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Grant from Davis Educational Foundation to enhance training in the digital classroom at Nichols College

July 30, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced most colleges to shift from in-person to online instruction last spring, Nichols College was quick to adapt because of its experience with HyFlex, an educational model used in its graduate programs that allows students to attend class synchronously either in-person or remotely.

Nichols will continue to draw on that experience this fall when all undergraduate classes move to HyFlex. And, to ensure that faculty can successfully blend both modalities to best engage and assess learners, the college has designed a training course with the support of a $25,000 Presidential Grant for Alternate Academic Delivery. The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis afrter Mr. Davis’ retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.

The training provides faculty with specific tools, techniques, and effective pedagogical practices for synchronized teaching in courses.  In a unique two-pronged approach, faculty first assimilate to the digital environment by experiencing exactly what their students will experience. Through a series of modules designed by Heather Richards, academic instructional designer at Nichols College, and led by eight faculty cohort leaders, faculty gain the student perspective as well as learn how to address problems their students may encounter, and how to increase their own social presence.

“At Nichols, we are used to face to face. Our faculty are ‘present,’ very engaged, and the students love them,” says Richards. “The modality of the digital realm is more challenging in terms of connectedness. It takes effort and intention on the part of the faculty. Students need to see them as real people.”

Techniques to increase social presence may include a brief description of expectations for each class; instructor-generator videos; overview/wrap-up; time to review problems; discussions; a feedback mechanism; and online availability beyond class.

The second prong of the training is a series of one-hour courses led by faculty and based on their individual interests and feedback from the first part. Topics include unlearning and learning in the new environment; formative feedback and assessment; and experiential and project-based courses.

When the training is complete, Nichols plans to package and publish the sessions.

In addition to faculty training, the grant from the Davis Educational Foundation will help support the technology needed to extend the number of classrooms capable of providing a synchronous remote classroom experience.  Funds will also be used to explore additional course-embedded professional certifications for Nichols’ experiential learning curriculum.

“This grant, as well as the others Nichols has received from the Davis Educational Foundation, will decidedly enhance teaching and the professional development of our students,” says Mauri Pelto Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs. “In particular, it will advance the strides we have already made in alternate academic delivery with our graduate programs and allow us to expand and invigorate our HyFlex model for undergraduate students.”