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Scale Up: Successful High Enrollment Courses

On November 4, 2021, The Teaching Innovation Center hosted a workshop titled “Scale Up: Successful High Enrollment Courses”. The “Scale UP” series focuses on expanding access in undergraduate programs (UP= undergraduate programs). The workshop featured explorations of online and immersion coursework “to scale”, the direction of the growth in the School of Life Sciences, and insights from an EdPlus instructional design team specializing in high enrollment courses. Speakers included:
  • Kate MacCord, PhD, Instructor, SOLS
  • Zachary Shaffer, PhD, Lecturer, SOLS
  • Jill Roter, Principle Instructional Designer, EdPlus
  • Dee Mullins, Instructional Designer, EdPlus
  • Scot Schoenborn, Director of Academic Services SOLS
  • Lenora Ott, Instructional Designer, Teaching Innovation Center

What is “scale”? and what is High Enrollment?

You may hear the term high enrollment often at ASU and it can mean different things to different people. It might be some magic number at which an instructor is given TA support, or the point at which you suddenly feel the only option is multiple choice exams….but our speakers challenged this perception. We explored high enrollment as a term flexibly applied to courses based upon the instructional style and the amount of time required of the instructional team to successfully manage the course. That means we could consider 30 students high enrollment in an intensive writing course with rounds of feedback….but we could also consider a 2000 student course where assessments are more often auto-graded high enrollment as well. High enrollment is maximum delivery paired with available instructional effort and resources. To clarify, what you have available to teach the course (energy and resources) is used for the course. You are at the fullest extent applied to teaching and your students are supported with the time you have available.
“High enrollment is maximum delivery paired with available instructional effort and resources.”
On the other side of things... “To scale” a course is to plan, design and administer a course effectively using resources, technology, and instructor effort to the target audience size and modality. This may mean designing in such a way that the course is open to as many students as possible while maintaining instructional quality, student experience, and instructor workload at a reasonable level. There is no one size fits all design when it comes to scaling. And because of this, we are challenged to get really creative with how we reach our goal of scale.

To effectively scale a course an instructor can consider the following aspects of a course:
  • Community Building- building relationships and trust
  • Content Delivery
  • Active Learning and Project-based Learning
  • Assessments
  • Feedback
But why should we worry about “scale” within the School of Life Sciences? Because we are experiencing unprecedented growth in our programs across modalities!

Ongoing Growth in the School of Life Sciences

SOLS offers degrees in both ASU Online and on the physical Tempe campus. Scot Schoenborn, Director of Academic Services, was interviewed prior to the event and shared an expansive vision of SOLS growth. Student enrollment in SOLS programs is increasing in both the online and immersion modalities, especially within Biomedical Sciences, Conservation Biology and Ecology and, Genetics, Cell and Development Biology. Depending on the program we may have larger numbers of students in one modality or the other but regardless, the numbers keep climbing. In order to meet the needs of our students, we must follow a plan to continually increase access while maintaining quality. This influences the learning design choices we make.

Insights from student experiences in online courses reflect a need for clear instructor presence through engagement in conversations, feedback on assignments, and the ability to get help with content via office hours and study sessions. An ongoing practice of patience while our online students discover both new content and technology is a must. For our immersion students, we are seeing an increase in students wanting more out of classrooms than lecture time. They want to practice the skills at which they need to become proficient, and get feedback as they go, instead of milestone assessment only delivered via exams. Instructor approachability and reminders of support throughout the semester are important for students to feel welcome in the classroom.

Online Instruction: Group Discussions and Creative Assessments

Kate MacCord, PhD is an ASU Online instructor and recipient of the 2021 School of Life Sciences Faculty Teaching Award. MacCord discussed how instructors can create group discussions by splitting large classes into smaller groups inside of a discussion board. “The best way to get students engaged is to break them into groups of 10-15 so that they can get to know the people they interact with throughout the session”, MacCord noted. The BIO 318/HPS 331 History of Medicine course is Language and Literature designated (i.e. a heavy focus on writing). Students write roughly 1000 words per week, but these are in role-play-based discussions that have incredibly detailed rubrics. The rubrics are key to grading students seamlessly, MacCord stated, “On average two people per semester request info about grades because of the clear rubrics and my grading guidelines for TAs.” On top of this, the discussions are rarely dry, in fact, most weeks provide students the opportunity to role-play as medical professionals from different areas of history diagnosing mysterious and not-so-mysterious diseases. Then students justify their diagnoses and prescribed treatment based upon what was known about medicine at the time.

