Impact Report

Jan 1, 2020–Dec 31, 2020January 1, 2020–December 31, 2020

Dear colleagues,

When future historians tell the story of 2020 at Duke what will they say? Of course it is too soon to tell. And it’s not up to us, anyway. Or is it?

To me, the most important educational challenges are yet to come. Not the most urgent ones, or the most stressful ones. Those are (hopefully) behind us. But the important ones.

Those will be about learning the lessons of what worked (and what didn’t) in the pandemic and the response to it and using that knowledge to build a more equitable, just and resilient university of the future. We have an opportunity to shape the contours of the story.

To do that we have to pay attention. We have to really understand what happened in the last year. We need to honestly examine the impact of our efforts and share that knowledge openly within our community and beyond it. We have a collective responsibility to ensure Duke’s future strength for the benefit of those who come after us.

This report is our effort at Duke Learning Innovation to foster that reflection and start a campus-wide conversation. We are proud of what we achieved together with our partners across the University but also realistic about the limitations of “emergency remote teaching” and “flexible teaching” and the toll they have taken on our students and faculty.

We share this impact report in a spirit of reflection and desire for a better future, in which we hope you will join.


handwritten autograph

Matthew Rascoff

Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation

Matthew Rascoff

Matthew Rascoff

The Year in Numbers

Quantifying our Impact


Faculty Support Requests

question mark bubble icon

The requests for help from faculty in 2020 more than doubled from the previous year, when we responded to 1,430 requests. We managed to respond to every request in roughly 24 hours, helping instructors with problems large and small. Sometimes we were able to quickly answer a question, while other requests required multiple hours of one-on-one support.



teacher icon

To meet the needs of as many faculty as possible, we conducted virtual workshops on topics ranging from assessment to Zoom. Though many of our planned, in-person events for early 2020 were canceled, we were able to reach 740 more instructors than in 2019 due to increased need and reduced barriers (such as having to travel to our off-campus office to attend a workshop).


New Coursera Enrollments

laptop computer icon

People around the world turned to Coursera for professional development, personal enrichment or even as supplemental materials for their courses. The 63 courses taught by Duke faculty gained over 2.1 million enrollments in 2020.


Conversations in Sakai

conversation bubbles icon

As the learning management system for Duke, Sakai provided an important space for asynchronous course interaction. Though Zoom facilitated thousands of synchronous conversations, usage of Sakai forums saw a 77% increase from 2019.

Year in Review

How our work evolved throughout 2020

January 9, 2020

WHO Announces Emergence of a Novel Coronavirus

The World Health Organization issued a statement that a novel coronavirus has been identified in Wuhan, China.

Rendering of COVID-19 Virus

An illustration of a coronavirus from the CDC

January 25, 2020

DKU Transitions to Emergency Remote Teaching

Duke Kunshan University postponed classes in all programs until February 17 in response to concern over the novel coronavirus outbreak in China and overseas.

Learning Innovation partnered with DKU’s Center for Teaching and Learning to build a global, online university in three weeks. With 579 undergraduate students and over 100 faculty all scattered across time zones and with varying levels of internet access, Learning Innovation’s expertise in effective teaching practices and developing online learning programs was key to DKU’s successful pivot to remote teaching.

Learning Innovation also leveraged its partnership with Coursera to provide DKU students and faculty access to Coursera’s full catalog to use as supplemental learning materials.

Sharing Lessons Learned

ITHAKA S+R Case Study of Implementing Online Learning in Two Weeks

In an effort to assist other colleges and universities as they decided how to proceed with remote teaching, ITHAKA S+R published a case study documenting the decision-making and implementation of DKU’s move to online teaching in a rapidly evolving situation.

Read the Case Study
An exterior photo of DKU Campus

Duke Kunshan University

March 10, 2020

Duke University Pivots to Emergency Remote Teaching

President Price announced that all in-person meetings would be suspended until further notice in an effort to minimize health and safety risks to Duke students, faculty, staff and the larger community. Spring Break was extended to allow students and instructors to transition to emergency remote learning, with classes resuming March 23.

