At the University of Ottawa, the Vice-President, Academic provided special funding for the development of online courses in order to:
- Address the issue of introductory level classes with very high registration numbers, especially mandatory courses. The online courses would relieve the pressure on the face-to-face course enrolments and offer students options for study that best suit their life situations.
- Ensure that the University has an inventory of courses that could be contributed to a possible province-wide online course initiative.
Professors submitted applications for funding to develop courses and 12 were selected. The courses are in different stages of development, pilot testing, and implementation.
The Centre for Innovative Pedagogies and Digital Learning (formerly the Centre for e-Learning) works with professors to create and implement technology-based courses, as well as online teaching and learning materials. The online courses are designed so that they can be taught by other faculty, not only the subject-matter expert who was involved in the design.
Each course demands careful attention to its unique features and the students’ learning needs, and is based on instructional design that matches the learning outcomes with the evaluation, content and learning activities. The Centre works extensively with individual professors for best results. Examples of online courses exemplifying varying approaches to online learning include:
Principles of Sociology: This introductory level course is currently being piloted with a new unit released each week, providing:
- A content description;
- Learning expectations for the week;
- Time estimates for the unit;
- A mini-lecture with transcript as an introduction to the content;
- Reflection questions;
- Images, fully described with text to ensure accessibility;
- Interactive activities; and
- Assignments which may or may not be graded.
The assignments take full advantage of online tools by, for example, having students draw a concept map and using screen captures to submit to the professor for feedback. Learning is also interactive as demonstrated in the module on Gender, Race, and Ethnicity. The students are presented with certain factors and then asked to guess how much the average person described earns. They type in their estimated numbers, which instantly appears visually in a chart. They can then compare their estimates against actual Canadian data from 2011, as well as receive feedback.
Child Development (Psychology): This fully online course presents weekly topics, which usually correspond to a chapter in the mandatory textbook, so that students can read about the concepts in more depth. The online content has been chunked into smaller, easier-to-read segments augmented with extensive visuals. Very short clips were chosen from the professor’s existing Echo 360 video clips and were converted into a “Professor’s Corner” where students see a PowerPoint visual and hear the professor explain concepts that were identified as the most difficult for students to master. A variety of interactive activities (e.g. drag and drop, matching questions) also accompany the material to integrate theory with real-life and applied scenarios. Reflection questions with immediate feedback appear throughout. Self-check quizzes (pre-tests), which were highly rated by the students, and practice post tests are also provided to give students an indication of how well they are meeting the weekly learning objectives. Two mid-terms and a final exam are also completed online.
Introduction to Calculus and Vectors: This course is offered in spring and summer for those without the pre-requisites for the University mathematics program; they can take (and pass) the online course to qualify for the fall program entry. The course is organized into two streams – Calculus and Vectors – rather than a traditional 13-week structure. The students can complete the two streams at their own pace over the duration of the course. The grading is split 50% for online activities and 50% for a face-to-face final exam. However, as a strategy against possible online cheating, students have to achieve a passing grade on the final exam, as well as overall, in order to get a course credit.
About 70 videos from the Khan Academy are embedded in the course to demonstrate key mathematical concepts, complemented by instructions and exercises from the professor.
Students taking math courses on campus have access to a face-to-face tutoring service, but this could not be provided to online students, as there was no way of communicating equations at a distance in real time. The professor and the Centre will be exploring a new application called MyScript that allows a student or a tutor to handwrite equations or mathematical expressions on screen and they are rendered into digital equivalents for easy sharing and exporting. This application holds potential not only for tutoring, but also for the creation of frequently asked questions for learners and use in class with a projector and a white board so that all calculations can be archived for later reference by students.
This particular app could be used for online learning and tutoring in many fields, including engineering and economics.
Managerial Accounting: This second-year accounting course makes use of external websites from publishers for exercises and assignments, as well as group and case work, with face-to-face mid-term and final exams. The challenge was establishing a framework that securely moved the students between the internal and external websites.
Organic Chemistry: The professor in this course, which is offered in French, found a considerable gap between her expectations of what her students should already know and what they actually did know. She also encountered a lack of online French-language tools to aid their learning. Working with The Centre for Innovative Pedagogies and Digital Learning (formerly the Centre for e-Learning), she developed an interactive tool for students to name and design molecules, as well as identify key parts of the compounds and the connections between these molecules and their applications in the everyday world.
In the first phase, a free quiz tool was developed featuring one hundred organic compounds, with students receiving immediate feedback on their naming, drawing and identifying of the molecules and compounds. The site is available on the professor's uOttawa website and is licensed through Creative Commons.
Phase two, currently in process, focuses on giving students a tool to create their own quizzes, offering them a mix of question choices on these same themes. The question bank has over 900 questions, and will be available in French and English. The site will also contain other support materials on definitions and the scientific approach. The graphic design is specifically aimed at students using lighter, brighter colours, shapes, and design features.
Phase three will make this tool transportable so that other professors can put it on their university and college servers and add their own questions.
Outcomes and Benefits
The feedback from the online courses that have been piloted and assessed so far indicates that students respond very positively to the online presence of the professor, as well as the practice quizzes, feedback, and interactive activity. They appreciate the content delivered in chunks, supplemented with maximum interactivity. Conversely, if the professors are not present online, the students are not likely to complain, which may relate to their being first-year students and not sure what to expect.
As the online learning courses are tested and integrated, the responses of students will be carefully monitored.
In addition to the continued efforts with online courses, in April 2013, a new initiative for a large-scale implementation of blended courses was launched. The Report of the E-Learning Working Group foresaw the conversion of 1,000 courses, 20% of all University of Ottawa courses, to a blended format by 2020. A funding program was launched to support professors wanting to convert their courses and any programs wishing to adapt at least 20% of their courses to a blended mode. The funding can be used for consultation and tools to facilitate the development of the courses. The Centre for Innovative Pedagogies and Digital Learning (formerly the Centre for e-Learning), as part of Teaching and Learning Support Services, will be sharing its expertise and creativity to assist professors in this initiative.
Richard Pinet and his colleagues in the Centre are open to sharing their experiences with others in universities and colleges throughout Ontario.
For Further Information
Centre for e-Learning
University of Ottawa