One of my favorite parts of each year’s USDLA National Conference is the Awards Banquet and now I get to share with you some of the details of the award winner in the category of USDLA Excellence in Teaching/Training. This award goes to an individual who has demonstrated measurable outcomes in their teaching facilitated through technology.
This year’s recipient was Matthea Marquart, the Director of Administration of the Online Campus at the Columbia University School of Social Work for her highly successful development of the Institute on Pedagogy and Technology for Online Courses, an innovative approach to preparing instructors for the transition from classroom to online facilitating.
A rich history that keeps getting richer
While the Columbia University School of Social Work dates back to 1898, it was not until 2015 that the Online Campus was launched and the program offering a Master of Science in Social Work was first offered to students across the United States. Great preparation was needed to ensure that the same standards of exemplary teaching would be provided to the online students as those attending on campus. This was also an opportunity for Columbia to blaze the trail. It is the only top-three school of social work to offer a fully online Master’s degree program.
The mission of the Institute
One of the most interesting things about the Institute to me is the fact that it does not just focus on pedagogical theory and giving the instructors information about how to use the new technologies, it lets them fully experience what it is like to learn in this new environment. It puts the instructors directly in the shoes of the learners they will be teaching.
Ultimately these instructors will have the freedom to design their own courses, so rather than teaching them one “right” way to put together an online course, the Institute’s program introduces them to an array of options. During the program, instructors will have the opportunity to explore a host of different techniques and tools so they can make informed decisions about the right combination of elements for their particular courses and students.
I cannot stress enough how powerful this type of process is. They not only gain confidence and mastery of the technologies, but they get a good deal of support, from a very diverse team of practitioners and fellow participants, on the human side of interacting with students in a way that is very different from the one they are accustomed to. Facilitating an online course, no matter how experienced one is in the classroom, requires a very different skillset and commitment to building a virtual community of engaged and successful students.
The results are in
The first cohort of the Institute on Pedagogy and Technology for Online Courses completed their five-week-long experience in 2017 and the Institute has continued twice a year since then. To date, 208 people from 33 different states have graduated from this award-winning program and have gone on to facilitate approximately 100 online courses per year. Student satisfaction has been high, both among those going through the Institute and those students who then were taught by graduates of the Institute. That is a true testament to the effectiveness of this program.
When recent cohorts were asked to rate the overall quality of the Institute, their average score was 9.72 and they said things like: “The Institute set a golden standard for online education. The live sessions, along with the assignments, modeled holistic learning opportunities and effective teaching strategies. It was incredibly well-rounded and of high quality!”
Always striving to improve
The Columbia School of Social Work is never one to rest on their laurels and they have continued to iterate and improve with each new cohort. What began as a brief training has been expanded and made more rigorous to better suit the needs of Institute participants.
It is no surprise that the Institute is finding great success under Matthea’s leadership. She made a point of reminding me that she has an amazing team of people working with her. One need look no further than the picture of Matthea and Delia Ryan, a Columbia Social Work alum and Live Support Specialist with the Online Campus who worked closely on improvements to the Institute’s program, to see that teamwork in action.
The other thing that we should all remember, however, is that the real winners in all of this are the students that the Institute’s graduates will be working with. Instructors are reporting that the benefits of the experiences created by the Institute are influencing not just their online interactions, but are also improving their effectiveness in traditional classroom courses. I look forward to seeing how the Institute continues to evolve and nurture countless more instructors in the years to come.
Valary Oleinik is one-part artist, one-part geek, and 100% committed to finding ways to help people develop and deliver more engaging and effective learning experiences. She is a project manager at Weil, a top-tier international law firm, where she has been involved in training and development of both technical and professional skills. She is also a frequent speaker and educational consultant on gamification and creativity, and a member of the USDLA Board of Directors.