A passion for pedagogy and programming: Online learning at the Gina Cody School
Long before massive open online courses became a hot button topic, Nancy Acemian was already developing one for the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.
In 2005, Acemian, who is a senior lecturer with the Centre for Engineering and Society, created the faculty’s first online course, Fundamentals of Programming (COMP 218). A PhD student in educational technology at the time, Acemian began investigating the study habits of her students through in-class exercises and online content.
Her aim was to see if students would become online learners.
“Data shows that students cram regardless of model, online or in-class,” explains Acemian, who previously completed her master’s in computer science at Concordia.
By following a blended model, Acemian says most of the learning takes place outside the classroom, while time in class reinforces each lesson. The repetition is necessary for learning to take place, allowing for incremental testing that ensures students understand the material as the term moves along.
“It’s all about setting students up for success,” she says.
Acemian served as the Provost’s Fellow for Online Learning and Digital Learning at Concordia from 2014 to 2017. Now, she is the chair of the ENCS Online/Blended Pedagogy Committee, where she is implementing what she learned working in the Provost’s Office.
Amir Asif, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, wants to ensure that every student in the faculty be given the chance to take an online course. His goal is to prepare students for whatever they will need to take on throughout their professional careers.
“We are working with industry and our accreditation bodies to ensure our programs and teaching methods are up-to-date with progress being made in the field,” says Asif. “We want to ensure our students are successful in their chosen fields, long after they graduate.”
As chair, Acemian is a resource for faculty members who want to develop blended or online approaches to teaching. She supports faculty members of all skill levels in experimenting with online pedagogy in a blended model before launching an online course.
“Online learning is a different pedagogy than in-class teaching — it is a new skill that educators must develop in themselves before entering the online classroom,” Acemian says.
A year into her mandate, Acemian has already increased the number of online courses from her one to six. As she enters her second year as chair, she will begin developing online lab components as she works towards the faculty’s first online program.