JULY 9, 2021 — A group of university leaders have been recognized for their innovation and resiliency in creating a network of resources that empowered faculty and students during the unparalleled circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty UTSA faculty champions and college points of contact were honored by the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technologies (WCET) with an Outstanding Work (WOW) Award.
When UTSA transitioned to remote teaching in March 2020, many were anxious about how the university would operate going forward. Many students were worried about how the online format would impact their education, while faculty and staff were concerned about delivering engaging, high-quality content online.
Unlike many other universities that relied heavily on simple lecture broadcasts, UTSA decided to implement a network of support and encouragement to foster faculty success. UTSA leadership collaborated with the Office of Academic Affairs division of Academic Innovation to identify faculty members who could help support instructors with no online teaching experience. Leadership then partnered with the deans of each college to select “points of contact” for each college and a “faculty champion” for each department.
“COVID-19 changed the way we live, teach, and learn. UTSA’s faculty, staff and students worked together to quickly transform how we experienced an academic semester,” Melissa Vito, vice provost of academic innovation. “UTSA created a bold online learning experience that went beyond simply being familiar with new tools and instead emphasized digital fluency.”
Faculty champions helped their colleagues gain confidence in their online teaching capabilities by offering one-on-one peer mentoring, identifying actions to support student success, and helping instructors overcome the sense of isolation and disruption caused by the pandemic. In partnership with the Academic Innovation team, they trained more than 1,000 instructors in less than a week to move 2,298 courses online.
“I soon realized that my role was more than just transitioning to online teaching and online classroom navigation,” said Eddie Hernandez, faculty champion and associate professor of instruction in the Department of Biology. “It was also about alleviating faculty consternation and offering encouragement to relieve some of the timidity about adoption and integration of online platforms for student engagement during this pandemic.”
Points of contact managed communications between faculty, departments, colleges, and the university, and shared updates with the faculty champions. The efficient communication strategy within the academic enterprise created a better learning experience for students grappling with online learning, as points of contact helped identify and share student needs and resources. UTSA’s status as a certified Adobe Creative Campus provided additional tools to connect students and faculty.
UTSA leadership provided a cohesive COVID-19 response plan and ongoing support to the university community. This approach laid a solid foundation for staff to focus on building quality, dynamic and engaging online learning strategies.
“Faculty were able to obtain assistance both within their departments and from a larger support structure, so they felt confident seeking help from colleagues who were familiar with their course content,” said Arturo Montoya, faculty champion, associate dean of undergraduate programs and associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Faculty champions directed complex questions to the Digital Learning staff, who rose to the challenge of meeting the instructional support demands during the pandemic.”
UTSA’s faculty and staff worked tirelessly to support the points of contact and faculty champions. The Academic Innovation team actively responded to faculty requests and created extensive resources and guidance for faculty to help them succeed online. The team provided intensive Blackboard Learn bootcamps at the start of the transition online, and within one week, offered 40 live sessions to all departments. They also provided each college with an instructional designer to implement new online teaching and learning practices, ensuring students received the highest quality online learning environment.
“As part of the Academic Innovation division, the teams of Digital Learning, Teaching and Learning Services, and Learning Technologies were able to quickly provide critical resources and support for faculty at the start of the pandemic. However, with the help of the faculty champions and points of contact, we successfully helped transition more than 2,000 courses online during the two weeks of the 2020 spring break,” said Marcela Ramirez, interim assistant vice provost of academic innovation. “This collaborative effort is just one example of how the UTSA community overcomes challenges to create innovative new possibilities.”
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The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.