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BYU-Idaho Seeks to Improve Courses through Unique Program

BYUI woodworking student and professor

BYU-Idaho’s core theme of “Quality” is as follows: “Provide a high-quality education that prepares students of diverse interests and abilities for lifelong learning and employment.” The Creative Course Collaboration Lab has a unique way of doing that.

Brigham Young University-Idaho is known for offering courses that prepare students to succeed in the workforce. The university regularly reviews and revises course content to maintain a high standard of excellence in teaching and real-world learning. Central to these efforts is the Creative Course Collaboration Lab.

Better known as the C3 Lab, the Creative Course Collaboration Lab is a semester-long program run by BYU-Idaho’s Learning Innovation and Technology Department with the intent of improving the student learning experience. The C3 Lab brings together a cross-curricular team of faculty, a curriculum designer, subject matter experts, and student voices to build better courses.

The process of revising a college course is a long one. Many factors must be taken into account, including how understandable the course material is, the time it takes to teach course concepts, and ensuring course accreditation. The idea behind such substantial revisions is that the course continues to improve even after the C3 Lab team has left.

“The idea of C3 is that we create this teaching team that continues to improve the course, even after C3 ends,” said David Ashby, the director of the Learning Innovation and Technology Department. “So, we get a jumpstart on getting the course where we want it to be. We put it on a new trajectory.”

The C3 team begins each course revision by determining how delicate the course is, meaning how much of the content can be adjusted and how much needs to stay standardized.

“We have to figure out whether this is a football or a baby,” said Jonathan Trujillo, a C3 Lab facilitator and adjunct faculty member. “If it’s a football, you can throw it around, you can play with it, you can get creative. If it’s a baby, you can’t throw it around. You can’t call it ugly.”

After determining the appropriate level of restructuring, the team works with faculty members, past and present students, focus groups, subject matter experts, librarians and more to determine the best actions going forward.

The key question they aim to answer, according to Trujillo, is, “What do we want students to remember 10 years from now because they took this course?” With the end goal in mind, the C3 team works backwards to design course content that will support students throughout their careers.

Another important objective is to make courses easily navigable. The majority of students’ time and effort should go towards completing assignments, Trujillo explained, not figuring out how to submit them online. Submitting assignments online has been an especially difficult adjustment for freshmen as they learn how to navigate Canvas and other school-related websites. To remedy this hurdle, the C3 Lab team has put every General Education course through the Creative Course Collaboration Lab.

The same idea of ease-of-access applies to adjunct faculty. Trujillo compared it to a car that has so many nuances that the owner is the only one with the ability to drive it. BYU-Idaho has more than 1,800 subject matter experts who teach part-time at the university, he explained, and although they are professionals in their course content, they can sometimes have difficulty navigating courses that other faculty members have designed. The C3 Lab team aims to make every “car” easy to “drive.”

“Every course [should] be turn-key and ready for someone with content knowledge to be able to teach,” Trujillo said.

Three to six courses are typically put through the C3 Lab each semester, with more courses being fit into an expedited two-week summer program. The summer program sees the C3 team work with faculty all day, every day, for two weeks, rather than the two-hour-per-week lab sessions during the semester. There is also a self-paced online program currently under development that will provide more courses with access to C3 Lab resources. In the self-paced program, faculty with an interest in C3 will be able to improve their courses on their own whenever they have time.

As with every facet of BYU-Idaho, the C3 Lab is all about the student experience. Ashby said students are a part of the C3 Lab revision processes from start to finish.

“The student voice is really important,” he said. “We’ll either bring in focus groups, or we’ll survey students, or we’ll actually have students in the meetings, collaborating with the faculty on how to improve the course.”

Ashby shared a recent example of a C3 Lab session where former students were interviewed about their experience with a course in educational psychology. Every student who had taken the course in the past six years, including students that had already graduated, were asked 25 questions about what they remembered from the course. The interviewees were also asked what they used in their respective areas of study from the course and whether they were using the knowledge from that course in their current professions.

The conclusions from the interviews were eye-opening for BYU-Idaho faculty.

“They concluded that students needed to see more examples of psychology principles being used in real life,” Ashby said.

The success of a C3 Lab treatment is determined by many things, but inevitably it’s all about the participating faculty’s engagement.

“We find that teachers that go through C3 become more collaborative, Ashby said. “They create better relationships with each other and they start to see better teaching strategies that are shared across multiple departments.”

Trujillo agreed, saying that faculty members will enjoy finding ways to make their classes better for both students and themselves if they work with other members of the C3 team, including other faculty members who might not be teaching anywhere near the same field as the course undergoing revision.

“One of the main goals of C3 is to build instructors who are collaborators,” Trujillo said. “They create an infrastructure where collaboration just happens. They build an attitude of collaboration.”

With course improvement, the BYU-Idaho experience for students also improves. Sometimes revisions to current courses means that entirely new courses are created.

Trujillo, who teaches GE SCI 110, Sustaining Human Life, said his course never existed before the C3 team looked at how general science concepts were being understood by students.

“It was a result of this program,” he said.

That course, developed through the C3 Lab, was pivotal in the life of Hannah Brown, a BYU-Idaho senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies. Brown plans on attending dental school upon graduation and she came to that decision because of Sustaining Human Life.

Previous to taking the course, Brown had changed her major several times, unsure of where she wanted to go in life. She had always had an interest in dentistry but did not believe she was capable of completing a science-based program.

“It helped me feel confident enough to be able to do a science-based major,” Brown said of Sustaining Human Life. “I realized that it was my forte.”

That’s the purpose of the C3 Lab: to give students the best possible learning experience and to prepare them for employment.