Academic institutions are increasingly looking for ways to create student-centered learning, especially as students from the millennial and postmillennial generation grow more technologically advanced. The traditional, lecture-based model of teaching does not appeal to many of these students. Instead, they prefer to use the classroom for other activities, such as problem-solving, team-based learning, and role-playing.
In this “flipped-classroom” model, the teacher is more a facilitator of discussion and critical thinking, than a disseminator of information. Still, even the most welcoming of institutions face two roadblocks, namely, (1) limited time and (2) lack of resources.
At the University of Nebraska Medical Center, H. Dele Davies, M.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, sought to overcome these issues through the creation of an E-learning Program in 2013, which centralized the university’s e-learning efforts. This program provides all seven of the colleges with access to e-learning expertise and resources on campus. The goal of the program was to not only provide technical support but also provide guidance on e-learning best practices, as is evidenced in the creation of the E-learning Scorecard.
"By engaging health science learners through interactive modules, we aim to increase their retention and higher order thinking, ideally leading to improved patient care"
Changing the Development Process
The E-learning Program was faced with the same roadblocks as the institution but overcame these issues through the successful engagement of student-faculty teams to create interactive e-learning modules. In semester- or two-semester long cohorts, faculty lead projects with the intent to incorporate the e-modules into their courses and consult with students to generate creative ideas. In turn, students offer engagement options and development skills. Under the guidance of the E-learning Program, these teams are led through a rapid development process which involves multiple checkpoints to ensure the modules meet the program’s standards.
Students have brought creativity, digital aptitude, and a unique understanding of learners’ needs, which have proven pivotal to the expansion of our impact. With the implementation of our modules, we have seen an exponential increase in student engagement, with almost 6,000 students not only being the primary beneficiary of the modules, but also many of them now serving as co-creators of modules with faculty mentors.
More than 400 modules have now been created since the program’s inception, with almost one-third of these being produced through the individual initiatives of faculty members. We also successfully launched the E-Gallery in 2017, making modules available on-demand to all of our students, irrespective of their location within the state, nation, or the world.
The modules also have promoted a burst of educational, scholarly work, with faculty and students presenting at local, regional, and national meetings. Many presentations have led to national recognition, through either grant funding or special awards.
Making Development Simpler
One of the key issues when dealing with novice developers is crafting a process that allows them to be creative while still ensuring that they are creating educationally sound, engaging pieces.
To begin, the authoring software needed to be novice-friendly, as the rapid development process left little time for getting to know the software. This also allowed technologically inclined faculty to develop independent modules with support from the E-learning Program. Thus, the program can develop using its team of professionals, but also can support novice developers, allowing for far more development in a shorter amount of time.
As this program required intense participation from students, we had to find ways to streamline the development process while maintaining our standards. Creating a scorecard to clearly communicate our standards was vital, and has since served as a development tool throughout the campus. Creating software templates and tutorials for our student’s specific developing needs also has helped students focus on using their creativity in more productive, focused ways.
Looking to the Future
Continual improvement is a core philosophy of the UNMC E-learning strategic initiative. We are continually striving to find innovative ways to maintain and build upon the excellence in education for which UNMC is known.
To that end, it is our vision to continue to develop our UNMC E-learning Center dedicated to supporting and training faculty and students in all aspects of E-learning as part of a faculty-wide teaching academy. We encourage faculty to be active participants in our E-learning initiative by creating various E-learning platforms that incorporate teaching and assessment tools. Our primary goals are threefold:
• Enhance the teaching within our colleges.
• Receive better information on how our students learn, so we can best support the most appropriate mode of learning for each student.
• Provide an environment that enables our faculty members with an interest in educational research to test their best theories and publish and disseminate them.
E-learning has become firmly established as an integral part of the educational culture and a vehicle for innovation on campus. The E-learning Program at UNMC offers faculty and students the opportunity to create innovative e-modules blended with interactive classroom activities that maximize critical thinking. By engaging learners through interactive modules, we aim to increase their retention and higher order thinking, ideally leading to improved patient care.