I have created courses in the hybrid or fully online mode since the College began its first initiative in instructional technology more than 15 years ago. I am a strong proponent of instructional technology because of its abundant benefits for student engagement and learning. But I have also found that it provides unexpected benefits to me as well. It reinvigorated my teaching and has allowed me to learn and continue learning a new area outside my expertise. Moreover it has kept me relevant. My courses have evolved over the years with the addition of newer technologies that each more sophisticated version of Blackboard offers. I take advantage of You tube videos to explain subjects which require a more concrete exemplar than I can provide in a classroom, for example a video of a deposition, or to provide a novel approach such as a song to make the complex concept of burden of proof more exciting.
For students, I appreciate that the virtual environment democratizes the classroom and allows students, even ones who feel uncomfortable speaking in class, to express ideas through online communication and collaboration tools. Moreover, the course websites provide research and writing spaces and thus offer more opportunities to perform high and low stakes writing than does the traditional setting. Students weigh in on the current events in real time, e.g. when an affirmative action court decision is handed down, a same-sex referendum is over turned or a criminal justice event occurs, through a discussion forum or blog. The online courses also help students develop computer skills, whether in database research, Power point presentations or brochure creation. Computer proficiency is required for positions in in law, criminal justice and public administration and generally for academic success. It is noteworthy that for fully online courses, which lack any face-to-face component, using the collaboration tools and grouping students in teams for assignments can actually create community which has an impact on retention.
This fall I facilitated a workshop on developing students’ intellectual and practical skills in a course using online tools. Much of this workshop covered how Blackboard tools can be used to build learning communities, allow for project – based and problem -based activities, and foster the kind of teaching and learning that enhances critical thinking, inquiry and analysis, written and oral communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and quantitative and information literacy. Expert faculty practicioners shared their own techniques and best practices, projects that could be used in a course will be assigned.
I have been involved with technology in teaching and learning for many years, both working in the EdTech office where I help faculty transition into online teaching, becoming familiar with Blackboard and using technology in both classroom and online teaching, and developed and taught a hybrid BIO 110 (Principles of Biology) course, and have had an online presence, using Blackboard, in my BIO 110 and anatomy and physiology classroom courses for over ten years now.I am a firm believer in technology in teaching and learning, seeing firsthand how technology makes the complex and extensive quantity of content more accessible for students to study, examine, analyze and absorb, at a pace they are more comfortable with. Also, I believe that technology increases access by students to their professors.
I think one of the biggest obstacles for instructors to taking their teaching online is that they believe they must learn to teach in a new way, change their teaching style, adopt new practices, use unfamiliar tools. I believe the best strategy for successful teaching online or with an online component is to find the appropriate tools that are easily adaptable to your style and practices. For example, in my BIO 110 hybrid course, which had a lab component, students submitted lab reports as blog entries, Since in science research traditional “lab reports” are often in the form of journal entries, and a blog is basically a journal. Often in teaching biology or anatomy and physiology a student will ask a question that starts a vigorous discussion that takes the class off-track from the the purpose and goals of the lesson. You hate to limit the discussion but at the same time wish to cover the material planned for the lesson. So why not continue the discussion in the Discussion Board? And many have seen the poster displays with images and text in the atrium and bridge during events like Earth Day. If you don’t want to be bothered with assigning these cardboard display projects that are difficult to transport and take up space, then assign a wiki project. A wiki is basically a website that a group or a whole class can collaborate on and can incorporate, text, images, videos, audio and external links. Being that the wiki can contain a great variety of media gives it advantages over the traditional poster display, and since it resides in Blackboard, is more convenient for a group to work on. So any traditional classroom practice can be easily brought online, be more easily managed and encourage more student engagement.