In addition to teaching at Durham College in Oshawa, Michelle Rivers, a Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services, is enrolled in graduate studies at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), taking a Master’s degree through online learning (this synchronous program has been featured in Contact North | Contact Nord’s Pockets of Innovation Series). For her thesis, Professor Rivers is comparing three approaches to teaching and learning within the same course in a single semester. The students begin in a traditional face-to-face classroom, progress into a hybrid format combining face-to-face and online, and then continue their progression to online learning. This progressive delivery model, developed by Michelle Rivers and Dr. Robin Kay, UOIT, is structured to take advantage of the strengths of all three formats for teaching and learning.
The model of progressive delivery allows both faculty and students to move gradually into online learning, with supports and a sense of community and connection with classmates developed along the way.
Professor Rivers uses this model in her immensely popular course Exploring the Paranormal and Pseudoscience, breaking the 14-week semester into:
- Five weeks in a face-to-face class, including the first week Introductory/Orientation class
- Four weeks with hybrid delivery, blending two hours in a face-to-face classroom and one hour online
- Four weeks completely online
- One final week back in the classroom for a test and a discussion on pseudoscience in pop culture, a highly engaging topic
The course is one of the general education elective courses offered to all programs at Durham. Professor Rivers structures the course to teach students about science and critical thinking, as they examine the premises of pseudoscience. For example, in one class they study the science of the human brain, and then discuss the validity of such theories as ESP, telepathy, and telekinesis in the context of actual brain functions. The class concludes with each student taking an ESP test – to connect the theory to their own experience.
The course website, available through the learning management system Desire2Learn, offers the same structure and types of resources for each class, regardless of style of delivery. During the face-to-face classes, the professor leads the students through the materials posted for that week on the course website, modelling how students can proceed when learning independently online.
All the lectures are online. In a face-to-face class, the lecture is delivered live, and the same lecture is captured using the software SnagIt and then loaded onto the website so students can use it for review; all lectures are recorded to be available during the appropriate week and stay on the site for the duration of the course. Lectures, whether delivered and recorded in-class or presented directly online, are short, incorporating slides and supplemented with videos, website links, discussions, and activities.
To support the usefulness of viewing videos or visiting websites, note sheets are distributed with questions to be answered from the content. These guide note taking and form the basis for tests. The course is designed to be very resource-rich, combining short lectures, videos of not more than 15 minutes, and slides of information with links to articles, and visuals of relevant concepts.
During the weeks of hybrid learning, the discussions take place online, which often changes the pattern of contributions. Quieter students may participate more actively and the comments may be more reflective and thoughtful as they are more permanently accessible on the site.
During the weeks with fully online learning, the students e-mail more questions to Professor Rivers. She responds within 24 hours and tells students that if she has not responded in the time, to e-mail her again. Responding to their needs is her top priority. As, at this point in the course, students are all familiar with the online structure of the modules, their questions are not about finding resources, but rather about how to complete activities.
Assignments and participation are substantial components of the grade, along with open book tests. One of the assignments, during the hybrid learning weeks, involves the use of Padlet, an electronic blank wall on which students assemble resources illustrative of a course topic. Padlet has the advantages of being free and able to be taught in less than 10 minutes, requirements for any tool used for the class. Each student picks a topic and finds and posts 3 related videos, 3 images, and 3 websites, providing an introduction and an explanation of the relevance of each resource. They often use SmartArt and other resources to make their walls look attractive.
Another assignment, during the online weeks, involves Wikis, in which students sign up for a topic, and using the format provided by the professor, assemble general information, YouTube videos, links to sites, etc., adding in a critical reflection on the information. This assignment requires more writing than the Padlet wall, but both stress critical analysis of pseudoscience and the paranormal. Students have access to each others’ walls and Wikis, providing motivation, examples, and opportunities for additional learning.
Outcomes and Benefits
Professor Rivers provides an overview of the progressive delivery model in her YouTube video. The gradual progression from in-class to fully online delivery allows students to make connections and build community in the first weeks of class, which can be especially important for first-year students. Students build confidence in their ability to access online resources and learn online, and become familiar with the course structure and expectations. Regardless of the format, they are supported in reaching their learning goals, and, as a bonus, they become adept at using technologies for learning. They are much better prepared for any future courses, assignment, or work experience involving online skills and experience.
Student engagement has not been an issue, as given the subject matter, students are highly interested. Professor Rivers teaches 2 sections of the course Exploring the Paranormal and Pseudoscience to 120 students (both sections are progressive delivery), and 2 sections of her new course, World Mysteries to 100 students (one section progressive delivery, one section fully online). All the sections fill to maximum capacity as soon as registration begins.
So far, the progressive delivery model has been adopted for a handful of courses at Durham. Colleagues consider the model’s fit into their own program needs, with potential for training students not only about their course content, but also how to learn online. The model is thought to be an especially good fit for a first-year, first-semester course, preparing students for online learning in future semesters.
Challenges and Enhancements
What works online is often different from what works in the classroom so the development of each weekly module requires extensive time and research. Online assignments require careful preparation and coaching, including the development of videos explaining the various tools used.
Evaluative research on the progressive delivery model used by Professor Rivers and others at Durham College has been collected and she will analyze it over the next few months. She is also engaged in another project with Dr. Robin Kay from UOIT, looking at student readiness for online learning. They developed an online learning quiz, with immediate feedback, that students can take to self-assess their readiness. The quiz will be pilot tested with students in the online general education courses at Durham College in Fall 2014.
The online readiness self-assessment quiz will be made available as an open resource so it can be used by other colleges and universities. In addition, mini-modules for support for those who are not prepared for online learning may be developed to expand the usefulness of the quiz, and a video that provides a snapshot of the nature and expectations of online learning.
For Further Information
School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services