Instructional Services

Instructional Services

Teaming up to develop learning spaces, tools, and teaching strategies that promote student success

Supporting student success

In 2012, ITS-Instructional Services continued its focus on the creation of learning spaces geared toward student success and retention. The UI opened and planned for more TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classrooms that facilitate student-centered, active learning environments.

Working closely with the Center for Teaching, ITS provided training and support to faculty as they utilized the technology in these classrooms and developed new teaching strategies to shift from a lecture-based model to a more student-centered learning environment. In 2013 this work expanded to begin partnering with the College of Engineering’s Lectures and More, which are ongoing, regularly scheduled efforts to expand faculty use of student-centered learning methods.

ITS hired an assessment coordinator to analyze how these efforts are impacting students, and published papers and book chapters to share what was learned. In addition, the UI began to explore and assess emerging instructional technologies such as electronic textbooks.

Plans for the year ahead

Supported by the outcomes of a 2012 assessment of the learning management system, ICON (Iowa Courses Online), plans are underway for a major upgrade. This upgrade will include a rebuild of the underlying infrastructure, refresh and rebuild of all third-party integrations, a major upgrade to the underlying software, a refresh of the branding, and a rollout of new training methods for increasing and improving faculty use of the system. The new system will be available to campus by the end of May 2014.

Even while supporting numerous enterprise teaching systems and facilities, ITS-Instructional Services is exploring other new technologies including student learning analytics, expanded digital content solutions, and MOOCs - massive open online courses. 

TILE: Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage

TILE classrooms are technology-rich spaces that facilitate student success by promoting active and inquiry-based learning, in-class collaboration, and increased interaction with faculty.

In a conventional classroom a teacher speaks from the front of the room while students listen. TILE rooms are designed for student-centered learning, with collaboration technology and furniture arranged for group work. Specially trained instructors use new teaching techniques to inspire peer-to-peer instruction and hands-on learning. 

The result is a welcoming atmosphere. Professors are approachable in this open environment and can help students learn on a more personal level. Assessments indicate that students enjoy these courses more, and perform better. Critical thinking and collaboration skills gained in a TILE room are crucial to their careers.

UI opens seventh TILE classroom

The UI established its first TILE classroom in 2010, patterned off of a model at North Carolina State. Two TILE rooms were added the following year, and four more opened in 2012 and 2013.

To date, more than 300 UI courses have been planned around the unique TILE design, and nearly 4,500 students have enrolled in those courses. TILE classrooms are currently located in:

  • Main Library (2)
  • Van Allen Hall
  • Biology Building
  • Trowbridge Hall (2)
  • Phillips Hall

The UI is now considered a national leader in this area, and staff members are sharing assessment results, lessons learned, and techniques through papers, book chapters, and conferences.

TILE ‘boot camp’ for instructors

To teach in the TILE setting, faculty members are required to complete a three-day institute or a four- to five-hour intensive “boot camp.” The training helps them learn the concepts and technology of a TILE classroom, and to adapt to the more student-centered environment. There are also ongoing programs for professors who wish to continue developing these skills.

So far, 123 faculty members have been trained, representing nine different colleges and 51 departments. Many believe this preparation is one reason TILE is working so well at the UI.

Transforming large lectures into active learning experiences

Large lecture courses aren’t for everyone. Efficient as they may be, there is no guarantee that students are engaged—or even coming to class. It’s easy to hide in the masses and tune out.

A new project sponsored by the Office of the Provost and coordinated by ITS aims to improve the large-lecture experience for University of Iowa students. Through technology and innovative teaching techniques, the goal is to provide students with a more active learning environment.

So how does it work? Different models are necessary for different courses, but here are some of the elements instructors can incorporate to transform their courses:

Establishing a baseline

Students may be asked to complete brief assessments, either online or live in class, to see what they already know about a topic. This establishes a starting point so the instructor can tailor course content to focus on new material or to review key concepts.

