EVOLVING TOWARDS SUCCESS: ONE PROGRAM'S JOURNEY TO IMPROVEMENT THROUGH PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

A. Divinsky, W. Rose

The Pennsylvania State University (UNITED STATES)
The Program:
The Digital Arts Certificate (DAC) is an online program offered through the School of Visual Arts and World Campus to learners who desire to expand their knowledge of art and digital design. The program offers both conceptual and hands on training to produce computer based graphics and media rich productions. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of art and digital design as they foster skills to create a personal design portfolio that benefits their professional lives.

Lead Faculty Role:
Since its creation in 2010, the program has been in dire need of organization, communication with the students and faculty, and consistent leadership. The curriculum was molded from existing online and residential courses, thus lacking in pedagogical flow. In 2012, Anna Divinsky was appointed as the lead faculty of the program. Since the position was new and undefined, Anna developed a personal approach to her role by building close relationships with the course content, instructors, teaching assistants, and students. She also served as a bridge between the School of Visual Arts, the eLearning Institute, and World Campus. In gaining a close understanding of everyone’s needs, reaching out to each instructor personally, and getting to know the students, the DAC has evolved into a more organized, connected, and supportive program with great potential.

Survey Implementation:
In addition to regular meetings via Google Hangout and a faculty development plan for new instructors and GTAs, surveys written specifically to evaluate various aspects of the program have become a crucial part of DAC’s evolution. For instance, the Early Course Survey assesses the progress of students in each course, as well as the instructor’s availability and communication skills. Students are able to voice their concerns and provide suggestions eight weeks into the semester, allowing each instructor to respond to student needs while half the semester still remains. The data has also allowed the lead faculty and the heads of the School of Visual Arts and eLearning Institute to have a better understanding of what each course may lack and how it needs to improve. This data has been priceless in identifying future course revisions and bigger plans for the program as a whole.

Two surveys have also been designed for instructors and Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) to evaluate their connectedness and communication. The survey completed by instructors evaluates the performance of each GTA, providing specific suggestions for improvement in teaching and working with the students. Likewise, the survey for the GTAs asks them to evaluate their experience with the course, express any difficulties encountered, suggest course improvements, and rate how well they were supported and mentored. This “triangulation” of viewpoints helps the lead faculty to better assist instructors and teaching assistants to ensure great cooperation and close communication.

Results:
By establishing regular meetings, creating a faculty development plan for graduate teaching assistants, and especially by implementing the surveys, the DAC is becoming more cohesive, with clearer goals. We now have a much better sense of the specific course revisions needed, and which new courses to add. Our instructors closely work with their GTAS to guide them into better teaching skills and student communication. The future plan for the DAC is to become part of the Online Bachelor of Design Degree to launch in 2016!