MacCord also uses software like Playposit to deliver lecture content with opportunities for formative assessment via questions throughout the lecture playback (Playposit calls these bulbs). Questions are auto-graded and help guide students through content acquisition. And another favorite for engagement in online courses is the use of the tool Perusall, an annotated software that can be auto-graded. MacCord uses this for students to read course readings together and make notes throughout the document. It often springs up debates around literature that help students build understanding and community.

Immersion Instruction: Storytelling and Active Learning

Zachary Shaffer, PhD is a Lecturer within the School of Life Sciences with experience teaching in both large online and immersion environments. He shared some of his favorite techniques for active learning in the immersion classroom and even provided an opportunity for audience participation.

One of Shaffer’s immersion strategies is to frame science as storytelling by relating it to current and historical events, as students relate better to what they know. Then the instructor can help them uncover what they do not know around the same concept. Shaffer tests students' knowledge through gamification, often deploying the software Kahoot! to review previous concepts and introduce new ones. He had the audience do the same and soon participants became quite competitive and excited to learn. Shaffer shared that the same thing happens in the classroom and that he assumes that students do not come to class to listen to him, but rather to play and win, but that’s ok because they cannot win unless they’ve been paying attention to content the whole time.

Another strategy is the use of cinematic-quality videos of nature documentaries or catchy science songs that help students remember concepts or be introduced to new big ideas. “Rather than using videos that are specifically instructional in nature, find ones that are inherently fascinating” recommended Shaffer. Then the instructor can do the instruction but the video helps students connect the lecture back to a larger visual idea.

Insight from Scalable Initiatives

Jill Roter is a Principal Instructional Designer from EdPlus who works closely with Instructional Designer Dee Mullins. They build custom courses for Universal Learner initiatives at ASU. Roter and Mullins shared what is possible when scale and quality become your tandem primary mission on new courses. Roter emphasized how important long-term planning is to the process of scale:
“Scaling up requires planning the design, development, and delivery of your course from the get-go, especially if you’re doing adaptive learning”... “This means baking in and building all of the moving parts, contextualizing content for students, etc., so once it does launch, your time and energy is focused on your learners, instruction, and drilling down into their needs in a just-in-time way. It’s not to say that things are 100% iron clad and there’s no turning back, but just that by and large, full, upfront development is what you want to aim for, whether it’s custom content like videos, readings, or interactive components. This involves timelines, openness to new things, and collaborating with IDs to realize your vision. It is very easy to underestimate how much time things will take and all that’s involved!”
Roter recommended leveraging automation capabilities for quizzes and exams, and Mullins demonstrated how the team has used HP5 to design custom formative assessments like drag and drop activities. There are multiple more well-known services that can be integrated into Canvas, like Cogbooks and Labster (which are regularly used in SOLS courses) to help deliver content, provide formative feedback, and practice opportunities. There are many additional programs that might meet the individual needs of your course, of which instructional designers can help you find the right fit for your content type and course vision. When using automation, it’s important to not just plan the assessment or content but to make time to provide feedback within assessments like quizzes or custom-built assignments. If the answer is auto-graded the feedback should be programmed. This allows students to self-regulate and identify where they may have misunderstood earlier information. When students can get this small-stakes feedback from the pre-planned effort, then live instructors can focus on “just-in-time feedback” on higher stakes assessments and community building in the course.

There are three models for scale:
  • Full scale - no instructor grading.
  • Medium scale - some instructor grading, the degree to which varies, using a mix of activity and assessment types, including project-based learning.
  • Lastly, you have unscaled, where it’s all hand graded.
For each of these models, student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content interaction will shift. Additionally the model will impact how you structure your time, and distribute available resources including technology integrations or teaching assistant time.

Once you’ve determined your scale model and the resources you have available, you can plan where you’d like to spend your time as a course is running. If you have 20 hours a week total to put towards this course but 400 students how can you emphasize community building and authentic assessment the most? Will you spend most of it moderating discussions in community building software like Yellowdig? Or will you spend it grading final papers that demonstrate how much learning your students have accomplished over the term? The goal is to get you away from small impact tasks and help you be available for big impact moments that make a real difference for learning for your online students!

Missed the workshop?

Missed the workshop but would love to learn more? Check out the full workshop recording for more detailed information about successfully scaling high enrollment courses.

Resources Mentioned in this Workshop:

Post Author:

Lenora Ott is an instructional designer in the School of Life Sciences Teaching Innovation Center at Arizona State University. Lenora assists faculty with developing and launching their online courses and provides long-term evaluation, redesign, and support for online coursework. Her passion is empowering faculty to create meaningful learning experiences for their students and themselves online. She has worked in higher education for 8 years and has a Master of Science in Global Technology and Development from Arizona State University and a Graduate Certificate in Educational Technology from Northern Arizona University.


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