UO launches online build-out of 150 core courses for 2020-21

Overhead view of man working at laptop

With support from President Michael H. Schill, the Office of the Provost and UO Online, the University of Oregon is beginning an intentional online build-out of 150 high-enrollment courses from disciplines across the institution.

Dubbed the Online Course Development Initiative and launching this summer, the courses will promise students a quality learning experience regardless of whether they are on campus or at home. Beyond the immediate response to the pandemic, the initiative is intended to create sustainable online courses to carry the university curriculum forward into the future.

The new initiative brings together more than 60 faculty members who will participate in the build-out. Eight faculty fellows who have prior experience with online teaching will be assisting at least 55 other faculty members who teach the large gateway courses.

Two of the faculty fellows also will be designing their own courses. Six instructional designers from UO Online will bolster faculty as they build online curricula for classes such as Journalism 201: Media and Society, Math 111: Precalculus, and Chemistry 221: General Chemistry.

“We expect this will be an energizing and transformative course redesign that grows and sustains our online presence, building on the excellent work of UO Online,” said Janet Woodruff-Borden, executive vice provost for academic affairs.

Just over a year ago, the UO began increasing its capacity to develop and deliver high-quality online courses in core education areas by hiring additional instructional designers and other key personnel, adding technology licenses and expanding tech support hours, said Carol Gering, associate vice provost for online and distance education.

When the pandemic hit in the spring, a task force was convened to speed up strategic online course development, for both the pandemic period and beyond.

“We didn’t realize how important this infrastructure would be, not only for online courses but also for the unexpected remote instruction that became necessary this spring,” Gering said.

Woodruff-Borden said the new approach will benefit the entire university community.

“These pedagogically redesigned courses, which represent some of the signature experiences of UO’s undergraduate program, should be rewarding, both for faculty to teach and for students to take,” she said.

One faculty fellow assisting with instructional design is Nick Recktenwald. He’s the associate director of the English and Composition Program and a career instructor. He was also one of two faculty members who taught the Department of English’s first online writing courses in 2017. Since then, he’s gained experience in online instruction and has helped lead development training for his colleagues.

“I teach primarily small-size classes, so I’m trying to bring a different perspective in course design and instructional design to the larger courses ... kind of creating that small-class feeling,” Recktenwald said.

He’ll do that by emphasizing what he refers to as “presence” and engaging delivery of material through a mix of synchronous and asynchronous lessons. Some of the teaching techniques include recording audio comments for students, using principles of technology user experience to anticipate students’ questions and stumbling blocks, and regularly updating a class FAQ to address them.

The courses will be built using the principles of universal design for learning that guide all UO courses. Instructional designers and fellows will assist faculty members with common accessibility features like closed captioning on videos and enhancement of material for screen readers.

“Universal design for learning supports a broad range of learners,” Gering said. “For example, closed captions may be useful for students studying in contexts where turning up video volume isn’t practical.”

Designers realize that students may find themselves in a variety of circumstances come fall, even if on-campus instruction resumes. Woodruff-Borden said the UO will offer a range of learning options: face-to-face instruction with social distancing, remote learning with synchronous meeting times, and online courses without scheduled meeting times that will offer students maximum flexibility. 

Another faculty fellow who will be helping her colleagues is Jagdeep Bala. She’s a senior instructor for and associate director of the undergraduate psychology program. She has been teaching online courses since 2014 and is passionate about the initiative.

“It's a fantastic opportunity for us to innovate pedagogically around some of perhaps our most challenging courses that students have traditionally been struggling with,” Bala said. “I feel like we could develop them into something that would be more student success-focused with introducing this level of flexibility.”

Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips said the spring term served as a launching pad for the new online initiative, and that UO faculty response to the pandemic is driving the approach.

“This effort allows us to capitalize upon our existing plans for online course development and incorporate new lessons learned from the spring term to help prepare the institution to be even more resilient and responsive to student needs entering the fall,” Phillips said. “I am proud of how our faculty rose to the occasion, and now we will do whatever we can to bolster their teaching to best engage with our students.”

—By Anna Glavash, University Communications