Change and Opportunity at UMKC Online

Devon Cancilla, Vice Provost, Academic InnovationOne would literally have to be living on another planet not to know that UMKC is in the midst of some significant changes. These changes has been brought about by internal and external factors and there is not a unit on campus left untouched. The merging of Student and Academic Affairs under the Provost’s office is an example of this change.

As with the rest of the university, UMKC Online is also in transition. To begin with, my title will be changed to Vice Provost of Academic Innovation and the charge to my group will expand more broadly to include innovation in all modes of education, not just online. This is a good thing. I’ve never been a big fan of the artificial divide between teaching online and teaching face-to-face. Sure, there are absolutely differences in how you deliver courses. For example, the technical skills you need to be an effective online teacher are different from those in a face-to-face course. That said, the scholarship of teaching is the same across all modes of delivery. This is why I am excited about the direction my group is moving toward: promotion of the scholarship of teaching in all its forms.

Canvas logoOne place we can start is by working with faculty to better use, and better understand, the importance of the learning management system (LMS). I would love to see UMKC make better use of its LMS, which will soon be Canvas. Learning management systems are not just for online courses. In fact, many institutions require all faculty to use the LMS for face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses. Why is LMS usage important? It allows us to collect data on learning which, in turn, allows us to be more effective teachers. It is often surprising what the data from an LMS can tell us about student learning. For example, did you know that the frequency at which a student checks his or her grades in these systems is a major predictor of student success? Simply putting grades into the LMS provides us with data that could be used to increase student retention through early intervention. Sure, an individual faculty member may know who is doing well or poorly simply by assigning grades but, it is the student’s behavior across all courses and the patterns that begin to emerge that tell the story of retention. The problem is, we cannot tell that story if we are not using the tools that are available to us as instructors.

Students are coming to us already familiar with these systems, having used them in community college systems, high schools and, in some cases, elementary schools. UMKC is well under 50% adoption of its LMS, and the last number I heard was about 38% usage. This is pretty bad to say the least! Even if a faculty member is not teaching “online,” the number of eLearning tools that can be used within these systems to support learning is phenomenal. These tools help to create a more active and engaging learning environment and provide us with essential data to better understand the scholarship of teaching.

Working with faculty to promote the scholarship of teaching across all modes of delivery will be a primary goal of my group as we transition into our new roles. Moving to Canvas provides a great starting place for this transition and an incredible opportunity to promote the use of both the LMS and all of the associated eLearning tools for the scholarship of teaching.