Lessons Learned Providing Instructional Design and Technology Support at the Onset of COVID-19

Welcome to our continued celebration of 2021 WOW awardees! We’re joined today by Alicia Montgomery Dunlap and Aimee Greene both from the University of Louisville, who wrote the following post about the outstanding work from the staff with Louisville’s Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning. Alicia and Aimee share several lessons learned from the remote shift facilitated by their Instructional Design and Technology and Blackboard Learning and Technology Teams. These lessons are helpful as we continue to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we consider emergency and crisis management in the future.

Frontiers is currently hosting our annual blog post series featuring posts from our 2021 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award Winners.

This year we took a slightly different focus and asked for stories that described the intensely hard work that WCET member institutional staff, instructors, administrators, and students heroically stepped up with to the meet the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to the 2021 WOW awardees:

  • Colorado Technical University.
  • Miami University Regionals E-Campus.
  • University of Alabama.
  • University of Louisville.
  • University of North Dakota.
  • University of Texas at San Antonio.

Congrats and thank you to the University of Louisville and the digital learning heroes highlighted in today’s post. Stay tuned for the rest of this blog series as we lead up to this year’s WCET Annual Meeting!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET


The Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning was the touchstone for University of Louisville faculty and students alike as the COVID-19 pandemic forced courses to move online. Our Instructional Design and Technology team and Blackboard Learning and Technology team worked in tandem daily to meet faculty technology and instructional design needs, so we were able to move swiftly to coordinate support efforts for faculty learning to teach remotely for the first time. In the process, we learned several lessons about agility, scalability, and future support. Today we’re excited to share those lessons learned with you.

Lesson 1: Leverage existing systems, relationships, and processes.

Our first major lesson learned was to lean on existing programs and processes as much as possible.  

The University of Louisville has been offering online programs and courses since 2000. Because of this, we had already developed several systems and processes to support online learning. At the start of COVID-19, our challenge was scaling what was already in place. These systems, in addition to existing collaborative relationships, allowed us to respond quickly.

The University of Louisville requires that a course shell be created for every course in the university’s learning management system, Blackboard. This saved a very time and labor-intensive step when needing to move courses online quickly. With these shells already in place, we were able to help faculty add course content immediately.

Additionally, the university had an existing Continuity of Instruction plan, which was updated and communicated to faculty annually. While the Continuity of Instruction plan was intended primarily to address disruptions due to inclement weather, this plan gave a solid foundation for moving all courses online at the start of COVID-19. Finally, the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning leveraged a number of existing training programs to provide support without the need to develop new modules and training content.

Lesson 2: Pivot support as university needs change.

The second big lesson learned was to be flexible when offering programs and other types of support.

inforgraphic about increased support at UL.
146 training opportunities for faculty
7,400 one-on-one consultations by support teams
4,800 blackboard helpdesk ticks (increased by 35% over 2019)

We rolled out four waves of support to meet faculty needs at different times and as the university’s response to COVID developed. Trainings were offered in-person, remote or self-paced. The initial wave of training was launched in March 2020, just three days after the university’s decision to move online. We developed and offered three subsequent waves of training in April, July and October to prepare for the summer, fall and spring semesters. Sessions and resources were focused on topics and tools prioritized based on faculty feedback.

To offer these trainings, we established six cohorts arranged by discipline within Blackboard. The cohorts had access to a dedicated instructional designer, paced and self-paced resources, modules, and recordings of live sessions. Establishing cohorts of faculty allowed individual instructional designers to focus on a single discipline and limited the number of users in each group, making interactions easier to manage.

During these four waves, we offered 146 training opportunities attended by 2,187 faculty for a total of 2,701 hours. In addition to formal trainings, we also provided over 7,400 consultations in 2020 (more than 2.5 times the number held in 2019), serving 1,231 faculty and 3,444 hours.

Lesson 3: Upgrade support systems to scale.

Our next lesson learned was to ensure adequate support coverage outside regular business hours.

To ensure maximum help desk support, we added weekend coverage and extended evening support hours until 10 p.m., including 24/7 on-call hours. Blackboard’s help desk processed 4,800 tickets in 2020 – approximately 35% more than in 2019, without adding any staff members. Eighty percent of those tickets were closed within our goal of 48 hours. We leveraged existing ticketing and support systems, as well as a new, cloud-based call center platform that allowed us to respond to evening and weekend calls without adding staff. These tools also provided data used to make decisions about help desk hours and support, which were reduced after the initial pivot to online instruction. However, extended hours remain that were not available pre-pandemic.

The help desk is staffed by the Blackboard and Learning Technology team, instructional designers and students. Student employees were involved in decisions about extending hours and volunteered to be included in the call support pool. We also set up Microsoft Teams and text groups to be able to communicate with each other in case there was an issue someone couldn’t address while on call.

photo collage of the blackboard help desk team at UL

Lesson 4: Keep what works and continue to iterate.

Our final lesson – once you level up, don’t look back. Just keep moving forward.

The outlook on online education has shifted. If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s that there is no going back.

Given this new outlook, several departments shifted their vision to offering fully online programs – and quickly. Between March and December 2020, we launched 12 new online programs, compared to only five programs within the same timeframe in 2019. The number of students enrolled in fully online programs for our summer and fall 2020 terms exceeded the prior year by 33% and 41% respectively, helping the university realize its highest enrollment in more than 20 years.

Our Instructional Design and Blackboard teams continue to support this growth in online programs and courses. We see that faculty have retained and are using skills they acquired during the pandemic as they return to in-person instruction (using Blackboard course shells to collect assignments, for instance). In fact, as most faculty have mastered the basics and have access to self-help resources in their Blackboard cohorts, help desk tickets are down 20% for the first few weeks of the 2021 fall semester as compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Now, we are shifting our professional development offerings so instructors can level up their skills.

We are continuing to support our Blackboard cohorts by adding new faculty and updating resources for online and hybrid instruction as well as technology tools. This has become a go-to resource for our faculty with questions about online and hybrid instruction. The Blackboard team continues to offer extended support hours and is considering additional ways to streamline support, such as a self-service knowledgebase.

By keeping many of our extended support systems in place, we are prepared to address faculty needs as the online education landscape continues to evolve.


Leave a Reply