December 7, 2022

Catalyst Awards Blog Series: Four effective practices from a pandemic PIVOT to online teaching and learning

The Catalyst Awards program recognizes innovation and excellence in our global community of practice. In this blog series, a selection of 2022 award-winning institutions from across the globe share their success stories and best practices. 

This post was guest authored by Mariann Hawken, director of instructional technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is a 2022 Catalyst Award winner in the “Training & Professional Development” category. 

Like many colleges and universities, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) announced a transition from mostly face-to-face and some hybrid/online course delivery to campus-wide remote instruction in response to COVID-19. The Planning Instructional Variety for Online Teaching (PIVOT) program was designed to support faculty in two ways: 1) immediate transition for remote instruction and 2) deliberate planning for online teaching. We incorporated several effective practices to benefit faculty, students, and Blackboard Learn® Ultra course adoption. 

Effective practice: focus on key principles of pedagogy, technology, and content 

Leveraging an approach that targeted an individual instructor’s reflection on technology use, online pedagogies, and course content, PIVOT took faculty through a course design and online teaching journey. PIVOT topics were selected to focus on helping instructors achieve competency in areas related to course design and development; learner engagement; online assessment; student support; and technical and administrative skills. Quality Matters (QM) also informed much of the program’s conception and delivery, both to demonstrate key principles in practice and to emphasize value to student success.  

The program also infused Learn Ultra course design principles as part of our larger migration to the new experience. The course was designed and delivered in Learn Ultra, allowing faculty to experience Learn Ultra as a student and to see an effective course design using learning modules, clear instructions for getting started, descriptive criteria for course activities and assignments, and consistent navigation. Key applications focused on Learn Ultra and Collaborate as well as essential third-party licensed tools available to the institution to enhance the Anthology platform. 

Effective practice: offer flexible formats for training delivery 

The formal PIVOT program was delivered in multiple pathways to support faculty schedules and preferred training formats including synchronous webinar, fully online course, and self-paced instruction. 

  • PIVOT Live was a synchronous model consisting of five webinars over five days during spring and summer 2020. Ideal for participants who have some experience with course development and online instruction, virtual classroom webinars supported more than 200 participants in each session. 

  • PIVOT+ was delivered as a 10-day, fully online model. Effective practices for using technology and teaching online were core themes. Cohorts focused on introductory and intermediate online teaching experiences, STEM disciplines, and arts, humanities, and social sciences disciplines.  

  • PIVOT Solo is a self-paced option available to anyone that uses the PIVOT Live webinar recordings, supplemental resources, and related tool documentation for a robust reference collection. Faculty were encouraged to join any synchronous sessions throughout the year to engage in collegial conversation.  

Effective practice: incorporate faculty peer mentors 

Since faculty engagement in planning and delivering this important training is critical to establishing peer relationships, PIVOT+ included peer mentors for pedagogical and technical facilitation. Building long-term social networks helps reduce isolation associated with teaching online. Synchronous chats, scheduled at convenient times, complemented asynchronous discussions, provided support, and encouraged connections between cohorts. The PIVOT mentors hosted office hours to demonstrate course designs and tool usage throughout the summer program and beyond. Twenty-five faculty from all three colleges were critical partners in supporting this project. They were exemplary models of peer engagement during a time when many faculty needed this support.  

Effective practice: use Learn Ultra 

PIVOT content was delivered in a Learn Ultra course using assessments, discussions, groups, and LTI tools. Faculty were exposed to quality assurance standards, accessibility principles, and effective course design. Faculty accessed sandbox courses and Learn Ultra Course Preview to apply what they learned from staff, PIVOT+ peer mentors, and Learn Ultra Faculty Ambassadors. 

PIVOT was also delivered in our virtual classroom tool using content, file sharing, polls, and breakout rooms for increased engagement and demonstration of essential web conferencing tools. Recordings were provided to participants with supplemental drop-in support for tools, including deep dives into Learn Ultra course tools and the virtual classroom tool itself. 

Currently, our Learn Ultra adoption is now around 52% of the total active digital courses with a substantial surge occurring during the pandemic and in response to the PIVOT program.  

Why it matters 

PIVOT reached about 70% of UMBC’s faculty, and the majority of participants said the program was helpful for their pedagogical shift to online teaching. Faculty found their role as students and access to peer mentors to be among the most valuable aspects of the PIVOT+ program. As one instructor wrote, “PIVOT brought together a very heterogeneous group of educators, from those with a deep skepticism about the online delivery of instruction to those that are fond of technology. Such diversity made the discussion very productive and enlightening.” Students themselves reported PIVOT-designed courses were well organized and planned. Moreover, there is a statistically significant, positive relationship between instructors completing PIVOT training and elevated course-level average values on end of semester evaluations (p<.001). Courses taught by PIVOT-trained instructors also have increased LMS interactions, which indicate improved learner engagement. 

More than 200 faculty completed a February 2021 survey, representing both PIVOT and non-PIVOT faculty groups. About half of respondents cited peers, particularly PIVOT mentors, in supporting preparation and delivery of online courses. Faculty who did not participate in PIVOT programs were more likely to be critical of online learning and were more overwhelmed by tool selection than those who completed PIVOT, learned about tools from peer demonstrations, and met with peer mentors. UMBC faculty also described how they were able to grow pedagogically in online spaces and apply Learn Ultra course design tools, and hoped to carry these new skills and abilities into other courses.  

In addition to the 2022 Catalyst Award for Training & Professional Development, PIVOT also received a Job Well Done Award from UMBC and a 2021 Online Learning Consortium Effective Practice Award. 


For more information on the program, visit Catalyst Awards. Learn more about our 2022 Catalyst Award winners and their stories.