A catalyst for change

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Schoolcraft earns prestigious 2020 Blackboard Catalyst Award

by Matthew Fular | Editor-in-Chief
Photo courtesy of news.belmont.edu

Back in June, Blackboard announced their annual Catalyst Award winners, recognizing and honoring excellence amongst their global community. Schoolcraft was one of the colleges and universities recognized in their 15th annual award ceremony. Placing in the “Optimizing Student Experience” category, Schoolcraft was one of three institutions recognized by the educational platform. Also winning in the category, the University of Edinburgh located in the United Kingdom and the College of Western Idaho.

Schoolcraft stood out for their efforts to improve the total learner experience with an initiative created by the Distance Learning Department. According to an article released by the college, Schoolcraft’s award was based on a successful initiative to expand Open Educational Resources (OER) for students, specifically with courses that fall under the Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA). The expansion of OER allows students to access the resources required to complete certain classes, such as textbooks and readings, free of charge. This removes a potential barrier for students who may not have the financial means to access required resources. To read more on OER that Schoolcraft offers, click here.

It is important to note what the MTA is. For the participating schools in the state, the MTA provides for the transfer of 30 college credits to meet the “General Education” requirements at Michigan four-year colleges or universities. Since community colleges tend to be more affordable, individuals looking to participate in post-secondary education may start here. Schoolcraft’s Distance Learning is now making it easier to be a student by providing resources for classes that will impact a student’s journey once they leave the institution. 

If you would like to learn more about the MTA, please visit Schoolcraft’s dedicated information page here.

“The Distance Learning Department had a goal to allow students a path to complete the Michigan Transfer Agreement course requirements completely online with no (or low) textbook costs,” notes Stacy Whiddon, Dean of Distance Learning & Faculty Development at Schoolcraft College. “Many faculty were very receptive to this idea and we worked collaboratively over several years to complete this goal. The “tool” that helped us win this award was campus collaboration and a desire to limit the financial burden for our students.”

Adapting to a virtual world

With all the challenges created by the pandemic in the winter semester, the efforts by the college and the Distance Learning Department (DLD) were pertinent in ensuring a successful transition for classes onto Blackboard’s platform. Utilizing the educational platform, the DLD played an essential role to ensure students still have access to quality education.

“During the Winter 20 semester, a major effort was made to pivot as many classes to operate online. This was a major transition for faculty and students. The Distance Learning Department, the Operations, Curriculum and Assessment Department, and Information Technology’s Blackboard Support Team all worked together to support faculty by providing open computer labs for drop-in assistance, numerous synchronous online training sessions on the web conferencing and creating online assessments, and 1:1 support,” Whiddon stated. “Additionally, the Student Services division called students to ask how the college could help during the transition and they provided workshops to prepare students to be successful in the new format. It was truly a team effort!”

With the expansion of the OER and the majority of classes going hybrid or fully online after the winter semester, we asked Whiddon what improvements she and her staff are looking at making moving into the fall semester.

“For the Fall, all faculty have been busy learning how to use new tools to teach in various formats (online, remote, hybrid) through training provided by the Distance Learning Department and supported by Operations, Curriculum and Assessment Department as well,” explained Whiddon.

The Distance Learning Department has been a catalyst for change for students before the pandemic, and doubly so during this time. While they may have been recognized officially for their OER expansion efforts by Blackboard, it is also important to recognize their essential role in keeping the college moving forward during these unusual times. 

For more information regarding the Distance Learning Department, click here.