Frontier Nursing University is no stranger to innovation. They are the oldest continually operated nurse-midwifery program in the US, opened the first family nurse practitioner certificate program in the country, and, in 1989, pioneered the first midwifery community-based distance education program in the US.
Audrey Perry, Curriculum and Course Design Coach in Frontier’s Academic Affairs department says. “We pride ourselves on being disruptive innovators.”
The Academic Affairs department is spearheading Coursetune’s integration. They’ve created a comprehensive team including the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, a simulation and innovative teaching expert, two instructional designers, a learning management system coordinator, Dr. Perry and even the library staff.
In a tradition-driven field like academia, innovation comes slowly. Committees and subcommittees debate, construct initiatives and ratify departmental or programmatic policy over the course of months. So what does disrupting such a process look like? How does Frontier’s culture of innovation stay innovative? And where does Coursetune fit in?
“You’re going to have to be aspirational and build your vision moving forward.” Dr. Perry says. “No one wants to fail. Give everybody all the support they need to succeed.”
For Dr. Perry and Frontier’s Academic Affairs department, Coursetune was the curriculum design tool they needed to succeed.
Out with the old: Building a common curriculum vocabulary
Though Frontier is a historically innovation-driven institution, accustomed to seismic shifts in curriculum, transitioning to Coursetune was still challenging.
“We were overwhelmed at first,” Dr. Perry recalls. “I’ll just be honest: the learning curve for us was pretty high … We didn’t always speak the same language.”
Their language was built on course information faculty held in their heads
and bloated spreadsheets that complicated rather than clarified alignments.
As Dr. Perry recalls, one faculty member had been with the university’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program for many years. They thought they knew their courses, warts and all. One look at a course in Coursetune changed their mind. Dr. Perry remembers the moment well.
“They just said, I thought I really knew my course. I thought it was really well-aligned, and now I’m like, what was my thinking? Without Coursetune, we would still be sitting in the same place with that course.”
The broader benefits of Coursetune live in stories like this. While it is a tool for visualizing and mapping curriculum, for Perry, it’s also a tool for self-discovery. Using Coursetune, longtime and new faculty alike can see pitfalls in their design. They can unearth learning opportunities that would have otherwise been buried in spreadsheets.
Furthermore, departments can map out their whole program and see gaps in their course delivery. Faculty don’t have to be in the same room to do this, either. Collaboration takes place in a synchronous, online environment.
In with the new : Smoother accreditation
Frontier is gearing up for accreditation with Coursetune, and for them, sifting through binder stacks and donut boxes at the conference table is a thing of the past. Okay, maybe not the donuts.
New perspectives can shift the conversations in committee meetings. With Coursetune’s patented circle graph, every course is arranged into objectives and deliverables, two design layers that comprise all you need for the bones of a course.
“The software itself is just designed in an intentional way. Everything that’s been put into the design helps teams come together and work within the software. It really has changed collaboration,” says Dr. Perry.
The first step in introducing Coursetune to Frontier was a lot of talking, meetings, and preparation.
“We introduced it and talked about it a lot in our curriculum Q&A meetings. People were seeing the product, [and] we were providing updates as to what our experience was with it,” Dr. Perry says. “People were excited about it because we kept seeing the capability of it.”
The second step was ensuring that faculty were never alone in the app. Dr. Perry and her department took a “guide by your side” approach to training instead of leaving faculty to learn on their own. A guide works with faculty every step of the way.
The third step was loosening deadlines. Frontier’s goal was to make the Coursetune transition as smooth as possible. Unrealistic deadlines add pressure to faculty who are already feeling fraught for time in the department.
“Faculty are already under so many deadlines from term to term, so we’ve tried to be really realistic about that piece of it,” Dr. Perry says. “Not asking people to do things that they don’t feel ready to do.”
Loving the process: The pathway to alignment
With spreadsheets, some guesswork was involved in finding those gaps, but Dr. Perry is a mathematician at heart and needed accurate inputs and outputs to push Frontier forward.
“Give me any algorithm, give me anything. I love process. Everything needs a process,”
Dr. Perry says. “This is just such a great tool for increasing your awareness of the alignment within your courses and your curriculum that you just don’t “see’ if you’re not using this tool.”
Dr. Perry’s attention to detail and willingness to take time with Coursetune has given faculty and Frontier a new outlook on their curriculum and how it changes over time. Though their curriculum was never static, it was a lot to dig through.
Frontier’s faculty were more than willing to get their hands dirty in those spreadsheets, but Coursetune offered a cleaner route that appealed to the university’s aspirational mission.
“They all want to be at the top of their game, especially your course coordinators,” Dr. Perry says. “They want to do it right.”