Dr. Anne Trépanier’s mandate in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa was to develop a course stream in Québec Studies. Encouraging student enrolment and success was essential, as the CDNS 2510 Introduction to Québec Society course offered on Friday afternoon, suffered from low enrolment. Online delivery offered a possible solution to this challenge.
Having always enjoyed live classroom interaction, Professor Trépanier was concerned that online teaching would be dry, lacking in debate, exchange, and other positive characteristics of face-to-face. However, as she worked as part of a team to re-design the course, she came to the realization that; “It is more a question of migrating the intentions of teaching than migrating all the strategies used in the classroom.” Characterizing this as her “pedagogical ephiphany and a humbling experience”, Dr. Trépanier recognized that the instructor is not there to convey information available elsewhere, but to guide the students in making their own meaning, and in developing critical learning and effective research skills.
The development of the online course was a team effort, with Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz, an Instructional Designer in the Educational Development Centre, working with Dr. Trépanier on every step of combining the content, pedagogy, design, aesthetics, organization, creativity, and accommodations for disabilities into an effective learning package.
Using the online format to engage students, Professor Trépanier has incorporated a wide selection of textual and media resources, so students connect to the ideas of the culture in intellectual and emotional ways. Clear organization and simple navigation support learning and active participation.
Modular Structure: For each weekly online lesson, students move through a storyboard that mixes content and activities. The format helps to keep the student engaged as the pace changes often in each module, with most segments taking about 15 minutes. Each module is open one full week for completion of work; students continue to have access to previous modules. The storyboard which students follow for a lesson may include:
- Introductory video
- List of learning objectives, with information on how they will be assessed according to the activities in each module
- Mini-lectures of no more than 15 minutes, focusing on the essential information
- Mini-quizzes to be completed before moving to the next component of the module
- Videos, with responses guided by questions
- Interviews recorded for the course, with influential people from Québec
- Links to songs or other visual and oral material
- Lecture wrap-up
At the end of each lesson, students respond to two questions:
- From your perspective, what are the key issues discussed in this lesson? This question is to help them develop critical thinking and summarizing skills, as they cannot simply repeat the name of the module.
- What is the most significant unanswered question on your mind right now? Answers to these questions help the professor understand their progress and challenges and offer responses to individual questions, accessible to all students, to add depth to their learning.
Activities: Dr. Trépanier plans her activities to coincide with her multiple objectives of raising awareness of the individual character of Québec society; having the students do individual and group research and prepare to participate in the final class debate/discussion with informed opinions; and help the students navigate the online forum with a sense of being young academics able to express succinct ideas. Among the assignments she sets for them:
- A comparison of online museums related to the history of Québec, their contents, focus, and perspectives is done according to questions supplied by the professor.
- Each student must find a primary source from Library and Archives Canada or Bibliothèque de Québec related to the Québec economy, constitutional relations, or culture and upload it to the class site, adding in a one sentence description and proper bibliographic citation.
- They must also find a secondary source, preparing a review of a book or film related to one of those topics.
- Once they have posted their own sources, they have access to each other’s, and can comment and award stars for contributions they particularly like.
- A final online debate/discussion is built around the three themes they researched above, with three questions offer for each theme. They respond directly to her for one of the themes, and comment in the open forum on the other two. Students can chose what they consider to be their best post and it is assessed for grades according to the content quality, use of language, clarity, precision, timeliness, and inclusion of appropriately sourced references.
Outcomes and Benefits
Increased enrolment was a primary goal for introducing the online course and research shows a 129% increase between average registration in the face-to-face course in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and the 2013 online version. As well, the withdrawal rate fell from 26% to 14%. The strategy of steadily gaining points through activities in each module seems to have been a successful tool for retention. The number of weekly logins to the course site remained consistent throughout the 12 weeks.
A survey of the 2013 class also indicated very high levels of satisfaction with the course, as:
- 94% would recommend it to others;
- 82% rated the organization and clarity of content and assignments excellent or above average;
- 77% rated the impact of the activities in which they shared resources for learning as very high or above average; and
- 82% would take another course in a similar format.
Students can study when and where it suits them, with the modules divided into segments that do not demand hours of concentration. They have the capacity to proceed at their own pace, review, pause, reflect – in effect, develop a style of learning and assignment completion that works for them.
Instructors can also prepare the lectures when and where it suits them, and rehearse and re-do videos until they are satisfied.
Challenges and Enhancements
An online course requires extensive preparatory work; a teaching deferral is essential to be able to dedicate adequate time.
Students need support and guidance for learning online, accessing and assessing online information, and appropriate academic communication. Faculty have to stay engaged with the course, monitor progress, and help with difficult concepts.
Student discussion groups will be set up in the Fall 2014 course format so that students can have some preliminary exchanges of the topics of the debate.
The online course will be available in French in Fall 2014 as CDNS 2511, Introduction à la culture et à la société québécoise. Many of the resources and sites used are already bilingual, but the lectures and slides are being prepared in French and interviews are being re-done.
For Further Information
School of Canadian Studies