Recap: Online Learning @ Georgetown

CNDLS Graduate Associate Lucas Regnér shares this summary of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology team’s recent event on Online Learning.

Friday September 28, a large audience of faculty members gathered to hear Sherry Steeley,  Oded MeyerParina Patel, and Mary Bondmass discuss their experiences with online teaching.

TLT event online learning September 29, pic 1

Janet Russell and Susan Pennestri (CNDLS) welcomed the audience, introduced the topic of the day, and explained that this is the first of a series of events CNDLS will host on online learning.

Sherry Steeley (CLED) was first to present her story. In spring 2008, Steeley piloted her online class, designed to train teachers of English as a foreign language, with the goal of broadening the student population. She explicitly wanted to avoid “throwing things up online and disappear for 15 weeks”—as many other online courses do and what has given online learning a negative reputation.

Steeley uses the university’s online tool Blackboard as a platform. Students interact via blogs and discussion forums, which she carefully monitors and moderates. “I would never walk out of a classroom discussion,” she said, “and I’m just as present in the online classroom.” Interaction is key, and Steeley explained that she spends quite some time communicating with students via email and Skype—to the benefit of the students, who she claimed demonstrate an even better understanding of the course material than students she has taught face-to-face.

Oded  Meyer (Mathematics and Statistics) and Parina Patel (SFS) talked about their experience teaching statistics online with the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) system. Meyer explained:

What is OLI? It’s a project from Carnegie Mellon University where we develop a collection of online courses with a goal of improving quality and productivity of higher education. These are all available for free online. I was the one who authored the statistics course in OLI.

TLT event online learning September 29, pic 1

OLI’s key feature is the immediate feedback, Meyer explained. OLI essentially “tutors” the students as they do their assignments in the software. Upon completing a task, the software will either congratulate the student on the correct answer or notify her that the answer is wrong. In the case of an incorrect answer, OLI explains for the student where she went wrong and why. This way, the software guides the student back to the right path. The instructor then receives feedback from the software on where the students struggled. That way, the instructor can focus the face-to-face lecture on those elements.

Parina Patel teaches statistics classes that enroll 100-200 international politics students. The class is structured around large lectures and smaller lab groups, which are led by teaching assistants. The lab groups would provide the students with hands-on statistical experience, but the results where inconsistent, Patel explained:

One [issue] was consistency. Each section had a different TA, so material was not consistent across sections. There was also a disconnect between lab and lecture. I would try to tie it together, but because students had different preparation from lab, it was difficult.

Patel described how she developed clear learning objectives and crafted the OLI content, and with CNDLS’s help incorporated the material in the course. Soon she noticed greater consistency among the students’ performances.

Mary Bondmass (NHS) told the story of one of Georgetown’s first online courses. The nursing school gives online classes that leads to eligibility to work in the health care sector and prepares for certain state governed health care practitioner-exams. Therefore, the course needs to be approved in each and every state it intends to take students from, Bondmass explained. Representatives from NHS personally visit all responsible state agencies and practical training sites. She called on the audience to keep in mind the legal inconveniences that setting up an online class might create.

Bondmass continued with clarifying that the online course is as rigorous and demanding as an on-campus course. Students pay on-campus tuition and receive the same diploma upon program completion. The NHS is able to scale the program due to its design and the careful planning that takes place behind the scenes—ranging from coordination with the admissions office, financial office, the library, etcetera. Bondmass concluded:

I don’t want to scare you. It’s so exciting for me. It’s a brand new day. I love Georgetown University and I love this program. We will keep scaling up and admitting students provided we have qualified students and faculty.

The next TLT event on online learning will be held Friday October 19th.