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Academic Delivery in the time of COVID

I frequently field questions about how Boise State is adapting its approach to academic delivery in the time of COVID-19. This excellent question touches on the core of the University’s mission.

While so many things have changed in recent months, our fundamental approach to course design and delivery has not. Student learning is the ultimate goal of every course at the university, and many faculty at Boise State approach their course planning using the principles of “backwards design.”

Faculty begin by defining the desired learning outcomes for a course. These outcomes are informed by the role that the course plays within its broader academic context, the standards of accrediting bodies, the requirements for professional licensure, expectations of future employers or graduate programs, and so on. With these in place, faculty work backwards to design assessments (projects, exams, papers, reports, etc.) that demonstrate the achievement of those learning outcomes. Faculty are then able to develop specific activities (readings, problem sets, group work, experiments, etc.) that sequentially build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that prepare students to demonstrate their learning in those assessments. This approach to course design has been key in helping Boise State drive dramatic improvements in student success over the past decade.

In addition to its internal structure, every course design must take into account “situational factors.” These include things like the number of students enrolled, whether it is an introductory or advanced course, the classroom set-up, and so on. This fall, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced specific situational factors that are new to the university, including expanded modes of instruction, physical distancing requirements in the classroom, modifications to student work in laboratories and studios, among others.

While there are undeniably more constraints than normal this fall, our faculty have a great deal of experience crafting learning experiences that are designed to promote student growth. To enhance that bank of experience, the university supported more than 700 faculty in reshaping their courses for modified delivery this fall and in honing their online teaching skills. Collectively, they invested over 16,000 hours in off-contract work to be better prepared for this fall.

Universities are places of learning. This simple truth applies not only to students, but also to faculty, staff, and administrators. I’m incredibly proud of our entire campus community in responding to the pandemic – not only for the successes that have come from our efforts to date, but also because we continue to ask relevant questions, to experiment, and to learn, all in service to making our students successful.

Thank you for your partnership in making Boise State such a great place for students.


Dr. Tony Roark
Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs