Faculty Rising: Coping with Relentless Adversity – Parker University


For the past 16 years, the Catalyst Awards program has honored innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community. In this series, a group of 2021 winners from across the globe shares their success stories and best practices.

This post was guest authored by Dana J. Lawrence, DC, MMedEd, MA, Senior Director for Faculty Development and Special Projects at Parker University.  

Dr. Lawrence is known for editing a number of scientific journals in the integrative health community, as well as authoring many papers and books. He has been awarded many past professional honors, including “Researcher of the Year” from the Foundation for Chiropractic Research and “Education and Academician of the Year” from the American Chiropractic Association.   

Parker University is a 2021 “Training & Professional Development” Catalyst Award winner. 

On October 20, 2019, Parker University suffered a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado that created a 16-mile swath of destruction in the Dallas metropolitan area. Eight of the fourteen buildings on campus were completely destroyed. The university closed for one week and shifted immediately to fully online teaching. We were able to open only seven days later after constructing new classrooms out of library space, bringing in seven large back-up generators, temporary office space and large tents to house the bookstore, food services and fitness center. This immense effort involved the entire campus, and the shift to fully online instruction for that week later helped when the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down campuses across the country. Parker University’s Center for Teaching and Learning and its “Online Education” operation combined to help faculty immediately shift to fully online education across all of Parker’s course offerings. 

We developed a number of training initiatives. Among them were: 

  • Ongoing intensive Blackboard training that combined pedagogical rigor with strong technology instruction  
  • Our new “Build a Better Test” series, designed to help make stronger examinations while reducing the risk of cheating 
  • Faculty mentoring programs that paired experienced faculty mentors and experts with newer faculty members, and 
  • Ongoing feedback and interaction with faculty, staff and administration at all levels.  

We continue to hold weekly meetings with faculty academic leadership, constantly polling them on training needs, including how to use the weighted averages in Blackboard. We are conducting a formal faculty needs survey, which will help define training opportunities for the next year. We have expanded our workforce, hiring new staff with expertise in simulation development. This is an ongoing process.  

But, beyond Blackboard, because COVID-19 impacted Parker’s ability to hold lab courses on campus, we began investigating online and virtual lab courses. We purchased “Visible Body” software, as well as a Sectra table. We also purchased site licenses for virtual anatomy and physiology labs, simulations and virtual reality training. All of this required training for how to use these new technologies. 

Parker University’s online courses have been revamped to make them highly interactive and to work well asynchronously. The courses now include appropriately sized video and other assets in shorter formats suitable for online consumption. They offer advanced simulations that replicate the experience of hands-on lab instruction. They support modern pedagogical approaches such as “flipped classroom” style teaching. They also share consistent design and layout formats that ensure students are only challenged by the intended course difficulties in the material being taught and not by unnecessary trouble navigating and fully engaging in the courses, themselves. In addition, we have ramped up the use of team-based learning and have employed software that enhances faculty ability to use that pedagogical model.  

Parker University’s achievement in being able to pivot so quickly to online-only instruction that exploits all the advantages offered by a modern LMS and related educational technology has allowed the university to keep its lights on, its doors open, and its instruction ongoing. Almost unheard of in higher education over the last year, the 39-year-old university has even been experiencing record enrollment since the fall of 2020, thanks in no small measure to its ability to continuously improve its academic offerings even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. Parker’s extensive experience with Blackboard has been no small part of that success. 

Watch their story here.

For more information visit our Catalyst Awards Page.