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Each installment of "Spotlight on Innovation" from "Inside Digital Learning" focuses on an institution with under-the-radar efforts around classroom experiences enabled or enhanced by digital technology. If you think your institution belongs in this series, email​

Institution: Coastline Community College. Campuses in Westminster, Garden Grove and Newport Beach, Calif. Administrative office in Fountain Valley, Calif.

From Scattered Beginnings: Throughout the 2000s and into the early 2010s, the two-year institution already had more than half of its course offerings online, but it lacked any centralized professional development resources for faculty members wanting to create or improve online courses. Coastline's president, Loretta P. Adrian, envisioned a more structured system for the university to increase its online capacity.

Individual faculty members were struggling with online course development but sought help only when they needed it urgently, perhaps because they weren’t certain where to turn. Individual departments employed instructional designers, but on a piecemeal basis.

“We really needed a shift to make sure we are talking about the entire experience of our students, focusing on distance students first, not just as an afterthought,” said Shelly Blair, dean of innovative learning at Coastline. Her position was created in 2017 as part of the institution's effort to formalize its procedures for scaling high-quality programs.

Planting Innovation Seeds: In 2013, Adrian brought a delegation of instructors to visit Rio Salado College, a two-year online leader in Tempe, Ariz. The group was inspired by the institution’s center for teaching and learning, and by its use of "master course" templates that can dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to create an online course.

That trip planted the seed for the opening in 2016 of a faculty-led professional development center, putting instructional designers and videographers under one central umbrella to systematically help faculty members get comfortable with the online modality. The center cost very little to launch, as it occupied an existing space and made part-time use of the institution's existing instructional design team.

The center, now staffed by close to 25 employees, was instrumental in a successful institutionwide transition from Coastline’s homegrown learning management system Seaport to Canvas. Coastline considered several alternatives to its existing LMS after realizing that outside providers could accomplish everything the internal system could in a fraction of the time.

Blair’s team was able to identify a “cohort of faculty who are proficient in Canvas” who could help other instructors catch up. While the one-year transition was "insane" in terms of the amount of work required, Blair said it went more smoothly than anyone could have hoped.

Faculty members at first needed invitations to seek help from the center, but lately they’ve been more forceful about getting help on their own, Blair said. Given that many college instructors have never been taught to teach, these efforts help bridge the gap between subject matter experts’ knowledge and effective teaching ability.

“This is the first time we as the administrators at the college are saying, ‘We want to help you grow,’ and the faculty have said, ‘We really want to grow,’” Blair said. “It was just this great partnership and culture of constant development and learning and growing.”

Many faculty members at Coastline are adjuncts, some of whom live far from the institution’s three campuses. Coastline’s center created professional development webinars that could be completed online.

Amid an ongoing renovation of the institution's buildings, the center is being “relaunched” this fall in a new, larger space that will allow for even more professional development opportunities to be offered, Blair said. The institution has spent $15,000 on the center's upgrades this year, according to Blair.

Developing Templates: Also inspired by Rio Salado, some faculty members started creating “master courses” -- partially filled-out templates for courses that can be shared with faculty members who want to develop an online course infused with their own personality but don't have time to start from scratch. The institution has roughly 15 of those courses on file now. At first faculty members were creating them on their own, but this year the center has collected some of those efforts and established an hourly compensation rate between $35 and $60 for faculty members who put in extra effort.

Blair said she was surprised no instructors have complained that master courses create an assembly-line approach to education that minimizes the faculty member's important role.

"It’s just a lot less overwhelming," Blair said. "It’s a lot of work to develop a class."

Positive Results: The student success rate among online learners has climbed six percentage points since the Canvas transition and currently stands at 70.7 percent. Blair hopes Coastline, which currently offers 42 degree programs and 32 certificates, will increasingly be seen as an alternative to the active network of for-profit institutions in California.

“You end up with the least-trained teachers teaching entry-level courses in a way that negatively affects students. We were like, ‘We have to do something to really engage with all of our faculty, provide them with the support that they need to succeed,’” Blair said. “I just would love to see other colleges really adopt that model.”

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