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College of Arts & Sciences Offers Online Courses

By Abbey Becker

Online Learning

After final exams in the spring, many students head home or take on an internship or job for the summer. But just because the majority of students aren’t on campus doesn’t mean that getting ahead on credits can’t happen with AU over the summer. This summer, AU is offering over 100 classes that will only be taught online.

The College of Arts and Sciences is building a space in the Battelle-Tompkins Memorial Building called the Research, Education and Collaboration (REC) Room. The space is meant for faculty who are teaching online courses to record lectures, and outside speakers can be included in lectures via Skype or teleconferencing. The College has added new technologies, such as an interactive projector and document camera. The REC Room is still being built, but it is scheduled to open at the beginning of May and should be ready for summer courses this year.

Online classes make it possible for students to be flexible when it comes to where and when they “sit in” on classes. “Online courses are asynchronous,” says Cathy Schaeff, associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. “They fit around their work schedules. People can take it away from the city, so AU students can still be with their preferred professors.”

Online courses also attract students from outside the university. “I know that I’ve had interest in this summer’s courses from students in the consortium, because the course they’re interested in isn’t offered at their university during the summer session,” says Professor Alex Hodges, who will be teaching two online education courses this summer.

When it comes to crafting courses that will be delivered online and not in person, professors have to be creative. “Because online courses necessarily deal with technology and have certain limitations, I think teachers are forced to be more thoughtful in how they structure their course,” says Department of Performing Arts professor Noah Getz. “I think finding good solutions to these challenges leads to a healthy exploration of how to teach students more effectively.”

These online courses won’t just be a learning experience for students—teachers have much to gain from them too. “Part of the reason why I’m excited to do this course is that I expect that online teaching is going to help me think about how I communicate ideas and make connections with people who aren’t in the same room,” says Schaeff. “I think that a lot of teachers can probably learn about how we interact with students and how we think about the objectives of our class and how we achieve them through other possibilities using online technology.” Schaeff will be teaching the Evolution of Desire during the summer session.

Hodges agrees and considers it a chance for his teaching skills to improve across the board. “I love being able to compare my teaching experiences so that I can apply what I’ve learned from teaching in one medium to another.”

The courses themselves will take on a different format than they would in a face-to-face classroom setting. The Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning (CTRL) offered a course for faculty on how they can get their students to work independently and collaboratively within an online structure. Hodges redesigned his Children’s Literature: A Critical Literacy Perspective course, which he usually teaches in the classroom, to fit an online platform. “I needed to make the content digestible in modules so that my students’ learning can be segmented to incorporate lectures, group discussion, and activities,” he says.

The CTRL class recommended using shorter video clips and moving away from a typical lecture style of class. “We were told to think about a five-minute audio clip max and a ten-minute audio-visual clip max as accentuating what we’re doing in class,” says Schaeff. “Those are the pieces around which everything else is built. They’re no longer the core; they’re the peripheral.”

Just because students and teacher aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean that back-and-forth communication between them as a whole will stop—it’s the way connections are made that will be altered. “The use of discussion boards, Wiki pages, Twitter, and blogs becomes a primary way for students to interact with the material and discuss it with their peers and with the teacher,” says Getz. “There is a need to create a sense of community within an online class where students feel that they have some window into the personality of the teacher and their classmates.”

Getz hopes that eventually, AU can create an environment where reaching a worldwide audience through courses becomes commonplace. “I will be covering the Arab Spring and its music as well as freedom songs from the Civil Rights era in my Music and Revolution course,” he says. “With the possibilities of online education, it is conceivable that I could have a student in my class from that part of the world or a student who lived through the upheaval of the 1960s in this country. This, to me, would be an incredibly educational experience for all involved.”