Consistency Matters: The Fort Hays State University Customer Story
By coursetune Team
January 28, 2022
Fort Hays State University Picken Hall Administration Building I

Fort Hays State University has used Coursetune to build multiple programs throughout the University. Recently Linda A and Seung Gutsch, Instructional designers from TILT at FHSU, wrote about how their Social Work department created two new online programs that increased enrollment. We’re thrilled to share that story here!

Are you considering pivoting in-person programs to online? Are you skeptical about the quality of online programs? A conversation with the social work online curriculum committee may help answer some of your questions when designing online courses.

Like many hands-on heavy programs in mid-sized regional universities, the Department of Social Work at Fort Hays State University found their on-campus student enrollment was shrinking. After talking to prospective students and partnership organizations, a faculty group from the department decided to move their in-person undergraduate and graduate programs online.

Ms. Rhonda Weimer, the MSW Program Director, and Dr. Tim Davis, the department chair of Social Work, led the curricula redesign. They knew the Instructional Design team at FHSU’s Teaching Innovation and Learning Technologies (TILT) group at FHSU had a track record of success designing individual online courses. So, the SW faculty collaborated with Ms. Seung Gutsch, a seven-year instructional designer at TILT. Together, they developed two online programs with more than 30 courses in two years. The result? Steady growth in student enrollment in the SW online programs. In fact, Rhonda and Tim are busy hiring more adjunct instructors to teach their eager online learners.  

Let’s unveil the secret recipe behind the success stories of the online SW programs at FHSU.  

Start with an end goal

The department chair, Dr. Tim Davis, wanted to “create a high quality online clinical social work curriculum that was hands-on and interactive.” The first online program they developed through TILT was the two-year MSW program. Tim believed this process was a learning journey that helped them figure out what worked and what did not.

As Tim puts it, “a course developer’s idea of how a particular assignment went could get lost in translation when another faculty member took it over to teach that course.” 

The social work curriculum committee faced challenges, including the overwhelming amount of coursework they had to design at once. The course developers were not the assigned instructors when courses were offered. 

Coursetune helped the curriculum committee get the course schedules and learning outcomes straight. Ms. Rhonda Weimer, the MSW Program Director, vividly remembered a particular course that would not fit where they had it set in the program. Seung, the instructional designer at TILT, helped the social work committee map every course with the program outcomes in Coursetune. 

When the course developer presented the course mapping to the curriculum committee in Coursetune, Rhonda realized “the students would need some other courses completed first to do better in this course and learn more.” As a result, they moved that course to a later time in the program of study.

Work with experts

Besides serving as the MSW Program Director, Rhonda also developed three courses. She gave kudos to the instructional designer as they “provided valuable resource support in identifying technologies to meet the needs of the course.” 

We interviewed Seung, the instructional designer who helped design all the courses in the online MSW program, to learn more about her role in the program development process.

Seung shared the similarities and differences between developing individual online courses versus online programs.

“In addition to identifying learning gaps in both program-level and individual courses during program-level development,” Seung shares, “We also focus on consistency in course delivery within the program. This focus reduces confusion and helps students easily navigate within a course and among the program’s courses.”

As the project manager and instructional designer of this program, Seung used Coursetune to communicate the gaps and curriculum mapping with the SW faculty members.  

“[Coursetune] creates a collaborative environment to ensure the faculty get full support for their course development,” Seung says. 

Seung also provided technical support and training to the faculty and consultation on best practices for online course design and delivery. These instructional design best practices included assessment and activities design, content delivery, and digital accessibility.

Pick the right tools

Designing and teaching an online program with technologies is not natural to faculty. It can feel overwhelming. One consideration is training and preparing the course developers for the learning management system (LMS). You may also need additional technology tools to meet faculty teaching goals. Even when the instructional designer takes the lead and does the heavy lifting in these areas, faculty may still feel overwhelmed.

The social work curriculum committee saw the value in brainstorming with TILT at the beginning of each course development. Tim shares, “You should plan to really bring in that pie in the sky aspect of brainstorming to these discussions. I think frequently there are tools behind the scenes that you’re not super familiar with, nobody’s talking about them, and maybe very few people are using them. But once you discover them, you find out how well they might work for you and your program.” 

Rhonda echoed Tim’s experience on her collaboration with TILT, “I think it’s helpful to be able to brainstorm with the people at TILT to know everything that can be available. However, that can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes I would hear about features that I thought could make a course look a particular way or make the instructors’ experience or the students’ experience go a different way. Still, sometimes I was mistaken in what that feature could actually do.” 

Therefore, suitable tools in this context need to suit each faculty’s comfort level with technology to maximize the effectiveness of student engagement. Coursetune was a massive help in reducing the confusion and inconsistencies in program mapping. It also helped things move faster. As Seung puts it, “Coursetune allows course developers to identify any learning gaps within the courses and the program quickly.

Ready for your online curriculum redesign?.

Now that the SW team has achieved success developing their two online social work programs, Dr. Davis shares a few tips:

  1. Work with the same course designer for all classes if possible. Collaboration and consistency are valuable.
  2. Be flexible when designing the course and listen to the instructional designer about how to structure the shell.
  3. Be willing to try new technologies but don’t let the technology drive the development. 

Another point to consider…  if you’re designing any online learning experience, think about using the online modality as an asset.  You’ll want to consider that being online might improve the learning experience instead of trying to mimic an in-person class. Using a curriculum planning tool like Coursetune will intuitively help you identify strengths and gaps in your current curriculum. It creates visualizations and reports to view the current plans clearly and objectively.

Note: After she wrote this article, Linda A moved onto a new role. She’s currently the Senior Instructional Designer on the Information Technology team at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.