USM and UMGC Form $2.6 Million Partnership to Support Expansion of Online Learning Across System Institutions
“USM OnTrack” to Pool Expertise from UMGC & USM Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation
Baltimore, Md. (June 17, 2020) – The University System of Maryland (USM) and member institution University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) have formed a $2.6 Million partnership, USM OnTrack, to work with provosts, teaching and learning center directors, instructional designers, technology professionals, and others to support and assess expansion of high-quality online learning across the system.
As the USM makes comprehensive plans to facilitate a safe return to campus for some level of in-person instruction, parallel efforts are also underway to enable students to participate remotely. USM OnTrack is one critical response, as system schools prepare for a hybrid of online learning and in-person instruction during fall 2020.
To be better prepared for the upcoming 2020 semester, USM institutions must adapt both their instructional technology use and their teaching methods to produce an optimally effective online learning environment, with improved student participation, engagement, and faculty effectiveness. USM OnTrack intends to meet and master this challenge.
UMGC, one of the world’s leading and most highly respected online learning institutions, will partner with the USM’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, a national leader in higher education teaching and learning innovation.
“COVID-19 has forced universities to manage a number of challenges they’ve never confronted before, and to do it fast,” said USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman. “We know our quick pivot to remote instruction wasn’t ideal—not for students; not for faculty. But this partnership between the Kirwan Center and UMGC leverages their combined strength in online education so we can optimize learning for all of our students and really innovate in this space.”
De-densifying has emerged as a key component in achieving a safe learning environment under COVID-19, meaning that classroom space—already in short supply—will be further restricted. Combine this reality with the inability or hesitancy to return to campus of some students, and the need for effective and engaging online instruction is paramount.
This past spring, USM institutions and regional centers were forced to make an immediate and complete transition to what has been dubbed “emergency remote teaching.” While acceptable in the short-term under the unprecedented circumstances, this approach—marked by taped lectures, Zoom classes, and other platforms—is untenable as a long-term option.
“The goal this spring was to keep teaching and successfully close out the remaining 6-8 weeks of the interrupted semester. We will need to do better than that this fall. Our goal is to support the expansion of high-quality online learning across the System to help ensure academic continuity for students and to strengthen our ability to support continued learning in the future,” said MJ Bishop, USM Associate Vice Chancellor and Director of the Kirwan Center.
Institutions will have the option of temporarily adopting UMGC courses for delivery to their students this fall. This approach, will involve almost exclusively general education and elective courses, providing institutions with immediate access to online education courses that have been proven effective, with full credit equivalency and transfer.
"This program offers a unique opportunity to optimize the collaborative culture within the University System of Maryland, leveraging the specific expertise of its individual institutions,” said UMGC President Javier Miyares. “UMGC first offered online classes in the mid-1990s and has decades of expertise in instructional design and digital teaching and learning. Its technology infrastructure prioritizes student support services, success, and learning outcomes. We are pleased and proud to be able to offer this assistance to our sister institutions during this unprecedented crisis.”
For institutions embracing more of a “do-it-yourself” approach, OnTrack will support full service online course conversion. This option will feature “pools” of instructional design support that institutions can access as needed, as well as resources for faculty on the fundamentals of instructional design and best practices of teaching online and online orientation materials for students.
Institutions interested in a middle ground—one that falls between ready-to-adopt online courses and building online courses from scratch—can opt for expanding the use of adaptive courseware. Adaptive courseware—paired with faculty training workshops—can improve student and faculty experience by “flipping” the classroom, creating a more interactive platform for content delivery and interaction with faculty, especially in courses (such as large enrollment, general-education courses) that do not adapt well to online modalities.
Additionally, USM OnTrack is offering faculty training and inter-institutional coordination of resources to explore the use of virtual reality technologies in lab-based courses. Virtual reality technologies give students access to realistic lab experiences that will let them perform experiments and practice their skills. These tools promise to provide sufficiently high-fidelity simulations for learning lab techniques and inquiry skills, particularly for lower-level lab courses.
Finally, all three approaches will be supported with expanded and enhanced online teaching professional development opportunities. This step will help establish a high level of proficiency that results in a positive student experience and overall online learning success.
The USM comprises 12 institutions: Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; the University of Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and the University of Maryland Global Campus. The USM also includes three regional centers—the Universities at Shady Grove, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland—at which USM universities offer upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses.
Systemwide, student enrollment exceeds 172,000. The USM and its institutions compete successfully nearly $1.5 billion in external grants and contracts annually. USM institutions and programs are among the nation's best in quality and value according to several national rankings. To learn more about the University System of Maryland, visit www.usmd.edu.
Contact: Mike Lurie