Rich and Participatory Learning Beyond the Classroom
Dr. Natalie Jolly
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
University of Washington, Tacoma Campus
Teaching Online Courses – A Separate Animal
The number of online classes and degree programs offered by both private and public universities has increased dramatically in the last ten years. The Online Education Database currently lists reviews for 1,041 programs from 88 accredited online colleges. Students have embraced the flexibility and lower costs of online courses. At the same time, faculty have learned to embrace the Web-based classroom experience and to enjoy online teaching. With tight budgets and high demand for limited classroom space, UW Tacoma (UWT) is exploring online education as an effective space-saving measure. UWT instructor Natalie Jolly (Ph.D., Sociology and Women’s Studies) teaches both hybrid classes with in-person and online components as well as solely online classes. These classes are well received by UWT students, some of whom live an hour or more away from campus and appreciate the flexibility associated with online learning.
Dr. Jolly's philosophy of online instruction has solidified as she has shifted to more online-only classes:
"Initially, when I started teaching [online-only], I was so focused on how to reproduce the classroom online, but then I realized it is totally different, not just a reproduction —it is its own separate animal. I do things online that I do not do in class, and vice versa. But they both achieve a similar goal."
Dr. Jolly is employed as faculty in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences where she teaches Introduction to Women’s Studies and Introduction to Sociology online.
"I like that I can create a different experience with Catalyst ... [an online] class does not have to be just delivery of content, it can be interactive -- [students contribute] projects, [they are] linking to things, bringing new content in. The flexibility is great."
Tools for Effective Online Teaching
Using CommonView, GoPost, Collect It, WebQ, and other Catalyst Web Tools, Dr. Jolly has found the means to engage online students in new ways to create a participatory dynamic that she finds richer than the normal classroom experience:
"That has been so profound for me ... I cannot even stress [how] the degree of participation and the level of engagement in the fully online classes is so much higher than in the face-to-face classes."
Dr. Jolly found this counterintuitive at first, given a prevailing notion that online learning is passive, but she encouraged students to interact with the course content and with each other as peers.
For the online-only classes, a standard weekly schedule with similar assignments due on the same day each week provides structure to the courses and scaffolds tasks to facilitate learning. On Mondays, Dr. Jolly updates the class CommonView workspace with images, lecture text, and a movie streamed through the UW Tacoma Library. Students submit an assignment via Catalyst Collect It and take a small WebQ quiz on the week's topic. Tuesdays, on the GoPost discussion board, students respond to a topic or question that Dr. Jolly posts; on Wednesday they reply to each others' posts, resulting in threaded discussions of multiple students engaging with each other about the weekly topic.
"Each student gets to participate in the conversation … and because they have unlimited time, they are able to put so much more into their analysis and response. You do not get the knee-jerk reactions that you get in the classroom. I was worried there would be flaming on the boards, but it is the opposite: it is much more thoughtful… in the classroom it can be tense, but online it's not like that."
Each week also includes work on a project that students create using Google Sites, which will be integrated with Catalyst CommonView for student ePortfolio creation, with an initial release in Fall 2010. Dr. Jolly's students submit the projects to her via Catalyst Collect It and then discuss project topic and implementation on the discussion board. In some courses, students use Catalyst QuickPoll to vote for the best project of each week; the winner gets extra credit. Dr. Jolly syncs the weekly WebQ quiz scores to Catalyst GradeBook, which she also uses to publish grades to students and submit final class grades to the UW Registrar.
Dr. Jolly's in-person classes also make use of Catalyst Web Tools and other online learning tools, becoming more like "hybrid classes," with a large online component. Participation in the GoPost discussion boards is required, and the in-person classes often include a Google Sites project component similar to the entirely online classes.
Dr. Jolly has also been impressed with student performance in online classes. Students who take both her online and face-to-face courses generally both prefer and perform better in the online-only classes:
“I am not sure what is happening for them ... maybe they are seeing other students raise the bar and meeting the higher expectation? My online classes fill so fast. They are full within two to three days of being open, and the face-to-face classes are just not filling quite as fast."
The Principles are the Same
Whether teaching an online course or leading a discussion in a traditional classroom setting, Dr. Jolly finds that the basic principles are the same – encourage the students to engage with the course material and with each other. Using tools like Catalyst and Google Sites, Dr. Jolly has been able to post lectures, respond to student questions, administer quizzes, assign and grade projects, publish grades, and encourage student participation in all aspects of the online learning experience.
Dr. Jolly sums up her experience teaching online:
"Online learning has CHANGED the way they are learning. It's not just reproducing the classroom."