In-class interaction

Students use technologies like “clickers” (hand-held response systems) or smartphones to provide instant feedback during class. This helps the instructor gauge whether they understand the material, or whether more time should be used to clarify a concept.

Flipping the classroom

Rather than coming to class to hear the lecture content, students do that part in preparation for class, through readings or audio/video recordings. When they come to class, they are ready to apply the knowledge through problem solving activities, engage in deeper discussions, and ask more specific questions than they could if hearing the material for the very first time.

Lessening the intimidation

Raising your hand to ask a question in a room of 200 people can be scary. But if you’re feeling lost in the midst of a lecture, waiting until after class to ask the instructor isn’t a whole lot of help. “Lecturetools” will be incorporated into the classroom. This is a web-based platform that makes lecture slides accessible to students. They can ask questions during class and either the instructor or the TA may monitor and address questions.

Small-group discussions

Large lectures are frequently paired with smaller discussion sections, which are typically held weekly and led by graduate teaching assistants. New student-centered learning spaces called TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classrooms help to facilitate collaboration in these small-group settings. Furniture configurations encourage group discussion, and technologies such as large screens make it easy to share work and offer peer-to-peer feedback.

Putting techniques to the test

Three courses from two UI colleges will put these models to the test over the next year. The courses span a variety of fields, starting with with Introduction to Environmental Science and Media History and Culture in the spring, and adding Statistics for Strategy and Circuits for fall.

Over the next several semesters, staff in ITS-Instructional Services will monitor the success of these courses and conduct formal assessments to evaluate the experience for students and instructors. Eventually, more classes will be added to the list of transformed lectures.

The Large Lecture Transformation Project is one of several student success initiatives underway on campus. The overarching goal of this project is to create processes and tools for instructors to optimize time in the classroom and to provide a more engaging experience for students—after all, the more lively the lecture, the more incentive a student has to go to class.

New Learning Commons provides flexible, tech-infused study space

The Learning Commons opened with the start of the fall 2013 semester, and the 37,000-square-foot facility is already buzzing with activity—groups clustered in study rooms, solo studiers camped out in nooks, students taking breaks in the centrally located café.

Built for flexibility and interaction, the new tech-infused study space is a major upgrade to the UI’s Main Library, occupying much of the building’s first floor. The facility is the result of collaboration between University LibrariesInformation Technology Services, and the Office of the Provost. In its first semester alone, nearly 2,000 students utilized the new space on a daily basis.

Designed specifically for students

The Learning Commons is open all day and night with the exception of Friday and Saturday nights, in direct response to students’ ongoing requests for 24-hour study space on campus.

Students can reserve open study areas and private group study spaces that seat up to six. In both spaces, they can connect their laptops to LCD screens to display and share content. They have their pick of 100 new desktop computers, and can lounge in the expanded Food for Thought Café with a menu of made-to-order sandwiches, fruit smoothies, snacks, espresso, and gourmet coffees. 

One-stop shop for academic resources

The library’s Service Desk is also located in the Learning Commons. Staff members are available to check in and out library materials and to answer library, academic, and basic technology questions. 

The space also features a 45-seat TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classroom with glass walls and sliding doors, printers and scanners, TVs and projectors, and multimedia resources.

Our design team spent a lot of time watching how students study, and particularly noticed how much they leveraged technology in their daily work habits. This space, with its multimedia resources, collaboration technologies, and wall-to-wall wireless, is reflective of the way today’s students integrate technology into their lives,” says ITS Learning Spaces Director Chris Clark.”

What’s ahead for the Learning Commons

The Learning Commons is now hosting a variety of tutoring services. Students can find statistics tutoring, writing center satellite stations, and SWAT (Study, Workshops, And Tutoring) sessions in the space. Also held there is an Express Workshop series featuring weekly 20-minute sessions on a variety of relevant academic topics, from information literacy mini-lessons to software training. 

