported.
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