The Benjamin Duke statue wearing a mask.

The Benjamin Duke statue

March 11, 2020

Keep Teaching Website Launches

In partnership with OIT, Learning Innovation quickly launched the Keep Teaching website to support instructors in the transition to emergency remote teaching. We were initially influenced by Indiana University’s Keep Teaching and Stanford University’s Teach Anywhere websites. Soon after launching the Keep Teaching website, we began sending Keep Teaching Updates, a regular newsletter to 9,000 faculty and faculty emeriti to share resources, reinforce important updates, and - most importantly - let them know that Learning Innovation was available to help them through email, office hours and workshops.

Keep Teaching Homepage

The Keep Teaching homepage

March 12, 2020

Coursera Announces Coursera for Campus

Due to the success of DKU’s use of Coursera as part of its emergency remote teaching strategy, Coursera announced its Coursera for Campus initiative, providing free access to its course catalog of over 3,800 courses and 400 specializations to any impacted university in the world.

Bird's eye view of a Duke student working on her laptop at a table surrounded by books and papers.
The Duke 2020 Access Learning Program

May 3, 2020

Meeting Increased Demand for Summer

Over 1,000 Duke students enrolled in at least one summer session course in 2020, a significant increase over any prior year. We focused our time helping instructors prepare to teach online, accelerated summer courses.

A student works on a computer while her instructor teaches from her laptop.

With no in-person options for summer, Duke students signed up for online courses in record numbers.

Dedicated Devils

Learning Innovation Highlighted for Commitment to Faculty

Duke Today recognized Learning Innovation’s efforts in their weekly Dedicated Devils column. Kim Bethea, director of the Academic Resource Center, nominated Learning Innovation for the award, saying: “They did a tremendous job helping faculty transition to remote learning for the second half of spring break as well as for the summer. The resources and support they provided to faculty were exceptional.”

Screenshot from a full staff meeting via Zoom

Learning Innovation staff regularly meet via Zoom to stay connected.

May 19, 2020

Helping the Helpers

Learning Innovation partnered with the Graduate School to offer a series of online workshops to help graduate teaching assistants learn how to teach online. Workshop topics included managing virtual classrooms, getting started with Sakai, using Zoom breakout rooms, facilitating inclusive online discussions and wrapping up the term. Demand for workshops was high enough that the series was offered multiple times and continue to run in early 2021.

A student works on a computer outside wearing a mask.

Teaching assistants play an important role in supporting large courses.

June 3, 2020

Transitioning to Flexible Teaching for Fall

The ongoing pandemic made it difficult to predict exactly what the approaching Fall semester would look like, but it was clear that Duke’s approach to remote teaching would need to evolve yet again. Learning Innovation developed Flexible Teaching to help faculty create the most resilient, flexible courses possible. This new website featured a suite of self-service support materials including three flexible teaching guides, blueprints to help faculty envision how flexible teaching could work for their course, and a course design planner to help them work through the site and redesign their course in four weeks. To date, the website has reached over 18,950 unique users and garnered over 63,200 pageviews.

Flexible Teaching homepage

The Flexible Teaching homepage


Duke Keeps Teaching

Learning Innovation wanted to recognize Duke instructors for their incredible efforts to transition their courses from classroom to remote delivery. These sneak peeks into their virtual classrooms highlight their empathy, grace and creativity in their endeavors to ensure Duke’s academic continuity during a time of uncertainty.

August 17, 2020 - November 24, 2020

Staying Flexible through the Fall

Though many members of the Duke community were able to return to campus for Fall, it was a semester unlike any other. Learning Innovation continued providing comprehensive support to Duke instructors throughout the Fall semester. As faculty grew more confident in delivering their courses in a variety of ways, Learning Innovation remained and remains available to enable the continuity of Duke’s learning community.