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UI collaborates with UNI on ifolio project

A team of ITS staff members teamed up with colleagues at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) to build the necessary infrastructure to deploy the UI’s electronic portfolio for UNI students, and the collaboration saved the state thousands of dollars. While the academic technology staff at the three institutions has a long history of collegial networking, this effort is one of the first collaborative instructional technology services between Regents schools.

The UI had developed and deployed ifolio just as UNI was looking to replace its vendor-supported product. UNI found that ifolio was customizable, included more features, and saved the school about $20,000 per year in licensing fees. The two universities worked together to provide appropriate integrations to identity management systems, training for support staff and faculty, ongoing support for students, and local branding for each of the schools and departments.

ifolio wins IOWA Award

In spring of 2012, the team received an Improving Our Workplace Award (IOWA Award) from the UI. The awards recognize employees who demonstrate initiative and innovation that has a positive impact in their workplace. Members of the ifolio team were: Annette Beck and Sue Almen-Whittaker of ITS-Instructional Services; Andrew Rinner of ITS-Enterprise Services; Chris Pruess, Nick Roy, Gary Rogers, Greg Nims, and Rebekah Ahrens of ITS-Administrative Information Systems; and UNI staff members Aaron Thompson, Lori Seawel, Jason Vetter, Jeffrey Ries, and Donna Vinton.

The ifolio project involved collaboration within the university community and across boundaries to UNI,” said ITS-Instructional Services Senior Director Maggie Jesse, who nominated the team. “It exemplifies cross-Regent communication, careful long-term planning, and measurable results.”

UI participates in e-text pilots

Digital technology is driving a period of rapid change in higher education, and nowhere does that change seem more apparent than with e-textbooks and digital course materials.

In fall of 2012, the UI joined an e-text pilot to evaluate technologies and business models in the transition from traditional textbooks to electronic content. Co-sponsored by EDUCAUSE and Internet2, the pilot was conducted in partnership with McGraw-Hill Education and Courseload. In collaboration with the College of Education, ITS received a $20,000 grant in support of the study.

E-text piloting ramped up the following year as the UI explored products from four distinct vendors with nearly 1,800 students enrolled in 25 different courses. There was another pilot with Courseload, and there were also pilots with Bioportal, Mindtap, and CourseSmart. Each system included different features, such as note-taking and sharing functions, and embedded quizzes, videos, and activities.

Assessing learning outcomes

In fall 2012, ITS and the College of Education evaluated how students’ experiences with e-texts compared to traditional textbooks. The goal was to see whether the interactive e-textbook platform was associated with learning outcomes.

The study involved nearly 600 students in 17 courses. For comparison, researchers matched up the courses so one class used e-texts, while the other class enrolled in that same course used books.

The key findings were:

  • Students generally preferred books over e-texts, reporting that they were easier to access and more useful for learning. Some students used the interactive tools, but most did not engage in bookmarking, annotating, or taking notes. Overall, e-text users were less satisfied.
  • There was no significant difference in the final grades of students who used e-texts and those who used textbooks in a matched course.
  • Students who were required to use the interactive tools were more likely to believe that the e-text had a positive effect on their grades. This suggests that the instructor’s role in promoting tool usage is critical for students’ adoption and successful usage of e-texts.
  • A strategy of using bookmarks along with frequent reading was associated with student learning outcomes in the form of final grade. (Not many students used bookmarks extensively, though, so this is a topic the researchers want to revisit in future studies.)
  • Early attitudes are a factor in students’ inclination toward using e-texts throughout the semester. Instructors can assess these attitudes at the start of the semester and use that information to help students who may otherwise shy away from e-texts. Structured activities on how to use the mark-up tools could benefit both students and instructors.

A spring 2013 follow-up study examined how students used e-texts to achieve course benchmarks. It focused on a course that was part of the Internet2/EDUCAUSE pilot, involving 87 students who used a Courseload e-text and 25 students who used a CourseSmart e-text. Preliminary findings indicate that students believed e-texts were useful when they thought e-text activities aligned closely with the goals of their assignments. CourseSmart received higher marks overall; this could be related to a variety of factors, including the ability to access the system through mobile devices and online.

