Professor Joanne Arbour had just completed her degree in Criminology, which involved participating in online courses, when her Dean in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services at Durham College in Oshawa asked her to develop online criminology courses. The Dean wanted to provide students across the College, who take general education courses, with improved access and flexibility by offering optional course formats – face-to-face, blended, and fully online. Professor Arbour was hesitant at first, as she enjoyed the direct student contact. She took on the challenge of creating online interaction and discussion comparable to that which enlivened the face-to-face classes.
School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services
The first course Professor Arbour designed for online delivery was Wrongfully Convicted: A Look at the Canadian Justice System. Each student received a welcome e-mail before the course started, and their first task was to prepare a short biography using the format of a sports trading card. The course website provides information on using the technology and getting started in the course and weekly posts feature learning outcomes, readings, links to videos, the discussion board and other resources, and activities.
The activities stress engagement, interaction, and use of web tools:
Mind map – Students create an initial mind map (online diagram) of what they know about the criminal justice system in Canada; at the end of the course, they do this exercise again and reflect on what they have learned.
Discussions – Discussions do not start with the first class; instead the students develop some comfort with online learning through the trading card introductions and first mind map exercise. Topics are built around questions such as ‘Should Canada review its laws on marijuana or alcohol use?’ For some online discussions, the students are divided into teams to support or refute the point and comment on two opposing views from their classmates. Discussions can also be based on a video assigned for viewing that week concerning a wrongfully convicted person. At the end of the term, students choose what they consider to be their four best discussion posts and these are marked for quality of participation, as well as clarity and correctness of writing. At the beginning of term the expectations for contributions, stressing critical thinking and links with prior knowledge, experience, and the coursework, are clearly explained.
Courtroom Visits – To encourage students to engage with the justice system and the actualities of its practice, students attend two court sessions and then write about what they saw and their impression of the process. Students can use multiple tools including PowerPoint slides and the presentation software Prezi to convey their ideas.
Work Sheets and Quizzes – Each week, the student complete the chapter worksheets that accompany the textbook from McGraw-Hill Connect. These 10-question worksheets are open-book exercises, submitted in preparation for quizzes on the same content, which are assessed for grades.
Case Study – Students choose one case of wrongful conviction from those they see in the videos and prepare a case study. They use materials from media such as The Fifth Estate and CBC, as well as newspapers and magazines.
Rubrics were created for each assignment; students post assignments to the course Dropbox, Professor Arbour completes the rubric, the assignments and comments are returned to the students, and grades are transferred to the grade book.
Outcomes and Benefits
The quality of the contributions to the discussions demonstrates thoughtfulness and reflection that are often not possible in a face-to-face classroom. The discussions focus on the ideas presented, not legal analysis of any sort, so that the assignments are challenging and interesting, rather than onerous.
The diversity of assignments allows a variety of skills to be used.
Challenges and Enhancements
Professor Arbour wanted students to view various wrongful conviction cases as presented in the news or other video programming, but particular rights are needed to transfer some of the material to digital format. As well, the digital resources have to include closed captions and descriptive video.
Preparing an online course involves far more preparatory work than for face-to-face delivery. In a live classroom, faculty and instructors can use verbal presentations and responses, handouts, and real-time discussion. In an online class, the tools have to be extremely detailed to permit their use in independent and asynchronous situations. The spontaneity and instant responsiveness of a face-to-face classroom have to be replaced with careful planning and instructions, as well as consideration of content, teaching, and learning.
Student motivation is an ongoing challenge. As most students are enrolled in full-time college programs, face-to-face meetings are possible in cases of particular concerns with academic progress and assignments. Some of the students have not chosen to study online but have no options when trying to find a course that fit their schedule. They often need more intensive support and encouragement.
Professor Arbour has recently developed a new course, Women in Criminal Justice, for which she used the progressive model developed by her colleague, Professor Michelle Rivers. In this model, students progress thorough different delivery models – starting with face-to-face classrooms, then blended learning, and finally completely online modules. This model is described in more detail in Combining Traditional, Blended, and Online Learning in a Progressive Model at Durham College.
For Further Information
School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Service