Going BIG with strategic planning

By Sarah Rose Evans

A new strategic planning project aims to create more support for students, faculty

The Bold, Innovative Growth for Multiples Modalities (BIG) Strategic Planning Project will not only be big in scope, but also in impact. Students, staff, and faculty will all see benefits of innovative growth at Portland Community College.

“When we began the strategic planning process,” said Loraine Schmitt, PCC’s executive dean of Academic & Student Affairs Innovation & Technology, “we knew that redefining the time, place, and systems of educational delivery at PCC would be important. When the pandemic hit during the process, we realized it would be critical.”

The BIG project has multiple components, one of which is growing online, remote and hybrid courses offerings, as well as strategically making degree and certificate paths more accessible.

“COVID was an inflection point in understanding why it’s so important to help students fit education in their lives,” Schmitt said. “Flexibility and convenience sound casual, but they are about meeting basic needs and managing family and professional lives. It’s about childcare, transportation, and work schedules. Being online makes education possible.”

More options for students, more support for faculty

Heather Guevara, the dean of online learning, will be leading a team to create more online and hybrid programs and increase access to degrees or certificates that help students find living-wage jobs.

“We want to offer more flexible options beyond a traditional class schedule between nine to five, Monday through Friday, “Guevara said. “Our team is excited about increasing access to high-demand CTE programs and to populations that have not been served before. Not everything can be taught online, but that’s what good course design allows for. If the college cannot achieve desired outcomes online, it may be offered as a hybrid course. We need to find the right balance for which pieces we make remote, so things are as flexible as possible and course outcomes can still be met.”

Guevara added that she wants faculty to be able to focus on excellence in teaching and being present in their classes, without being interrupted by technical issues. ​​High-quality course design will keep things working in their online classes. This allows faculty to focus on their field of expertise, connecting with students and getting them excited about the course material.

New technology for learning

Andy Freed, director of learning technologies and innovation, will also be managing two of the components of the BIG project: learning technologies and innovation, as well as online student support.

His team will work on a range of projects, including rolling out new training for the use of technology in education, creating a unified instructional support desk for both students and instructors and developing an innovation process, which will allow the college to try new things before selecting technologies to scale up across the district.

“We’re looking forward to developing a new catalog of professional development around the use of technology in teaching,” Freed said. “One of the investments of the project may be funding to compensate part-time faculty for participation in select exploration and professional development opportunities.”

The college will also be creating a unified instructional support desk for a high-level of support.

“This structure will allow instructional technology specialists to have more opportunities to work directly with faculty on solving unique and innovative instructional challenges,” he said.

Freed envisions that the innovation process will spur pilot projects and allow for critical input from staff and faculty.

“We want to work with pathways, leadership and instruction to get feedback,” he continued. “Eventually, we hope to develop a space on campus for a try-before-you-buy opportunity for faculty to test new technologies out.”

Another project is developing around a redesign of online student support. Due to the lessons learned during the pandemic, many colleges are rethinking how they serve students, including online coaching for students who don’t have an in-person connection with their peers.

“It’s a way for us to bridge that as well as removing barriers for students,” Freed explained.

Getting student input as services are developed will be crucial to the rollout of the BIG Project. This will include student-led online advisory panel to help understand the issues most important to PCC students.

All together, the pieces of the BIG Project will help PCC innovate and evolve for the future of higher education.

This article originally was published here.

Sarah Rose Evans

is the strategic planning coordinator at Portland Community College.