Chatham University has a carefully-defined mission. The institution is committed to helping their students in “building lives of purpose, value, and fulfilling work.” That statement has doubtlessly undergone several periods of revision and clarification since the university was founded in 1869, but Chatham has built its enduring ethos into the very nature of its current and contemporary offerings.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based University has a student population of just over 2,200 students who are enrolled in over 60 undergraduate and graduate programs. Several undergraduate and graduate programs, including business administration and psychology, are available in a completely online setting. The Chatham team’s work to create and re-create compelling hybrid and online courses never stops. Recent events did play a role in how the instructional design team works with teaching faculty while focusing on student experience.
“It’s as if the pandemic said to us, ‘Oh, you say you’re flexible now, but how flexible can you really be?’ and then made us prove ourselves,” said Dr. Mark Kassel, the Head of Online at Chatham University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
Instructional designers from The Babb Group often work with members of Dr. Kassel’s in-house team, and with Chatham’s faculty subject matter experts, to develop new online courses or to support the creation of online components for hybrid courses that are conducted partly online and partly in person.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves to innovate,” Dr. Kassel said in an online interview. “We are always providing our faculty with new tools and building methodologies to increase student engagement online. It’s really the relationships that students and faculty build with each other and with faculty that drives the kind of student engagement that leads to student retention.”
In his own online teaching practice, Dr. Kassel reported that he gives each of his masters-level students an individual 3-minute recorded video response during the first week of the course.
“I will reference something in their profiles, their comments in discussion forums and any other contributions they have made in the first days of the course,” Dr. Kassel said. “Those videos are one way that I work with students to establish connections in the learning community. It also shows students that the relationship is not one-sided with them making contributions and someone else assessing the value of those contributions. As the instructor I play a role in turning contributions into meaningful discussions.”
As a result of building engagement into courses through instructional design, Chatham University’s courses are seeing greater levels of retention than national trends suggest. In fact, Dr. Kassel was recently given permission, and funding, to hire an additional instructional designer.
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