Increasing Instructor Buy-in and Social Presence in e-learning
Want Less Red Tape and More Student-Teacher Connection?
Once Lane Freeman, Ivana Hanson, and their team at North Carolina Community College System member Nash Community College partnered with IntelliBoard to quickly and efficiently track and report contact hours, they were able to free up more time for their instructors to spend focusing on social presence in instruction and strengthening the quality of their online courses. (You can read more about how they maximized the benefits of automated data reporting in part 1.) Freeman and Hanson’s next step was to create instructor buy-in by holding faculty onboarding sessions that highlighted key basic features of the Moodle LMS and IntelliBoard data and analytics solution. This, in turn, opened up new possibilities for creating customized online courses that centered student-teacher connection and building out thriving online and hybrid programs to reach underserved populations and busy adult learners.
The Challenge of Creating Personal Connections in Online Learning
Having IntelliBoard take care of capturing and reporting contact hour data was a huge time saver, but Freeman, Hanson, and Nash Community College still faced the hurdle of creating the personal connection between student and instructor that their students needed to succeed. Freeman emphasized how pivotal the student-teacher connection is.
“One of the first things I want to talk to faculty about is increasing social presence within the online environment. Students want to know who their instructor is. Social presence reminds students that there’s a human behind that computer. [Students are] going to perform for a human. They’re not going to perform for an algorithm or some type of formula that tells them where to go. They can, but those are the students that are going to be self-motivated no matter what you do. So we want to build that [social] presence.”
There’s a huge spectrum of effectiveness in online education. A few prepackaged one-size-fits-all videos and PDFs aren’t going to create the type of learning environment most students need to succeed. This is particularly true for many of Nash Community College’s adult learners. Freeman noted how important building customized content within an LMS is to maintain a sense of instructor connection.
“There’s a saying, ‘We don’t care how much you know, until we know how much you care.’ That is so true in education! A student’s going to go above and beyond whether you’re talking about math or you’re talking about English, it’s probably not the student’s passion to be a good math or English student, students usually simply want to get to the next stage of their career or life and that is why we have to make it personal. Instructors have to make those connections and we want those students to do well. Not because they particularly want to be good at math, but because they want to make their instructor proud of them or their family proud of them. So that’s why we want to develop our own courses within our learning management system.”
Prefabricated programs also didn’t take the unique needs of Nash Community College’s students into account, explained Hanson.
“In other platforms or other programs’ outside software, a student might have access to a video once and then it goes away. If they pass it the first time it goes away and they may not have access to it again. We had a graduate come in this morning, actually just got his scores back from his writing test. And he told [his instructor] that he watched her step by step writing video eight times before he took his test. Well, those eight times should be time that we counted [as seat time] and it worked. He passed the test. He went through that video multiple times and he’s an English language learner. So he needed that repeated instruction. So it’s been amazing for us to be able to give the students these tools that they can use […] at any time of day and as many times as they want.”
The customizable nature of the Moodle LMS and IntelliBoard were a real boon for quality online instruction at Nash Community College. In addition to using IntelliBoard’s time tracking feature to save and cut through red tape around contact hour tracking, each instructor could really put their own stamp on their courses and make sure that their students felt that all-important presence of a human being behind the computer.
Creating Instructor Buy-In Through Unlocking the Power of LMS Basics
Having the technological capabilities to track seat time and create customizable courses that center student-teacher interpersonal connection is only useful if instructors are equipped to actually use those capabilities. To get instructors familiar with the platform and committed to utilizing it, Freeman began offering onboarding sessions to instructors:
“So for me, it was an exciting opportunity to really help us capitalize on our learning management system. And now the people that thought that they never needed to learn how to use the LMS were now interested in learning how to keep their students engaged in the LMS. Faculty are now seeing the benefits behind all those sessions that I would try to get people to attend in the past. Now faculty are attending sessions because they want to learn, ‘How do I keep [my students and course components] in Moodle?”
Freeman and Hanson emphasized the huge benefits of even the most basic LMS features like giving students access to their grades in real-time by enabling IntelliBoard’s learner dashboard. Freeman likens the practice to a doctor sharing their diagnosis with their patients.
“I like to use the doctor analogy. When I go to my doctor and I get a checkup, I’m hoping they’ll show me the lab result immediately, right? I want to know if my cholesterol’s high. I want to know if my sugar is high. I want an immediate diagnosis. In so many classrooms right now, teachers are looking at student grades and engagement. they’re going like, “Look at these unhealthy grades!” However, the faculty are not sharing the results (diagnosis) with the students…So the grade book and user data are really good metrics to help students. IntelliBoard helps make that more visual for the instructors. So they’re not having to do a bunch of data dives and figuring that out.”
