Published on July 22, 2020 by Sarah Cain  
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Beginning on March 11, Samford faculty pivoted from in-person to remote instruction within days of nationwide campus closings due to COVID-19. In the process, faculty worked quickly to adopt online instructional tools and converted their coursework to teach remotely.  While many Samford faculty have previously taught online courses for years, including entire degree programs which are delivered online, for some faculty the spring semester was their first experience with remote teaching. Across the campus, faculty are building on these varied experiences as they prepare for the fall semester with the excellent training and assistance provided by the university's Faculty Success Collaborative.

Samford will be delivering classes in several different modalities this fall semester, including in-person, online and a combination of the two. Most university courses will involve some degree of face-to-face instruction. Students will be able to confirm the delivery method of their fall courses beginning August 1. 

"Samford's Academic Affairs Office has spent weeks reviewing very detailed instructional plans for fall developed by deans and faculty for each academic program, including every course on the schedule. Samford will offer the greatest variety of learning modalities in its history as we enter the fall semester," said Marci Johns, associate provost of Accreditation, Online and Professional Studies. "It was extremely important to intentionally and thoroughly develop faculty training resources to address these learning modalities so that faculty feel exceptionally confident in their ability to do what they do best - share their expertise and knowledge with Samford students."

The university’s Faculty Success Collaborative has played a longstanding role in supporting Samford faculty.  The Collaborative identifies and coordinates developmental opportunities related to faculty teaching, service, scholarship, and personal wellbeing. Face-to-face programming, enduring content and other resources are provided to support faculty at all stages of their career. The collaborative is led by pharmacy professor and director P.J. Hughes in collaboration with an advisory committee representing all academic units at the university.

Using the collaborative's three-tiered approach, professors can evaluate and update their coursework using content resources, group training opportunities and one-on-one consultation. The approach was developed based on needs assessments and surveys completed by both faculty and students. 

"The results spoke so much about who we are as a community of scholars and life-long learners. We read the personal testimonies of the ‘gains’ and ‘losses’ experienced during COVID in the spring, and coupled with student feedback received from the spring semester, our goal was to prioritize delivery of resources needed to help faculty prepare for fall instruction with confidence – whatever that situation may be," explained Hughes.

Participation in the training has spanned across all schools, most recently with 32 faculty attending a week-long online conference, Renovate. The conference was hosted collaboratively with the Office of Online and Professional Studies, the Level Up Quality Enhancement Plan and the Faculty Success Collaborative, and focused on helping faculty to improve one module of an existing course. Faculty were able to work and receive feedback in real-time with instructional designers and other faculty presenters.

"None of us individually know how to get all of this done, this being teaching online and doing it well. None of us know how to do it all ourselves, but together we can figure this out," Hughes said. "The one major thing our faculty learned this past week is that no matter the venue or medium you are using to interact with your students, there are ways to design your courses successfully."

Hughes describes three traits of successful courses — consistency, creativity and community.

"Consistency of design means that it is a predictable experience. Students know how to access information and receive updates. Creativity means allowing students creativity in completing tasks in more than one expression if possible, and community means building a space where everyone feels valued and appreciated," Hughes said.

As fall approaches, the Office of Academic Affairs plans to continue rolling out additional resources and trainings, including more topic-focused training based on student and faculty feedback. One thing is clear — Samford faculty are committed to providing their students with engaging instruction through any medium. 

"It is clear that Samford faculty love Samford! One silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is breeding innovation and creativity that will last a lifetime," Johns said. "Samford faculty have eagerly engaged in continual learning since March and have prepared themselves with the skills and technical knowledge necessary to deliver exceptional academic content."

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.