Assessment Activities

ITS hired a full-time assessment coordinator and completed additional TILE assessments, along with a campus-wide assessment of computer lab usage that is being used now to create recommendations for future strategic direction. Results of assessment activities are also being shared through a book chapter on TILE, several articles, and presentations at national meetings.

The assessment coordinator also completed a campus-wide assessment of ICON. The outcomes of that assessment are being used to plan and support a pending major upgrade to ICON; the largest upgrade since ICON’s inception in 2005. 

Innovations in Teaching with Technology Award Improvements

The Innovations in Teaching with Technology Award process was greatly improved in 2012; applications are up 200% over last year and 350% over two years ago, and the quality of proposals also increased. ITS worked with two faculty members from the 2011 cohort to explore commercialization of their innovation.

The 2012 awardees are now beginning to report back on their successes that range from meeting initial proposal goals to leveraging the award into additional funds from other units and agencies. The 2013 call for proposals has gone out and the Academic Technology Advisory Council is currently reviewing applications.

Student Success Proposals

ITS was awarded a Student Success Proposal for the upcoming Large Lecture Transformation project, and participated in preparing several successful Student Success Proposals (International Programs, Rhetoric, and the Institutional Research Office). 

A full-time instructional designer was hired in 2013 to support faculty in the Large Lecture Transformation project. Four courses have been identified for transformation and the first of these will be delivered during the spring 2014 semester.

New Wiki Pages Created

The wiki service offers a web-based tool for collaboration and discussion—for example, sharing team notes, group editing of documents, or working with classmates or external researchers on a project. Features of the wiki include threaded discussion, embedded media, revision history, and seamless integration with the course-management system (ICON) dashboard. Since 2007, the number of pages created per year through the UI’s wiki service has grown from about 3,100 to over 26,000.

Wiki Facts:

  • 53,736: Total number of users
  • 507: Total number of connected ICON courses
  • 5,673: New users in 2012-13

Wiki Page Creation3,1485,57310,96011,65515,17617,92726,515

UI Capture Sessions Recorded

UICapture (also known as “lecture capture”) creates digital recordings of audio, video, and screen content and makes it available as streamed presentations or downloadable podcasts. Students can watch lectures on demand to review content, or to make up for a missed class. The College of Medicine uses the service to capture all of its lectures, and UICapture has also been helpful to international students and students with learning and other disabilities. In 2013, nearly 10,000 sessions were recorded, and views reached more than 436,000.


UI Capture Sessions Viewed


Active ICON Courses by Semester

Iowa Courses Online, or ICON, is the interactive web space for UI courses. The course-management system is used by students and instructors to share course content, submit assignments, facilitate quizzes and discussions, post grades, and more. Use of ICON has grown steadily. In spring of 2008, about 2,400 courses were using ICON; by fall of 2013, there were nearly 4,400 on the system.

CategorySpring 2008Fall 2008Spring 2009Fall 2009Spring 2010Fall 2010Spring 2011Fall 2011Spring 2012Fall 2012Spring 2013Fall 2013
Courses Using ICON2,4152,9682,9503,3933,2133,7913,6554,1003,6124,2184,0974,397

Unique ITC Users per Calendar Year

Use of the campus Instructional Technology Centers (ITCs) remains strong, even though nearly all students report using mobile devices and their own laptops. The number of unique users of the ITCs hit an all-time high in 2012, and remained strong in 2013. The hours of total usage dropped off some, indicating that more people overall are using the ITCs, but are spending less time. (Counts include unique login IDs over all semesters in a year, so the total numbers are higher than any reported enrollment for a single semester.)

Unique ITC Users32,54331,64531,39433,80532,70434,22637,40836,373

Hours of ITC Use per Calendar Year

Hours of ITC Use979,014984,9171,002,070962,081879,615937,030974,088929,994