alin-vrancila-coty-accessJust a few weeks ago I received the news that one of the courses I developed for the Master of Arts in Applied Biblical Studies program, Action Research and Biblical Interpretation, received the COTY Award (Course of the Year) from ACCESS, The Association of Christian Distance Education.

I was honored to receive this award and to be honest, even more honored that Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning won this excellence award two years in a row. There were 19 courses submitted and MBIDL won the COTY award and the honorable mention by our one and only Professor Elizabeth Smith, for her Human Development 1 course. I consider these awards as a mere recognition and confirmation of the hard work, innovative and creative work that Faculty and staff are doing here at MBIDL. These awards really belong to all of MBIDL.

There are a few lessons I have learned from this experience that I want to share with all of you. What are some of the things that made this possible that we can all learn from?

1. When working with an Instructional Designer, follow their recommendations.
I worked with Mary Oprea on this course and I will tell you that I strongly believe it would have been close to impossible to get an award for this class if it wasn’t for Mary. She is knowledgeable and professional and I learned a lot from her about what it means to create and align things in the course to ensure learning is happening. Communicating well with your ID is crucial, this award indicative of successful collaboration and a great work relationship between a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and the Instructional Designer.

2. Don’t be afraid to be creative, just make sure it’s going to work. 
The Action Research course uses a lot of creative and innovative methods to engage students with the reading material and in the discussion board. They are not only creative and innovative things for MBDIL but I believe for Distance Education as a whole. One thing worth mentioning is student-led discussion boards, where students establish and lead discussion in an online environment. We have seen an increase of up to 40% in engagement in this class compared to other courses because of this new approach — it is still being improved and perfected but this approach has made a significant difference in this course.
Also, there are a lot of videos in this course, which made this class come alive for the students and they responded very well to that so far.

3. Listen to the students, they will tell you all you need to know
Last but not least, create opportunities to listen to your students about your course before they have to tell you things in an anonymous survey. Surveys still have value, but students should be considered partners in improving your course and making it better for students coming after them. I initiated channels of communication with students in the class to hear what they have to say about the course. One of the assignments in Action Research challenges students to share their opinion and thoughts about the class with the students coming after them, allowing for community building among them and we get to learn from them on how to improve and make things work better — I have learned a lot from listening to what students have to say.

I think fruitful collaboration with the Instructional Designer, not being fearful of using innovative methods, and listening to students’ feedback made the Action Research course what it is today, the Course of the Year.
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Written by Alin Vrancila
Consultant in Higher Education. Researcher and Intercultural Studies specialist. College Professor and Online Educator. World Traveler. Believer. I love to help people improve their practice. Let me help…