As the School for Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services at Durham College in Oshawa implemented the strategy of offering more opportunities for students to take courses online, Professor Michelle Mouton was asked to draw on her background in Art History to develop an online course. With support from the Centre for Academic and Faculty Enrichment (CAFE) and reference to The Online Teaching Survival Guide, she began to develop her first course.
Professor Mouton had taken a number of online courses and had found them lacking in presentation of content in ways that would appeal to visual learners. This, coupled with the fact that the course she was developing was in art history, led her to pay particular attention to the design and presentation of content in a pedagogically and visually effective way. Her goal was to create online resources that were interesting, active, and varied, while delivering essential content and support to students.
The goal of the design for the course in The History of Art is to make every page have something that engages the student, while not overloading them with content or demanding too much technological expertise. Instead, the ideal is to leave time for reflection.
Each component of the course was considered for its contribution – pedagogically, visually, and personally. The design of the introductory page for each lesson involved the consideration of fonts and colours and the choice of icons to represent the weekly components of the course outline such as learning objectives, readings, graded work, and activities. Videos are often incorporated as a way of moving away from the text. A print textbook was chosen to provide students with a tangible resource with quality contents – and a price of only $18.
As an example, the module on architectural styles includes a section on the Bauhaus school of design featuring short video presentations from sources such as PBS and the BBC, followed by a quiz on the key characteristics of the style. The quizzes are for self-assessment so the correct answers are provided. Students are also sent on a virtual field trip such as shown in the illustration below. Using Google Maps and Google Street View, students visit a corner in Toronto where they are asked to find examples of Gothic, Classical, Modern, and Post-Modern architecture.
A quiz follows the identification of the architectural styles for students to assess how well they have grasped the differences, but not for grades. The aspect that is graded is the online presentation. Each student chooses a building that they discuss in terms of the key characteristics of its style. As the building can be from anywhere, classmates can benefit from a potentially international look at architecture. The graded assessment looks at student understanding of the concepts of style through their choice and explanation.
To teach about Expressionism, the impact of the events of their time on artists and their work is the dominant theme; in this case, the focus is on World War I. Following readings, videos, and optional quizzes, students contribute to an Answer Garden. Using this tool, students provide one or two word answers to the question How does German Expressionist Art make you feel?, and their answers are represented in a cloud, with size of the font from the various words submitted determined by frequency of submission.
A group assignment involves creating a profile of a modern artist – such as Picasso or Mondrian – and introducing the artist to the class, using a format of their choice. To encourage improved submissions, Professor Mouton is going to use Wikis next time she teaches the class. She will create headings to give the profiles more substance and consistency and support the students working in groups.
To combat the possible sense of isolation associated with online learning, Professor Mouton stresses the creation of social presence. She models what she wants her students to do – uploading a video of herself and offering the type of information to be shared. She designed a template for class introductions that covers such topics as favourite place, favourite food, and other safe, but personal, information to share. She realized that she could not expect students to do what she does not do herself, and so replies to every posting on the introduction board, stressing a friendly and approachable style.
The desired outcome of the focus on design of the learning tools is to make learning relevant and useful so that what the students take away from the course expands and works for them in their lives.
Outcomes and Benefits
A survey by the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services found that the student maximum for face-to-face classes was too high for the online environment. The online class maximum has been reduced, allowing more time for development, interaction, and student support issues that are specific to online learning. The College recognized and addressed the demands made by the different pedagogy of online learning.
The pages for each lesson are designed to create a rhythm for learning and offer some predictability for students, without being mundane.
Group work in an online environment can offer specific difficulties, especially if a group member does not contribute. To counteract this, Professor Mouton has outlined the requirement of each member to be in touch with their group by a certain date, or else be excluded from the group. In this case, the student can complete the assignment individually, but is not eligible for the peer work marks.
Challenges and Enhancements
Many of the online activities are followed by optional quizzes for self-assessment and better learning. Professor Mouton recognizes that students may not complete the quizzes unless they are necessary for grades, and, although she encourages them to do so, she also recognizes the importance of their taking responsibility for their learning and level of engagement. Her goal is to get them to think about the content of the lesson, and many students have commented on how they look at things differently after the course as they apply their new knowledge.
An online course has to be designed and ready to go when the course starts so it is harder to be flexible and introduce new topics or follow tangents as one might in the classroom. Locating or creating and collating the resources take considerable time, limiting the introduction of emerging areas of interest. In some ways the students do this, with their choices of topics and other resources as part of the assignments that are open to all to view.
Using online surveys, student feedback is collected leading to course changes such as shorter videos and the re-assessment of low-rated resources. The short development time she had available for an online course in Art and Aesthetics meant that Professor Mouton offered the students voice-over PowerPoint slides as lectures. She had planned to remove them once she had more development time, but the positive student response has meant that they remain a component of the online course.
Online teaching demands that faculty be widely skilled and multi-talented – combining subject expertise with pedagogical knowledge, technological skills, design capacity, and even voice skills for interesting narration.
While Professor Mouton sees enormous potential in online learning and is always working to improve her courses, she also constantly reminds herself: “Don’t try to do everything at the same time.” For example, focus on social presence and, when the strategies and mechanisms to support that are in place, move on to another aspect.
The next challenge that Professor Mouton may take on is the integration of Blubbr into her courses. Blubbr supports the creation of quizzes around videos, with multiple choice questions and their answers inserted at certain points in the viewing; after questions are answered, the video resumes. Blubbr quizzes have been created around a number of YouTube videos which can be accessed on the web or the software is freely available to be used with other videos.
For Further Information
School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Service