Creating a Path to Digital Teaching Proficiency

St. Mary’s College of California has designed a digital teaching certificate to help its faculty prepare for the digital age.

What’s one way to get faculty excited about new tech? Design a curriculum that certifies them as skilled users of digital media. That was the approach of the School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA) at St. Mary’s College of California. The school launched its Digital Driver’s License (DDL), a teaching certification program for faculty, in 2014. Since then, the DDL has captured the attention of several media outlets, and it was chosen as one of AACSB International’s Innovations that Inspire in 2016.

The DDL was created after a 2010 conference SEBA hosted for those interested in business education and educational technology. “A guest speaker from Microsoft explained that the company now requires evidence of digital literacy and proficiency on its job applications,” explains Barry Eckhouse, conference chair and creator.“That spurred conversations among conference participants about the digital skills faculty will need in order to teach those same skills to students.”

The DDL consists of six two-hour meetings, five of which are held in a small studio that accommodates six faculty plus instructors. In those five meetings, professors develop their skills in video and audio creation, screen capture and voice-based grading, web conferencing, flipped classrooms, and use of electronic resources. During the sixth meeting, faculty must pass a live assessment from a web conferencing room, where they apply what they’ve learned first from the perspective of online students, then from that of instructors. They also must host an online conference; produce and upload videos to YouTube and iTunes; and complete 12 voice assessments of student work, providing screen capture movies of their feedback. Finally, faculty who have earned their DDLs must teach their colleagues a digital skill. “They’re usually excited about showing their colleagues what they can do,” says Eckhouse. By teaching a skill to others, he adds, they enhance their own skills even further.

The provost’s office provides faculty with a US$1,000 stipend as an incentive to complete the DDL. “No one is going to retire on that,” Eckhouse jokes. “But faculty development is sometimes done without any financial recognition. Providing this stipend shows faculty that they have the support of the academic administration.” Schools might be tempted to deliver a program like the DDL in a fully online format, but Eckhouse emphasizes the importance of providing faculty with face-to-face instruction, especially when they are being introduced to new media for the first time. “We conduct face-to-face meetings first, before we gradually work toward our remote assessments,” he says. “A school doesn’t need an extravagant space to do this—just a small but capable media studio where faculty can work with the technology.”

Natasha Munshi, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship, came to SEBA in 2014, just as the DDL was launched. She immediately applied to the first DDL cohort, so she could be more confident teaching in one of the school’s hybrid programs.

“As academics, we’re experts at teaching in brick-and-mortar classrooms, and we’re comfortable in our expertise. But when we start teaching in hybrid environments, we’re in front of tech-savvy students who might be working for companies like Airbnb and Tech-Force. Suddenly, we can feel very disadvantaged by comparison,” says Munshi. “Going through the DDL made a huge difference in how I taught my course and in the quality of my student evaluations.”

Munshi was especially interested in learning how to use Adobe Connect breakout rooms to sort online students into discussion groups, as a way to transfer the case-study method to an online environment. “I could jump from one group to another, listen in on their conversations, and answer questions when necessary, just as I do in a brick-and-mortar classroom,” she says.

Munshi and several colleagues are now conducting a study to compare the student evaluations of faculty who have earned their DDL certifications to the evaluations of those who have not. They will break down the data by discipline to see if DDL training affected the evaluations for faculty in some disciplines more than others. By this fall, 36 SEBA faculty will have earned DDL certifications. SEBA has delivered the program to professors from anthropology, leadership, communication, and modern language; library staff; and even instructional designers from St. Mary’s IT group. The business school also has received interest from faculty at other schools.

For that reason, SEBA is considering creating a larger classroom to double the potential number of participants in a cohort from six to 12. Within the next two years, coordinators hope to roll out a similar program for students, perhaps as a digital concentration.

The DDL has been a great way to showcase SEBA’s work to others, at St. Mary’s and elsewhere, says Eckhouse. “The DDL also has been a perfect vehicle for collaboration, because it crosses disciplines so easily. We’re opening our doors and inviting others to walk through. Now that so many faculty have accepted the role of digital media in higher education, it’s time to help them take the next step as they work with new forms of content creation.”