Bringing the classroom into the digital age
While some Concordia faculty members are still curious about online learning, others have embraced the experience. Innovations in teaching: Getting the most out of learning, the university’s second annual e.SCAPE: Knowledge, Teaching, Technology conference, taking place from March 5 to 7, will connect the two camps and spotlight the educational opportunities an array of new technologies have made possible.
Although the program’s core is a series of master classes — led by faculty who have already begun using online teaching tools — the conference will also include an eConcordia showcase and a teaching and technology fair offering information on how to bring new advances into the classroom.
In his master class, Saul Carliner, an associate professor in the Department of Education and Concordia’s Provost Fellow for eLearning, will focus on how to assess students’ mastery of the contents of online courses.
Carliner believes that, except in the case of performances, most assessment instruments can be used online with minimal adjustment. He does, however, stress the importance of exploring new ways of communicating with class members.
“Feedback becomes all the more important with an online course because it is a key learning tool and an essential means of forging relationships with students,” he says.
Carliner began teaching online courses in the early 1980s. Since then, he has witnessed the development of techniques designed to ensure students are engaged in the electronic learning environment. These methods, he says, may be applied in a conventional classroom setting as well.
At the same time, Carliner has come to appreciate the collaborations eLearning encourages. “Because online teaching requires specialized skills most of us lack, such as programming, professional writing and graphic and instructional design, we rely on others to help us,” he says. “The contributions specialists from these areas offer strengthen both our courses and our teaching.”
Enriching the teaching and learning experiences
William Reimer, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, is a relative newcomer to eLearning. Since delivering his first online course in 2008, he’s discovered an experience that suits his work as a researcher, which often requires him to travel.
“My research focus for the past 40 years has been on rural and remote communities,” says Reimer. “I thought I should examine the ways in which online learning might afford people in isolated communities greater opportunities to learn, teach and collaborate.”
Teaching online has exposed Reimer to people from a wider range of backgrounds than he might encounter in a classroom. “Online courses allow people from vastly different cultures with diverse experiences and points of view to interact and contribute in ways that enrich the learning experience for the entire group,” he says.
Among those leading master classes during e.SCAPE will be the conference’s keynote speaker, Tony Bates. An expert in online and distance learning and the author of 11 related books, Bates is president and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd., a firm that has helped a range of Canadian schools create eLearning strategies. His class will explore the development process behind these plans.
Another master class will focus on hybrid learning, a model in which only selected course elements are brought online, and flipped courses, which see lecture materials provided digitally so that class time can centre around workshop-style interaction with professors.
Deborah Dysart-Gale, chair of and an instructor with the Centre for Engineering in Society, and Casey Burkholder, an instructor with the centre, discovered the value of flipped learning in a graduate-level composition and argumentation class they designed for engineers and computer scientists. They plan to discuss the experience at the conference.
“I believe students learn best by doing,” says Burkholder. “Hybrid courses provide more time in the classroom for students to write, review, reflect, edit and receive feedback.”
Dysart-Gale’s discussions with Carliner spurred her to explore hybrid learning. She applied the model’s principles while working one on one with students writing technical materials, and was quickly sold on the experience.
“I found it so much more efficient than teaching them the same material in class through lectures and small group work,” she says.
The e.SCAPE: Knowledge, Teaching, Technology conference takes place from Wednesday, March 5, to Friday, March 7. Tony Bates will deliver the conference’s keynote address, Designing teaching for a digital age, on Wednesday, March 5, at 6 p.m. in the Norman D. Hébert, LLD, Meeting Room (Room EV-2.260) in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building, 1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.).