In spring 2013, I was commission by the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching at Northwestern University to conduct a major needs assessment of teaching and learning within the online graduate programs of the School of Professional Studies. The major findings and recommendations from this study were summarized in a report delivered to SPS leadership in the fall of 2013. Based on feedback from this report, a number of changes were undertaken by the SPS leadership team aimed at improving the quality of the teaching and learning experience for students and faculty within the School’s online programs.
In spring of 2016, SPS leadership contracted Collegium Consulting to conduct a follow-up study to examine the impact these recommended changes had on the overall quality of its online teaching and learning programs. In addition, SPS leadership requested a needs analysis of the overall quality of the student experience in SPS courses and programs. Specifically, there were two goals for the project:
- Analyze the impact of changes implemented to online teaching and learning as a result of the recommendations of the 2013 study; and
Assess the overall student experience in SPS courses and programs.
Of the recommendations made in the 2013 study, the SPS leadership team implemented 8 out of 12 suggested changes. Indeed, the 2017 report found that, “the degree to which the recommendations made in the 2013 report have been embraced by SPS faculty, staff and administrators is impressive, and appears to reflect a significant investment in improving the overall quality of the SPS online experience.” These implemented changes ranged from revisiting policies regarding the number of synchronous sessions permitted in online courses, to reevaluating the pedagogical model guiding course design, as well as exploring alternate LMS options. Another major recommendation was to invest in additional instructional training and support for online faculty.
The impact of these changes on course quality have been enormous. As just one example, net favorability of student perceptions of instructor effectiveness across a number of critical teaching and learning domains increased impressively:
In terms of the second goal, assessing the overall student experience across SPS courses, the 2017 study found high levels of satisfaction among administrators, students, and faculty with respect to both academic and non-academic support provided to SPS students. At the same time, the 2017 report made several recommendations aimed at improving these experiences–including the need to articulate a core set of service principles.