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School of Social Work: Supporting Faculty with Limited Resources

Exterior shot of School of Social Work


School of Social Work
Empowering Faculty with Catalyst CommonView
University of Washington, Seattle

Problem: Supporting Faculty with Limited Resources

In 2010, the School of Social Work (SSW) found themselves faced with an unsustainable situation. The school experienced a reduction in support staff, but there was no change in the amount of support that faculty would need to create online course materials for the 61 classes being offered in Autumn 2010. Through an inventive strategy that focused on empowering faculty to take ownership of their course materials through tool offerings, training, support, and effective communications, the SSW IT team quickly transitioned their department to a successful model of sustainable course support.

Solution: Empower Faculty

Facilitate independence with easy-to-use course tools

The SSW IT team realized that they would have to increase faculty control over their own course Web site content. The school had already transitioned from the former system of static Web sites to Catalyst CommonView for creating course Web sites, but needed to increase faculty control and participation. CommonView was selected over other options because it is UW-hosted, and offers the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of faculty needs.

Make setup as simple as possible

As part of the CommonView adoption process, the SSW designed a streamlined workflow for faculty to start generating new CommonView workspaces as their course Web sites. This workflow includes:

  • A simple online form that instructors can use to request a new customized CommonView template for their classes, and additionally request any materials that they would like scanned and uploaded to the template. The form submission automatically generates a help desk ticket and informs the Learning Management Specialist (LMS).
  • A course CommonView template that the LMS can copy and give the instructor administrative privileges to upon request. In the response to the faculty request, the LMS provides detailed instruction on how to update the template and make it available to students.
  • A drop box to collect the Scanning Request Forms and reading materials from instructors to be scanned and uploaded to their course CommonView Web site. When support staff finish uploading the new materials, they notify the instructor that the materials are available on the course Web site.

Solution: Create a Sustainable Support Model

Set up a faculty help desk

SSW IT Director, Tim Hunt, set up a help desk system using the open-source, web-based ticketing system, Spiceworks. In addition, Heather Larson, the Learning Management Specialist is available on request for in-person training and telephone support. The availability of in-person support was greatly appreciated by instructors. As Larson observed,”Being able to sit down with someone and see how to do something makes things clearer for faculty and helps reduce perceived frustrations with technology.”

Focus on efficient and effective communication

The Learning Management Specialist created resource portal, the Course Support Toolbox, to keep faculty updated with how-to videos, new features, and best practices for working with the course tools that SSW supports.  Additionally, email is currently being used as the primary way of informing faculty about workshops.


  • Of the 61 courses offered in Autumn 2010, nearly 70% took advantage of the CommonView course templates. This is an increase of over 185% from previous quarters.
  • Since Autumn 2010, approximately 40 CommonView course Web sites have been created per quarter, up substantially from previous years.
  • Faculty reliance on Electronic Reserves (ERES) has fallen from 52 courses using ERES in Autumn 2009 to only 7 courses using ERES in Autumn 2010.
  • The Summer/Fall 2011 workshops were attended by a large majority of the SSW faculty.
  • According to Learning Management Specialist Heather Larson, SSW faculty responded positively to the changes. While some initially expressed reticence about learning how to use Catalyst CommonView, most appreciated the support and the ability to offer a course Web site to their students.
  • Everyone involved in the Learning Management Project expressed how important administrative support has been for the project’s success and the importance of formal training for faculty.
  • A flexible workflow design for support staff with an emphasis on communication was cited as a vital factor in the success of the project.