TitleExpanding Support for Development, Design, and Quality in Online Courses Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentExtended University
RequestorKim Obbink Phone406-994-5681
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts This proposal will provide support for all colleges and departments on the Bozeman campus.
Proposed Dates Start: July 1, 2013 or asap End:  
This proposal requests 2 base budget FTE to add to the MSU Online Education Specialist team to support growth of online learning across all colleges. The size of the team has not kept pace with rapid adoption of D2L and growth in online teaching, and limited time is available for in-depth faculty support. Impacts of a larger team include supporting faculty capacity to increase the number of high quality online courses available, increase access to higher education, increase the number of non-traditional students, diversify the student body, expand faculty development activities, and improve student learning, retention and graduation rates.
This proposal directly aligns with several goals and metrics in the 2012 Montana State University Strategic Plan, Mountains and Minds: Learners and Leaders. In addition, it provides support for all MSU colleges, departments, and faculty in advancing individual college and department goals that map to the strategic plan in the areas described below.

The proposal aligns most directly with the Access Goal: “widening access to higher education and ensuring equality of opportunity for all.” In specific the proposal addresses objective A.1 “Educate more students while maintaining the quality of programs,” and metric A.1.4, “By 2019, the number of credits and courses delivered online will increase 40 percent to approximately 20,000 credits and 225 courses.” Online teaching (both fully online and classroom instruction enhanced by online components) can help to educate more students and increase access; however, best practices show that in order to meet this goal, MSU faculty will need increased support for developing, teaching, and assessing high quality online courses and programs.

Increasing the number of successful online faculty and courses also serves to meet Objective A.2: Diversify the student body, in particular metric A.2.4, “increasing the number of non-traditional students enrolled in undergraduate and Gallatin College programs.” Online courses provide access for non-traditional students by making courses available in unlimited geographic locations and at times that are flexible to meet individual life/work demands and scheduling needs, especially for veterans and graduates of tribal colleges. Students can start or finish degrees even if they are unable to spend a full four years on campus, complete certificate or professional programs completely online, take additional credits in content areas of interest, or flex traditional campus schedules to meet individual needs. Experienced online faculty often report that online courses reach a more diverse student population based on age, demographics, and experience which in turn can create a more robust and rich learning environment for the entire class.

In addition, this proposal aligns with the Learning goal of the strategic plan. Objective L.1, improve student learning of critical knowledge and skills, and L.2, Increase graduation rates, are both supported and enhanced by faculty who can deliver high quality online instruction –through both fully online courses and courses that use web-based tools to enhance traditional classroom teaching and learning. Adequate support for faculty is critical to keep pace with this constantly changing and robust online environment. We learn from the survey of student D2L users each semester that one of their biggest frustrations with the LMS is that not all faculty seem to know how to use it effectively.

Finally, the proposal provides support for Objective S.1; Metric S.1.3 by providing faculty with increased professional development opportunities. The three-week online short course (Online Teaching: The Next Level) is proving to be quite popular with faculty, and several of them report that it is yielding insights they will incorporate into their classroom teaching, specifically strategies to engage students in active learning. Expanding the Montana State Online Education Specialist team will enable us to offer additional workshops and other faculty enhancement activities, some of which would apply to the Certificate of Teaching Enhancement.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       100000      2.0 
Benefits       32000       
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 132000    2.0 
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.
Describe the Proposal

Extended University proposes to expand the Montana State Online Education Specialist group by adding positions to encourage and support both the growth of online learning at MSU and the rapid growth in the use of the Learning Management System (LMS, in our case, Desire2Learn). The size of the team has not kept pace with either the expanding number of online programs or the growth in adoption of the LMS for blended and classroom instruction. This proposal requests 2 base budget FTE for additional members to the existing online education support team. Currently there are 2 FTE (originally funded in FY03) that are part of Extended University’s base budget. In FY12 Provost Potvin provided additional one-time only support for an additional FTE through June 30, 2013. An additional 1.5 FTE are supported by Extended University from revenue generating programs.

