August 30, 2021

Supporting Higher Ed Instructors During Back to School and Beyond

Sr. Digital Success Specialist, Kelsey Gardner, recently took over the Cengage LinkedIn and Facebook channels to share insight into how her team helps set higher ed faculty up for success, especially during back to school. Prior to working at for Cengage Higher Ed, Kelsey worked as a journalist for an online entertainment outlet. This experience taught her the power of listening and meeting your audience where they are. In journalism, it was her job to ensure her interviewees’ stories were told in powerful ways by listening intently to their opinions and passions. Now, it’s her job to listen to instructors’ goals and challenges, and to find creative solutions to meet their needs. It was her interest in education that initially motivated her to make a change. Through her interview process, Kelsey learned about our commitment to helping every customer and student succeed, as well as the mission of affordability and access for all. She could tell that caring for our customers is at the heart of everything we do at Cengage. Her first impressions from those interviews still hold true and are a big reason why she loves her role.

Read on to hear more from Kelsey about how the Digital Success Specialist (DSS) team is here to support faculty during back to school and beyond.


How are Instructors Feeling During Back to School This Year?

“Yet again, back to school this year looks and feels different. There is still a lot of uncertainty around enrollment and class delivery formats. Many instructors spent the last few months wondering if their courses will be online, in-person, hybrid, or if they will change suddenly during the term. The shift this fall is that instructors are now preparing for the unknowns in a way that they couldn’t have a year ago. Online learning is no longer totally new to instructors and students; it’s something that we’ve helped them manage for over 18 months now. Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are still there, but there’s also a renewed sense of responsibility to control what they can. They don’t know what the future holds for their class, but instructors are taking ownership of what they teach and how their students learn. Finding the best ways to engage students, regardless of the delivery method, has become the biggest focus.”


Setting Instructors Up for Success:

“The main role of the DSS team is to help instructors get the most out of our online courseware tools and meet their diverse needs. Instructors are already juggling so much uncertainty and support is needed now more than ever to help instructors use our tools in a way that best benefits both them and their students. Instructors can get help from the Digital Success team at any point in the term and will receive as much support as they want. 

This back-to-school season, our focus is simple—help instructors with whatever needs are top of mind. This usually involves helping instructors set up their courses and assignments, personalizing them by adding content or adjusting due dates, ensuring they know how students enroll, and sending helpful tutorials or guides for those who need quick support. For our team, the back-to-school planning season started in May! That’s when instructors who’ve adopted our materials for Fall began receiving messages from a DSS like me to offer help in setting up their course. After the term is underway, I regularly check in with instructors to see how things are going and answer any questions that come up. This is when I often help instructors make tweaks to get the most out of our tools and resources. During the last few weeks of the term, I help instructors to build midterms and finals, then we look ahead to their plans for next term.

One of the more valued items to anyone - and especially instructors - is their time. The Digital Success team gives instructors the gift of saved time, which means more time for teaching, more time to spend one-on-one with a struggling student, or more time collaborating with colleagues. I’m happy to be the one to enable that.”

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Back to School Success Stories:

“Last spring, I worked with an accounting group at one of the largest four-year public university system in the country. The accounting faculty adopted one of our homework tools for the first time in spring 2020. The department previously taught the course in-person with a print text, so they took a deliberate hands-on, application-based approach to the class when deciding to introduce a digital component. The instructors challenged us to think differently about how our tools could be used in the classroom, as well as in assessing students’ learning. By taking the time to understand their needs, we built a course together that kept the structure that they loved in their face-to-face classes, while also providing the ease of use in online learning. It was a true team effort between the instructors and our Sales, Support and Accounting Marketing teams. The faculty were so pleased with the result that they have continued using the course throughout the pandemic, whether online, hybrid, or in-person as they’ll be this fall. We made sure to set the course up in a way that allows flexibility so they are prepared should the delivery method shift.

On the flip side, some instructors don’t receive their course assignment until two days before class starts. In those instances, it’s critical for me to be proactive to help them get their course up and running quickly. I provide the same level of support to make sure instructors feel set up for success whether they have all summer to prepare or only a couple of days.”


Who is the Digital Success Team?

“The Digital Success team consists of 82 employees. I collaborate with my teammates every single day to stay up to date on all that we offer. Everyone is always willing to share ideas, lessons they’ve learned from working with different teams, or best practices for supporting our instructors. Our team’s goal is to guide each instructor through their own journey and to support their unique course needs. It’s really rewarding to see instructors get excited about the options that our tools provide, and that they continue working with us term after term.

Of course, we’re not perfect. We cover everyday discipline in higher ed, and it’s impossible to know every detail of thousands of courses and titles. Our focus is not on knowing everything, but in knowing how to find it. We build personal relationships with our instructors and become their central contact, but if we don’t know the answer, we’ll find it. We’re here for them.”

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Kelsey’s Passions Outside of Her DSS Role:

“Over the last year, my husband and I have been trying to put more of a focus on sustainability in our home and in our lives. We’ve done things like add reusable grocery totes to our cars and buy glass containers instead of plastic. It’s the little things that go a long way. I recently joined our Green Employee Resource Group (ERG), and from there I have gotten so many little tricks and ideas to help my husband and me in our sustainability journey. The Green group has taught me everything from what I can and can’t recycle to how to pick fresher fruits at the grocery store. Those are things that we’re trying to become passionate about, and Cengage found a way to help us.”

To learn more the support services available for faculty at Cengage, please visit our website here.