EMS learning design unit celebrates 15 years

by Liam Jackson
October 30, 2015

Fifteen years ago, John Dutton, then dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS), had a vision for creating an institute focused on developing the best online courses possible. He established EMS’s e-Education Institute in 2000, which, in 2003, was renamed in his honor. The John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, in its 15 year history, has grown considerably and today focuses on both World Campus and residential “Web” instruction, as well as massive, open online courses (MOOCs).

Student success: a top priority

The Dutton Institute is a community of more than 100 professionals ranging from learning designers and administrative support staff to lead program faculty and course authors and instructors. Partnering with EMS’s five academic departments, the Dutton Institute oversees all EMS online content offered through Penn State World Campus and University Park. Institute staff collaborate with EMS academic units to improve student success — a major goal for the college — in online EMS courses.

“Our core strength is our learning design team, who collaborate with faculty and share best practices regarding how to effectively teach online. Course authors and instructors are paired one-on-one with a learning design faculty member throughout the process,” said Annie Taylor, director of the Dutton Institute. “Our goal is to equip faculty with the knowledge and tools they need to be effective online educators—this includes adapting traditional teaching strategies to an online environment, incorporating new methods and technologies and implementing evaluation processes and other strategies that will positively impact student success.”

More than 90 EMS faculty members and instructors have worked with the Dutton Institute to develop more than 130 EMS online courses. EMS offers 15 online certificate and degree programs through Penn State World Campus, and, in the past 15 years, more than 3,200 students have completed one of these programs.  

“The John A. Dutton e-Education Institute is crucial to our core mission in EMS of being one college, geographically and pedagogically distributed across campuses and online and resident programs,” said William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “The unit has grown tremendously under both David DiBiase and Ann Taylor. As our online portfolio continues to increase, the expertise of the Dutton Institute will allow us to provide outstanding service to faculty and help prepare students for an increasingly technical, diverse and globalized future.”

The library shelf of the world

When Penn State joined the movement to create massive, open online courses (MOOCs) that would be freely available to the public, the Dutton Institute played a key role by helping EMS faculty to develop two of the five initial Penn State MOOCs. The Dutton Institute has since assisted with the development of a third MOOC, and more than 150,000 people worldwide have participated in one of the three EMS MOOCs.

But creating MOOCs was not the first time the Dutton Institute made course materials available to anyone with an internet connection. For years, the institute has been posting online courses to a website as part of the EMS Open Educational Resources Initiative.

“My predecessor, David DiBiase, wanted to make the college’s online educational resources available to the world. This would enable students to preview courses and learn the material. It also provides access to educators and learners around the world who can't afford to enroll in formal classes, or who don't need to earn academic credit. We wanted to put our courses on the library shelf of the world,” said Taylor.

The EMS Open Educational Resources Initiative first launched in 2008, and it was the first of its kind at Penn State. Nearly all of EMS’s online courses — covering topics ranging from mapping to energy policy to oceanography to astronomy to global warming — can be accessed in their entirety on this site.

“The courses are open access, so you can see all the lessons and modules. What you don’t get is access to fellow students or instructors. Other individuals are welcome to adapt the content and reuse it in their own courses if they see fit because the courses have an 'attribution-non-commercial-sharealike' Creative Commons license,” said Taylor.

From online to residential environments

Although it was originally founded to work with the college’s faculty to develop online courses, the Dutton Institute now focuses on assisting faculty with developing online and hybrid residential classes as well. In partnership with the EMS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education’s Office, the Dutton Institute holds an annual request for proposals to assist instructors and faculty who want to develop new online courses targeting the summer semester. Through this initiative, the Dutton Institute has helped to create 11 residential courses since 2011, which underscores the unit’s effectiveness at collaborating on courses regardless of the learning environment.

“EMS as a whole has always been extremely student centered, and we’re really excited to play a collaborative role as we create new courses and programs that are based on the needs of future Penn Staters,” said Taylor.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 02, 2015