The MSU Online Education Specialists are responsible for:

  • Supporting the development and delivery of high quality courses and programs through Montana State Online.
  • Facilitating the transition from classroom to online teaching, particularly for faculty in programs serving students at a distance, and providing technical course/content development assistance for new online programs,
  • Helping faculty identify and implement best practices and appropriate, effective tools and strategies for online teaching,  infusing instructional design concepts into all interactions
  • Offering workshops, clinics, individual consultations, and other opportunities for faculty to learn how to use online teaching and learning tools
  • Supporting and managing the learning management system (LMS) as an enterprise-wide tool for all uses, including blended and classroom courses
  • Staying current on new developments (both tools and strategies) in our specific LMS and in online pedagogy generally

Given the size of the team, the size of the user base, and the complexity of new uses of the LMS, much staff time is devoted to basic D2L support and training; less time is available for assisting faculty with course development to meet strategic goals for growth in online programs and to insure high quality online learning experiences for students. Adding FTE would allow more staff time to be devoted to faculty support for instructional design, development and assessment of online courses. Best practices show that providing faculty with experienced and knowledgeable online instructional support personnel is the best way to both increase the number of faculty with the interest and ability to provide quality online instruction, and to grow the number of online courses and programs offered by the institution. “Absent faculty training in the pedagogy of developing and teaching online courses, most institutions experience low levels of initial faculty participation as well as significant numbers of poorly designed and poorly executed online courses followed by low rates of student success…Today most practitioners understand online education to involve...redesigning course components and activities to produce a rich and highly interactive learning experience.  To design and deliver to this standard, faculty require training in online pedagogy as well as the continually evolving range of technologies on which online education relies.”  (“Engaging Faculty in Online Education” Education Advisory Board, 2010, p. 42)


The adoption of Desire2Learn and its integration with Banner in 2009 led to rapid growth in use of the LMS by faculty and students. This is evidenced in sheer numbers. Prior to 2009, courses had to be requested and manually created within WebCT.  With the change to D2L,  every course existing in Banner is automatically provisioned into D2L; this automatic creation of course sections in D2L has meant that the number of sections actively using the LMS more than doubled from 800  in 2008-2009 (the last year of WebCT)  to over 1700 last year (2011-2012), with essentially the same level of staff support.

That growth has continued into this year, as revealed in usage numbers for the current semester, as of November 5, 2012:

1335 active courses

1995 active sections

15478 total users have logged in since 8/27

14535 students

881 instructors

In other words, nearly all students and over 85% of teaching faculty have used D2L this fall, supported by the same size staff in place when only half as many sections used the LMS.

The Need for New Resources:

While technical training and support consumes the majority of their time, the Montana State Online Education Specialists also play a key role in the development and implementation of fully online courses and academic programsdesigned to serve students unable to study on the Bozeman campus. While MSU has been conducting online graduate programs for teachers and nurses for twenty years, in the last three years new graduate programs have been developed in Native American studies, addiction counseling, science and engineering management, land resources and environmental sciences, and architecture, along with MSU’s first online undergraduate program—baccalaureate completion in Liberal Studies.  Faculty involved in these recently deployed programs are generally new to online teaching and learning and thus are eager for all manner of assistance in thinking about the change from the physical classroom to the virtual one. They want to learn new tools and strategies to develop and deliver courses that will provide positive learning experiences. The Montana State Online Education team offers them faculty enhancement resources ranging from basic D2L tool workshops through clinics and workshops to individual consultations to help them identify appropriate, effective strategies for online teaching.  In addition to growth in distance delivered online programs, there is increasing demand for online sections of courses for campus students, which also requires staff resources for faculty support related to online pedagogy and course design.

Specifically, Montana State Online in the past  year implemented TOP (Teaching Online Program), a set of self-paced activities to introduce concepts essential to online teaching, including MUS guidelines and other effective practices, and concluding with an individual consultation, all resulting in a certificate of completion. In the first 13 months of availability, 73 faculty have completed TOP (completion of TOP is required for faculty teaching in programs funded by President Cruzado’s online program development initiative). In the summer of 2012, a three-week online short course, “Online Teaching: The Next Level,” for faculty debuted. This program allows faculty to experience an online course from the student’s perspective, and the “assignments” result in completion of some components of the online course a participating faculty member is developing. The course, originally conceived as a summer-only activity, has already been offered four times, with 41 faculty completing it.

