Colleges Online Learning Academy (COLA)

Overview: The Colleges Online Learning Academy is a summer teaching fellowship for graduate students that provides a $1,000 stipend and an opportunity for students across the three EDLI colleges to develop their online teaching skills, network with other graduate students, explore research on a teaching topic of interest, and compile a teaching portfolio. 

Outcomes: We have supported 65 students across the 2020-22 summer fellowships

The Colleges Online Learning Academy (COLA) was developed as a response to the shift to emergency remote instruction in spring and summer 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. EDLI created COLA in recognition that graduate student instructors were potentially falling through the cracks as support and training focused on faculty instructors. The professional development and mentored course design experiences were valued by participants and EDLI facilitators so much that funding for COLA was extended and it has been offered again in 2021 (with 30 participants) and 2022 (with 25 participants). This fellowship fills a gap in professional development offering for graduate students on campus that focuses on digital, online, and multimodal instruction. 

COLA consists of a series of workshops introducing students to various components of online and digital pedagogical frameworks and tools, such as how to incorporate backward design into planning course modalities, accessibility and equity in online classrooms, and incorporating digital experiences into participants’ teaching portfolios. During the second month of the fellowship, students interact with a group of their peers under the guidance of an EDLI mentor to explore a topic of their own interest. Student projects include designing course modules, creating online assessments, and developing syllabi for online courses following the Quality Matters rubric. Participants also engage in peer review, compile reflections and other artifacts into a teaching portfolio, and present to the full COLA community.

Participant feedback in 2021 was collected and analyzed. Students had lots of positive feedback on the impact of the fellowship on their careers. One primary theme was the unique benefit of the fellowship to their teaching professional development, with many students indicating that they did not have the opportunity for such mentorship and exploration in other components of their graduate programs. Students also made many suggestions for improvement that have been incorporated into our 2022 program. For the 2022 summer fellowship, we have also advertised several of the COLA workshops to all graduate students through the Graduate School and are working with the Graduate School to clarify how the COLA program fits into the Certificate of College Teaching Program. 

“COLA has shown me several ways to set up course assignments and learning modules that I have adopted for my class. My class is more interactive and collaborative because of COLA.” 

COLA participant feedback

“My participation in this summer’s COLA Fellowship was extremely beneficial to my overall growth as an instructor and, surprisingly, as a student. For the most part, the COLA Fellowship was my first time engaging in a long-term program (relative to my previous experiences) focused on teaching. The most obvious growth in my teaching was the way that I approached assignments.” 

COLA participant feedback

A snapshot of a COLA fellows’ portfolio for which they developed an online course module. 

Future plans: We are coordinating with the Graduate School and the Certificate in College Teaching Program (CCTP) to integrate COLA workshops into the CCTP and offer them broadly to all graduate students and research associates. 

Publications: COLA Website: 

Author/Personnel: by Caitlin Kirby; full EDLI team

Stephen Thomas

Dr. Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University and the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science. He provides expertise for the EDLI team in pedagogy, curricular reform, and visual thinking.