Freeman loves it when instructors come to him with questions about how to add basics like PDFs and videos. He uses it as an opportunity to create more buy-in and educate instructors on the more advanced features offered by Moodle and IntelliBoard.
“Now, we have a lot of buy-in from people saying, how do I do this online? How do I put a PDF into the LMS? How do I put a YouTube into the LMS? I’m excited about that because when I hear someone say, “How do I put a YouTube in my course?” I’m like, “Did you know, you can add questions to your YouTube?” By embedding YouTube videos with questions we can use that as formative assessment and calculate seat time.”
Once an instructor is on board with the basics of building a course with Moodle and IntelliBoard, Freeman can then introduce them to even more advantages.
“As an instructional designer, I get excited when people say, “How can we use the learning management system in our courses?” And we know as designers that if we ever get a good foundation of an online course ready after that, the course just gets better and better each semester.”
It’s difficult to understate the importance of instructor buy-in and accompanying social presence. Hanson notes one instructor at Nash Community College who is exemplifying that power.
“Not only has she done a good job of it, but because she’s done such a good job, that… when I compare her class to another class that doesn’t have somebody who’s bought in quite so much, she’s doubling the amount of student hours with the same group of students. It’s been amazing… it’s her leading the class and it’s not some outside program that there’s no teacher there, [she’s] the teacher of those students.”
Freeman and Hanson suggested finding an instructor with high buy-in and using them as an ambassador for harnessing the power of online learning; sometimes the message comes across better from a peer than from anyone perceived as management.
The Importance of Flexible Online Options for Busy Adult Learners
While Nash Community College is no longer fully online, the online offerings have improved and increased from their pre-2020 levels. Now, most courses have at least some online components and the online-only offerings are much more streamlined.
Freeman noted that even beyond the pandemic adult learners have all kinds of time pressures and obstacles that might prevent them from coming to campus. Allowing students to complete some or all of their coursework at a time that fits into their busy lives is a huge benefit. This is especially true when it comes to serving hard-to-reach populations.
“If we look at equity and inclusion and who we want to bring into our classrooms, we’re looking into the rural communities where students never thought taking college courses was possible. And so now we’re extending that opportunity to everyone.”
Robust online options are also vital for student retention, said Freeman.
“We don’t want students to drop out because if they ever do they may not return. We know how hard it is to get students into the classroom in the first place, therefore, when they step out, they may not step back in. And so that’s why it’s important to continue developing online opportunities for students.”
Having an online option might allow students to complete their coursework and stay in their programs when they otherwise might not be able to.
Instructor-Led Customized Courses for Online Learning and Beyond
At the pandemic’s onset, Lane Freeman, Ivana Hanson, and the team at Nash Community College partnered with IntelliBoard to cut through red tape and track seat time, freeing up instructors to really focus on making their social presence felt in their online courses. Freeman and Hanson supported instructors and created buy-in by holding onboarding sessions that taught instructors the basics of customizing course content and harnessing the power of data and basic features within their Moodle LMS. Though the pivot to online learning was born out of necessity, it’s had some lasting benefits particularly in the form of offering educational opportunities to students who might not otherwise be able to physically make it to campus.
Hanson is optimistic about the future of online learning in the North Carolina Community College System thanks to their adoption of powerful tools like IntelliBoard.
“So IntelliBoard has been amazing to work with. And it’s going to be a game-changer. I think… [Nash Community College] was the first community college doing this in the state in basic skills or adult ed and I think once everybody finds out and gets on board, it’s going to be a game-changer for our system and save us so much time and money because I’m not paying for all these additional programs. I’m using the resources we already have on campus.”
Freeman wholeheartedly agreed:
“Luckily in North Carolina, all 58 community colleges have access to IntelliBoard… Now that’s really a nice thing to have because people were asking ‘When we turn [the IntelliBoard solution] on, will we be able to calculate student seat time?’ I can respond, ‘Great news! It’s already on. [Data’s] being collected, go and get it.”
At IntelliBoard, we share Lane Freeman and Ivana Hanson’s hope that the online learning model developed at Nash Community College will be rolled out across the North Carolina Community College System and look forward to partnering with them every step of the way.
Thank you so much, Lane and Ivana, for your wonderful presentation! We can’t wait to see what you and the NCCCS do next.