Last week, the UNC System launched the first in a series of intensive System-wide workshops, which will provide faculty with information, tools, and experiences to promote successful teaching online. Registration for the second workshop is now open.

The two-week workshop is part of the umbrella Digital Learning Accelerator project, initiated to help UNC System institutions expand options for hybrid teaching or fully online courses. By strengthening online instruction, the UNC System is working to make courses more adaptable to the challenges COVID-19 presents. Funding for the Digital Learning Accelerator comes out of the $44.4 million earmarked to the UNC System through the North Carolina legislature’s allotment of roughly $4 billion in federal CARES Act relief funds. 

The UNC System’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), working in collaboration with UNC-TV, designed the workshops to be interactive, hands-on, immersive learning experiences. Over the course of seven two-hour modules, participants will engage in structured activities, through which they create usable course assets. 

“From the beginning, we have worked intently to develop a program that truly addresses the needs and concerns of faculty and staff from across the System,” explained UNC System Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer Kimberly van Noort. “Our faculty fellows are playing a central role in the design and delivery of the content. In building the curriculum, we actively sought input from UNC System instructors, the Faculty Assembly, faculty development centers, and students at constituent institutions.”

The resulting content will focus on the essential topics any faculty member will need to get their courses online quickly and effectively. At the same time, faculty and staff with considerable experience teaching online will discover new tools and perspectives that will enhance their virtual classrooms.

The current cohort of participants will be the first of three. DLI will offer the workshop again starting July 20 and again in August. In addition, the workshop materials will be archived and freely accessible to all UNC System faculty and staff.

Dr. Jim Ptaszynski, UNC System vice president for Digital Learning, was expecting a soft launch. Much to his surprise, UNC System faculty and staff have demonstrated a voracious appetite for the content. He points to the enthusiastic response as evidence that faculty and staff are eager to expand their online repertoire.

“Initially, we had set the attendance cap at a modest 100. When we opened up registration on June 26, the workshop was full within an hour. DLI had to raise the cap multiple times in an effort to accommodate all those who wanted in. Currently, more than 600  are participating,” he enthused. “Clearly, UNC System faculty and staff are proactively taking steps to make online instruction even more rigorous and more compelling.”

Every constituent institution is represented in the first cohort, and organizers calculate that the inaugural workshop alone will directly impact 20,000 students across the UNC System. The number of registered participants for the second cohort already exceeds 400.

The constituent institutions are planning to resume in-person instruction in the fall, but the course design workshop and other Digital Learning Accelerator initiatives will ensure that teaching across the UNC System is flexible enough to adapt to the ever-evolving challenges COVID-19 presents. By expanding awareness of available digital teaching technologies and remote learning course design principles, UNC System leadership hopes that these initiatives will have long-term benefits, making University classes more dynamic long after the threat of the pandemic has passed.