Lori Lockey, Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services at Durham College in Oshawa, describes her first experience with developing an online course as being “like a bulb turned on”, as she recognized the potential, innovation, and learning possible through online learning. Her Dean was interested in having general education courses, which are part of all programs at Durham College, available in online formats and asked her to develop a new course in Women’s Studies, which would be offered online. She has now developed five online courses, some of which are taught by other instructors, and eagerly anticipates doing more.
For each course, students get access to online lectures which are recorded using Tegrity, the McGraw-Hill lecture capture software. This allows the students anywhere, anytime viewing, supplemented by a search capacity that covers the entire course, the capacity to take notes on the slides and accompanying material, and a communication feature in which messages are linked directly to the part of the class to which they are referring.
Professor Lockey also uses McGraw-Hill e-textbooks that respond to her needs and topic choices. They include guided readings, so that the students are instructed to look for themes and explain ideas as they read the material.
The courses are structured in five or six modules, paced over a 14-week semester. Spreading a topic over a number of weeks allows the students to develop a greater comfort level and expertise, encouraging higher quality participation in discussions and reflective assignments. Professor Lockey can track students’ progress and if she sees, particularly in the early modules, that they are struggling, she will keep the module active online until they are comfortable with the technology and the learning.
Students are given a choice as to how deeply they want to delve into each topic – with readings, websites, images, videos, maps, and some quizzes for comprehension rather than marks. Their participation in the discussions is monitored to ensure they are grasping the essential learnings – and the essential skills – associated with each module.
The basic premise that Professor Lockey uses in developing online courses is that every concept has to connect to the life of the students and/or to the materials they have studied previously – giving them scope to reflect on the meaning and application of the ideas. Examples of how courses are structured to support this include:
- In the section on marriage and the family in the course on Women across Cultures, Professor Lockey has the students describe the food, practices, holidays, ceremonies, and other aspects of their family life in order to develop a context for looking at divergent practices.
- In the section on feminism in the Introduction to Women’s Studies course, students do a quiz prior to studying the content and taking part in the online discussions. They then repeat the quiz at the end of the module and reflect on how their attitudes or ideas have changed.
- In Introduction to Sociology, the module on the environment is followed by the one on health and aging, with content and discussion linking the concepts of environment and health. Clips from the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, are used to add interest and vitality to the discussions.
- In other Sociology activities, students put their postal codes into a website that then does an analysis of their neighbourhood – which they can look at for how closely it resembles their experience of where they live. They are also presented with visuals to analyze in relation to studies of topics such as child brides and they are required to post a description of what they see going on in the images. She follows their responses to ensure they are on track.
Assessment includes participation in discussions – both the quantity and the quality of each student’s interventions are considered. Quizzes are administered using McGraw-Hill Connect. This online system scrambles the questions so no two students receive the same quiz, a benefit with assuring credibility of online testing results.
Many of the graded assignments are projects, which may be done in groups or as individuals. They may examine advertisements aimed at women and comment on what they see. As a more creative next step, students make their own gender-bending advertisement using resources from sites such as Glogster, a graphics blog, and Pinterest, a tool for collecting and organizing images.
Outcomes and Benefits
In online learning, classroom management issues are replaced with creative challenges for content delivery, learning activities, and interaction. Online learning provides a more flexible approach to learning that can include aspects that appeal to all types of learners. Students can move at their own pace and continue exploring any topic to whatever depth they choose.
Students are able to add to their existing technological skills, moving beyond Facebook, to discover how technology can be used for learning and research.
Although students are given choices as to how much of the material beyond the basic requirements they cover in each module, they usually exceed this minimum level.
Professor Lockey describes online teaching as allowing her to “be creative, flexible, and make connections”. She learns along with her students – about the process of learning, the content, the capacities of technology and new software, and being resourceful in locating finding tools and materials.
Challenges and Enhancements
Connecting with the students, especially at the start of a course, is challenging. Professor Lockey provides an introduction of herself that serves as model for the students in preparing their own and responds quickly to all e-mails to assure them she is there to support them.
Finding viable, dependable resources that encourage connections to students’ lives and interaction takes an enormous amount of time. In some cases, they are available only on sites such as YouTube and so may disappear without notice. Getting the rights to some of the films and other resources can be quite expensive, and funding is very limited for this type of acquisition.
One of the new tools that Professor Lockey is introducing to allow for more creative expression of the concepts in both teaching and assignments is Padlet, which is essentially an electronic blank wall on which students can assemble multiple resources linked to a topic. Images, information, links to articles, quotes, graphs, and maps can be assembled to deliver a message or a response to an assignment question.
For Further Information
Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services