UMass Launches Inter-Campus Course Exchange to Expand Offerings For Students by Leveraging Distance Learning Technology

The ICX is one of several innovations emerging from lessons learned during COVID-induced remote learning during the spring 2020 semester
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The University of Massachusetts announced the launch of a new system-wide initiative to make courses on each of its campuses available to students on all UMass campuses.

The Inter-campus Course Exchange (ICX) initiative was announced at the UMass Board of Trustees Committee on Academic and Student Affairs during a discussion of innovations that emerged from the pandemic-induced transition to remote teaching during the spring 2020 semester. University officials credit these innovations with helping students at the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses to complete a higher percentage of their courses during the ‘COVID Spring’ than during the two previous spring semesters.

“Our faculty and staff responded with exemplary resilience and ingenuity to the unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic, and our students benefited from their actions,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “The inter-campus course exchange is an excellent example of a silver lining that will benefit our students long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.”

Under the plan developed by UMass System Chancellor for Academic Programs Katherine Newman in collaboration with the Provosts of each campus, undergraduate and graduate students interested in a class that is unavailable on their home campus will have an expanded pathway to equivalent courses at another campus.

Academic leaders will be able make more efficient use of their faculty. For instance, department chairs who have an under-enrolled course can turn to ICX to enable more students to participate. 

An ICX website will be developed to inform students about what courses are available, the necessary prerequisites, the number of open seats in each course, and what each course syllabus covers.  Students will be able to enroll subject to the approval of their academic advisors and department chairs who will determine whether the courses meet the student’s graduation or major course requirements.

“We demonstrated during the ‘COVID Spring’ that our campuses can deliver high quality education via remote instruction,” Chancellor Newman said.  “This has led the Provosts to embrace and advance the ICX.  Opening courses to students across the system will enable students to take full advantage of the extraordinary range of teaching talent that UMass offers.”

The ICX is designed as an internal distance learning collaboration that is similar to the Five College consortium in the Pioneer Valley, which allows students from UMass Amherst and four nearby private colleges to take face-to-face courses on each campus.  

“ICX is an innovation that was technically feasible in the past, but simply didn’t rise to the level of implementation until the COVID pandemic taught us a lesson about what we can do with Zoom and other tools,” Chancellor Newman said. “It will now become a permanent feature of our academic landscape and will help us maximize efficiency during a period of financial constraints.”

Other innovations that emerged in the spring are now being fine-tuned and expanded for the current semester and beyond, including:

UMass Amherst – Supporting Faculty and Faculty Supporting Students
Multiple campus units mobilized to establish University Quality Standards: FlexForward to Fully Online Course Design  - a resource hub for faculty transitioning to remote instruction. The initiative provides faculty with best practices, step-by-step guidelines, course redesign videos and individualized consultation as faculty redesign their courses. More than 1,000 faculty members have utilized the resources.

UMass Boston – RESPOND Peer Coaching Initiative
With funding from the Trefler and Lumina Foundations, UMass Boston created and launched the RESPOND Peer Coaching Initiative during the first weeks of remote instruction to proactively engage with students who were struggling as a consequence of financial losses, health problems or academic issues. Using predictive analytics complemented by faculty and staff referrals, UMass Boston reached out to 2,250 students to offer support and connect them with one of 40 trained peer coaches.

UMass Dartmouth – Closing the Digital Divide
When it became evident early in the spring semester that hundreds of UMass Dartmouth students lacked adequate computers and reliable broadband internet access to succeed at remote learning, the university redeployed 200 surplus laptop computers to students and the main campus library as a safe location for students to access the internet.  More than 750 students made use of the resources at the Claire T. Carney Library.

UMass Lowell – High Quality Remote Laboratory and Studio Course
Based on experience last spring, UMass Lowell faculty are employing a number of innovative methods to deliver laboratory and studio classes remotely this fall. Examples include: Electrical and Computer Engineering students using a Digilent Analog Discovery kit which turns a personal computer into a complete laboratory “bench" consisting of an oscilloscope, function generator, voltmeter and logic analyzer, and a Biomedical Engineering professor providing her students with software to design prototypes, and then having them “build” the prototype using recyclables from their home.

UMass Medical School – Pandemic Curriculum
In late March and early April, as students were temporarily removed from their clinical placements, UMMS faculty established a two-week remote course that covered a wide range of topics, from the basic biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, to the epidemiology of a pandemic, to emergency room and ICU care of severe COVID-19 disease, and even the ethical basis for allocation of resources in a period of scarcity. The pandemic course has been retained and will be available to new cohorts of medical students as they enter the clinical setting in the coming academic years.