Two masked students study while masked and socially-distanced outside, one reading a book in a hammock and another typing on a laptop in a lawn chair.

Students spent a lot more time studying outside so they could be together while remaining socially distanced.

In Their Own Words

Comments from Duke Faculty on teaching during a pandemic

“The students have been absolutely fantastic. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how many of them would feel comfortable participating in this new format. But to their immense credit, soon after we began class, a number of ‘hands’ were in the air and there was widespread participation throughout the class. I’m not surprised, given the caliber of students we have here, but it is heartening to see so many students engaging so thoughtfully with the material and sharing their views even in this new setting, in a difficult time. I could not be prouder of them, or more grateful to be teaching them this semester.”

pencil icon

"How Duke Keeps Teaching" Submission

March 2020

“The training and support for our great online pivot here has been simply incredible, even exciting. But also, and I think this is important to acknowledge for all of us, this is not what any of us signed up for and there was something missing. At the end of class, despite the fact that it had all gone well, I felt a hole. I missed the buzz of quiet conversation as I entered the classroom, the crinkle of students opening their potato chip bags, and my ability to walk around the room in a way that helped me emphasize a point, clarify a concept or ask a hard question."

pencil icon

"How Duke Keeps Teaching" Submission

March 2020

“I'm very grateful for your support, and this is really hard. Everything takes much longer than it would, from recording and editing videos to setting up assessments in Sakai to explaining a concept live using a mouse and a virtual whiteboard... But the feedback I'm getting from instructors is that students are overwhelmed, like the rest of us!”

conversation bubble icon

Survey Feedback

September 2020

“My students have been amazing. But I am starting to see the effects of not being in the same physical space and teaching synchronously. It is hard not being in the classroom space. I can see screen exhaustion. I also think the pandemic and how they've had to adjust is taking a toll.”

conversation bubble icon

Survey Feedback

September 2020

“After reading through Learning Innovation's online materials and participating in a couple of Office Hours sessions… I had a much better sense of what tools are available and got great ideas for some best practices to implement. Overall, I really enjoyed the process of overhauling my class to fit this new delivery model -- everyone could use a little editing, right?”

conversation bubble icon

Survey Feedback

December 2020

“I feel that there were a lot of resources provided for us, but students were still sad, depressed, frustrated, stressed, moreso than in other semesters. It felt like there was nothing I could do more to help them feel supported or uplifted. It was agonizing. I tried to be crazily flexible with assignments, paying attention to wellness (and referring where possible), probing individuals during office hours, etc. I didn't know what else to do.”

conversation bubble icon

Survey Feedback

December 2020


Stories about and by Learning Innovation in 2020


Duke Today

How to Build a Global Online University - In Three Weeks

The Washington Post

China’s coronavirus crisis forces Duke Kunshan University to teach online

DKU News

Online learning: When class is just a click away

Duke Chronicle

As online classes begin, learn more about the team helping faculty keep teaching

Harvard Business Review

Higher Ed Needs a Long-Term Plan for Virtual Learning

Inside Higher Ed

Lessons for Learning After the Crisis

IEEE Spectrum

How Online Learning Kept Higher Ed Open During the Coronavirus Crisis

Coursera Blog

Education and Coronavirus: Lessons From Emergency Remote Teaching

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Edge: Election Results Spell Bad News for Higher-Ed Innovation When It’s Needed Most

Top Blog Posts

What Comes Next

How we're applying the lessons we learned in 2020

Out of crises new opportunities and innovations can emerge. In order to sustain the digital learning innovations that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched Carry the Innovation Forward. Learning Innovation will provide staff support and funding for selected proposals that focus on innovative learning research, new learning technology exploration, re-envisioning a course or program for flexible or online learning, or faculty learning communities. We look forward to working with faculty to help Duke realize its post-pandemic future.

Our Year In Progress

Learn more about what our teams have done this year, what they’re working on now and what they have planned next.

See What We're Doing in 2021