Iowa State Online partners with Amazon

Iowa State Online launched as a unit within the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) in January to reach new students and audiences -- and already is seeing results. Amazon approached the university this summer about assisting employees, particularly at its Bondurant facility, with continuing education.

"One of our goals is to partner with businesses and help with workforce development throughout the state," said Iowa State Online director Susan Arendt. Partnering with four-year institutions is a recent development for Amazon, she added.

Amazon partnered with Iowa State through its Amazon Career Choice network, which supports employees learning new skills and gaining knowledge to advance at the company or elsewhere. There are online and in-person options, and Amazon funds up to $5,250 per year for full-time employees and $2,625 for part time.

Currently, four employees are enrolled at Iowa State through this employee benefit, with majors ranging from community and regional planning to electrical engineering. All four are taking classes on campus, but Arendt sees the benefits of the online option.

"The online space is a nice opportunity for those employees because then they don’t have to leave Bondurant to receive the excellence of an Iowa State University education," she said.

Iowa State's participation in the Amazon Career Choice program was the culmination of about 18 months of preparatory work with several units on campus. Assistant provost and Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching executive director Sara Marcketti said the complex process will help develop pathways for other businesses looking to assist employees complete advanced degrees in the future.

Iowa State Online promotes and provides student support to the departments and colleges that offer three bachelor completion programs and more than 60 master, Ph.D. and certificate programs.

To better promote the program among Amazon employees, admissions assistant director for student recruitment Susie DeMoss and Iowa State Online staff will participate in a career choice school fair in Bondurant early next month.

"It will give us an opportunity to promote all of our online programs, answer questions and learn more about the workforce there," Arendt said.

Program development

CELT and Iowa State Online staff continue to work with colleges and departments to develop new programs in cybersecurity, digital health, game design and integrated health for the university's Degrees of the Future initiative. They also are helping refresh several other online programs such as agronomy, statistics and occupational safety.

The thorough process of developing a new online program can take a year. Iowa State Online staff can provide additional assistance after launch.

"It takes time to design, recruit students and get the marketing together. We have developed a launch process to make sure it is successful," Arendt said. "We are setting the expectations that this is a process, and it takes time to get through."

Once a college has an approved program to develop, college leaders and faculty meet with CELT to bring it to fruition through three phases:

  • Documents of intention
  • Design and learner support
  • Launch and continuous support

The documents of intention begin a conversation between CELT, Iowa State Online, and the faculty and department to determine what needs must be met and the services to be provided.

Design begins by planning the content of courses and learning experiences. It includes assistance with marketing ideas and concepts, ranging from email templates to print materials and a website landing page. The design process also includes help with student recruitment.

"The process often begins with research into the feasibility and opportunities of an online program and then grows with instructional design support and services to help recruit to the specific student market," Marcketti said.

To assist incoming online learners, the application, admission and class registration process is the same all students at ISU use. Iowa State Online offers support to prospective students with questions and aids departments and faculty through orientation by designing modules that are customizable to each course.

Once the online course is launched, CELT and Iowa State Online have ongoing resources, one-on-one consultations, and technical and pedagogical support. They also provide analytics and assist with any changes considered through feedback.

"CELT is actively partnering with programs across campus, bringing together the specific skills of our units to help serve faculty and guide them through the stages of building or refreshing a program," said CELT communications specialist Kelly McGowan. "We're involved every step of the way, from forecasting program success with market research to walking with faculty through instructional design, multimedia content production, marketing, student support and more."