VTSU Receives Grant to Bolster Hybrid Education Programs

Money will allow faculty to increase access to programs and reduce course material costs for students

Vermont State University recently announced it has received a grant to fund the expansion of one of its hybrid learning programs. The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. The project is titled Prioritizing Access through “Face-to-Face Plus” (F2F+) Expansion + OER Adoption. This initiative is part of VTSU’s commitment to be a model for hybrid, rural education and to meet students where they are to support their educational pursuits.

“Vermont State University faculty are incredibly dedicated and thoughtful teachers, and our small classes allow for personalized attention and engaging, interactive learning,” explained Jen Garrett-Ostermiller, director of the VTSU Center for Teaching & Learning Innovation (CTLI), which administers the grant. The Davis Educational Foundation dollars will build on these strengths and increase access for students to the high-quality education VTSU offers, providing stipends to 40 faculty members, primarily for course development work that will occur in Summer 2024.

“As a faculty member who has been teaching online classes for more than a decade and as a researcher of community-based disruptive technology innovation for two decades+, I strongly feel that F2F+ modality is and needs to be a critical component of VTSU’s educational future,” said Jacob Park, Associate Professor of Business, VTSU-Castleton.

Face-to-Face Plus (F2F+) courses are hybrid offerings, meaning some of the students meet in-person on one of VTSU’s campuses with the instructor and the rest of the students joining remotely, whether from another campus or at home. This enables students to tap the expertise and course offerings of faculty across the university and allows flexible access options for students. Through the Center for Teaching & Learning Innovation, Vermont State University is committed to supporting faculty as they intentionally plan hybrid learning experiences that meet individual student needs, contrasting greatly with the emergency remote teaching of the early days of the pandemic.

“Part of what makes Vermont State University so great is how responsive and accepting we are of our students’ personal lives and the barriers they may face to completing their degree or program,” shared David Bergh, Interim President of Vermont State University. “Whether they have learning needs that make in-person instruction a challenge, are employed full-time, raising children or caring for older parents—whatever their circumstance—we are focused on an educational experience where they can succeed. This approach sets us apart in higher education.”

Faculty participants will take an ‘Intro to F2F+ Teaching’ class, taught by experienced F2F+ instructors and CTLI staff, who will serve as mentors and provide individualized feedback on plans and practice teaching sessions. A 2022 Davis Educational Foundation grant funded the initial pilot of the F2F+ program in the 2022-2023 academic year. This next phase will build on the knowledge and best practices learned from that pilot.

According to Garrett-Ostermiller, “students appreciate F2F+ classes for the flexibility they afford to attend either remotely or in-person, including creating access to a class not otherwise offered on their campus. They also value connecting with a student-centered professor who cares about all students, no matter their point-of-access to the class.”

Student Karin Robertson noted, “As an atypical student, having atypical educational options is the only way for me to obtain a higher education. Without the option of learning remotely at a time that works for my schedule, I would not be able to take classes to earn my degree. My future options now look promising.”

Caleb Cousino, also a student, added, “I would say the largest impact of F2F+ learning on my educational experience has been accelerating it. The flexibility of the F2F+ format allowed me to take three courses last semester while working full time. I also think being able to attend lectures rather than just watching lecture recordings helped me a great deal.”

The grant will also fund the application of Open Educational Resources (OERs) to the courses. OERs are materials that either reside in the public domain or have been released under intellectual property licenses that permit their free use and re-purposing by others, Garrett-Ostermiller noted.

“Because of this, they can be lower cost or even no cost to students and can help us to provide equitable and accessible experiences for students with modest resources. In partnership with the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) librarians, the CTLI will provide faculty with expert assistance in selecting OERs that enhance teaching and learning while reducing course-level costs to $50 or less.”

“These endeavors are deeply worthwhile, and they require time, focus, and support to thoughtfully design and implement. The CTLI staff and VSCS librarians are pleased to leverage this grant to support faculty in designing meaningful learning experiences and choosing excellent, affordable course materials, all to benefit VTSU students,” Garrett-Ostermiller summarized.