Where the Montana State Online Education group might be most value-added is in ongoing consulting relationships through which a faculty member and a specific team member meet and work together throughout the course development process. Adding positions will significantly expand the capacity to provide these partnerships, which we know are highly valued by faculty. Currently these arrangements arise on an ad hoc basis; additional capacity would allow them to be more consistent.  In fact, a larger staff may make it possible to move toward assigning individual specialists to focus on a particular program, discipline, or college.   In addition to the assessments and metrics identified below, Extended University will work collaboratively with college Deans and faculty to implement pilot programs to assess faculty support needs, conduct faculty and student focus groups, and explore instructional support models that may be most effective for individual colleges. 

Additional specialists will also facilitate the dissemination and application of a course review rubric. The Education Advisory Board notes that best practice institutions develop or adopt a standard review rubric for online course quality, as well as a review process for assessing online course effectiveness.   The most widely recognized of these is Quality Matters, a fee-based membership product, but others exist. (A very rudimentary one serves as the MUS Core Principles at ).  In the coming months, the Montana State Online team will be seeking input from the MSU Online Advisory Committee, faculty, and others to adopt or adapt a similar rubric for use here.  Once the rubric has been identified and introduced, it may become possible to implement peer review of online courses before and/or during delivery.

In addition to online course design/development, the growth in D2L user support needed comes not only from the increased numbers of users detailed above. The learning environment is increasingly complex. Additional online learning tools like Respondus (for testing), Camtasia Relay (for lecture capture), Turnitin (for checking the originality of student work), Class Climate (end-of-course evaluations), and iClicker response systems all can be integrated with D2L. The Montana State Online team is the primary support for only the first of these but must be knowledgeable about and responsive to issues arising from the integration of all of the others. 

There are other complexities: faculty, students and even administrators are exploring non-instructional uses of the D2L learning environment, such as committee work, intra-departmental communication, non-credit learning activities, and student clubs. Moreover, the competitive nature of the LMS marketplace and constant technical innovation drive semi-annual product upgrades that require time for preparation. Finally, early adopters continually explore and deploy features of D2L in increasingly sophisticated ways, while those who come later to technology often need additional support to fill gaps in their skills or confidence.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

Faculty, students, departments, colleges, and the institution as a whole will benefit from this proposal. Quality online courses provide greater access to and retention of non-traditional students, additional scheduling options for campus students, and new tools for teaching and learning that provide an enhanced learning environment when used effectively.

Online programs reach new audiences for the institution and enable non-traditional students to complete all or portions of degree programs that would not otherwise be available to them. The relatively early success of several new online programs started by MSU within the past 2 years bears out the need and demand for such programs. Quality instruction using new learning tools and paradigms has the ability to improve student learning outcomes, prepare students for the modern workplace, and support the goal to increase student diversity, retention and graduation rates.

The following Deans have endorsed this proposal:  Dean Lutz, Letters and Science; Dean Aytes, College of Business; Dean Melland, College of Nursing; Dean Fox, College of Education Health and Human Development; Dean Cornwall, College of Arts and Architecture; Dean Hietala, Gallatin College; Dean Jacobsen, College of Agriculture; and Dean Gunnink, College of Engineering.

Implementation Plan

If this proposal is funded, the current position funded with one-time only money in FY12 will be retained.  A regional/national search for the second position would begin immediately with an anticipated start date of July 1, 2013 or asap.  The positions would be housed in Extended University, an academic affairs unit reporting to the Provost. 

Assessment Plan

Improved support provided by enhancing the Montana State Online Education Specialist team will be assessed in the following ways. 

1) Increase number of faculty participating in workshops, seminars, receiving individualized support and completing Teaching Online Program (TOP) and Online Teaching: The Next Level.

2) Increase number, range and persistence of one-to-one consulting partnerships between individual faculty and Online Education Specialists.

3) Faculty feedback surveys following workshops, seminars, TOP, short course and other activities

4)  Regular surveys of students enrolled in fully online courses to assess student perception of the quality of their online experience (aggregate historical data are available on measures such as time on task, knowledge of the subject, exposure to resources available, comfort with various aspects of the course)

5) Growth in number of online programs, courses and enrollments

6) Growth in number of online courses utilizing the quality assessment rubric and peer review process and evidence that such reviews lead to more successful learning experiences

Modifications to types of support and/or support structure will be informed by the results of the assessment metrics.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

All individuals hired as part of the Montana State Online Education Specialist team are professional appointments hired on Letters of Appointment contingent upon available funding.  If base funding is not available beyond the 3 years of this commitment, the number of positions might be reduced based on the level of funding available.

Dean/Director: Kim Obbink (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (