Iowa consortia awarded GEER funds to increase online opportunities
The consortia of Allen College and St. Luke’s College, Iowa Private Academic Libraries and Iowa’s 15 community colleges were awarded funds aimed at increasing more virtual education opportunities and online communities.
The funds are provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and offer an avenue for institutions, or a consortium of institutions, to support capacity-building and professional development. GEER funds ultimately help provide equal access to quality online education courses and curriculums, which benefit both teachers and students.
“The funds really promote innovation in its use of virtual and online resources,” said Kelly Friesleben, consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “Applicants must choose to promote best practices for effective online and remote instruction, support and train students and families to be successful in a virtual environment or adopt the use of open educational resources.”
In the latest round of GEER awards, the Iowa consortium online projects were funded. Each project was awarded approximately $100,000-$275,000 to assist their efforts.
Led by Indian Hills Community College, a consortium of Iowa’s 15 community colleges will use GEER funds for the Iowa Faculty Development Collaborative Project, which will establish a high-quality, online professional development repository that supports growth for community college faculty statewide. The repository will be housed on the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees website and will include both downloadable online modules and a platform for live professional development courses that facilitate dialogue among faculty across the institutions.
“It is incredibly important for faculty to learn how to adapt in this new environment,” said Darcie Woodruff, director of grant development and compliance at Indian Hills Community College. “This repository will help faculty with professional development and standards, and since it is online and resources are able to be downloaded at their convenience, it doesn’t take away from their other responsibilities.”
The community colleges will leverage subject matter experts already employed at the institutions to develop the online courses. Over 17 months, they aim to serve 3,150 faculty members from community colleges statewide with courses and events covering various initial topics, such as instructional technology, effective online delivery, tips for teaching during a pandemic, open educational resources, ADA compliance, equity and stress management.
“Iowa’s community colleges are all about educating our future workforce,” Woodruff said. “This opportunity will strengthen the skill set to teach and engage students from afar.”
Comparably, a second consortium between Allen College and St. Luke’s College will expand the number of online and hybrid courses that align with the eight standards of Quality Matters – a quality assurance process that measures and guarantees the standards of a course – which are designed to promote evidence-based best practices in online learning. Aptly named, the Quality Matters Project seeks to achieve this goal through a combination of faculty training workshops, training for reviewer roles, course certifications and the collection of student feedback.
“This grant will be a phenomenal foundation to a joint effort to standardize course design for online courses at both St. Luke’s and Allen Colleges,” said Dr. Bob Loch, provost at Allen College. “The course design will ensure sound design principles, ease of access and ease of navigation of online courses for students.”
The GEER award will allow the consortium to enhance and expand programming in order to successfully incorporate a culture of Quality Matters across both colleges for the first time.
“This grant is all about helping our students be successful, and the grant money will help both colleges to build the expertise to review and certify courses utilizing Quality Matters principles and designs, “Dr. Loch said. “In turn, that will create a capacity of experts in healthcare education to continually improve our courses.”
The final consortium is the Iowa Private Academic Libraries (IPAL), which consists of private colleges and universities in the state. Eighteen of its member institutions will use GEER funds for an Open Educational Resources (OER) Project. By definition, open educational resources are textbooks that have been funded, published and licensed to be freely used, adapted and distributed.
“Open educational resources break down barriers by making text books available to students who might not have access,” said Jennifer Breems, director of library services at Dordt University and secretary-treasurer for the IPAL consortium. “By incorporating OER and eliminating the cost of textbooks, we are helping our faculty enhance their students’ success.”
Although the IPAL consortium had already started discussing the use of OER in their institutions, their response was accelerated when the pandemic began.
“The pandemic made it clear that access to textbooks was highly important and made it a focus for us,” Breems said. “This grant will provide competitive funding to our faculty who create, adopt and use OER. It will encourage them to evaluate open alternatives for their classes.”
It is anticipated that future GEER funds will be available for institutions who want to expand their online capacity-building and professional development. Any regionally accredited, undergraduate public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities eligible for Title IV funding and domiciled in Iowa will be able to apply. An announcement will be released when funds become available.
Learn more about GEER funds and its three components on the GEER Fund for Higher Education webpage.