Positive Learning Experiences: Roundtable on Teaching Online and Hybrid Courses in the Humanities

Ruru Rusmin, E-Learning Center

 

What features are particular to online courses? What techniques and practices work best to engage students in online classes? How can an online course become a positive learning experience for students and instructors? BMCC faculty and staff discussed these questions on March 26, 2015. “Teaching Online & Hybrid Courses in the Humanities: A Roundtable” was presented by the English Department Library and Technology Committee in conjunction with the E-Learning Center, with support from the Office of Academic Affairs.

 

The panel was moderated by Prof. Francesco Crocco (English), and included experienced online faculty from the English Department: Prof. Joe Bisz, Prof. Julie Cassidy, Prof. M. Claire Pamplin and Prof. Bernardo Pace, as well as E-Learning Director Janey Flanagan.

 

Features Particular to Online Courses

 

The panel opened with E-Learning Director Janey Flanagan’s report that retention in BMCC online courses is better than the national average, with hybrid courses having 5-10% higher retention than fully online courses. Ms. Flanagan noted that online classes fill up very quickly and fully online classes fill up more quickly than hybrid classes.

 

The discussion turned to some features particular to online courses. Online courses take place through writing, which offers students opportunities to write more and become better writers. Prof. Bernardo Pace observed that written work has an abiding presence, which can encourage students to quote from each other.

 

Faculty spoke of how it is not possible to just put materials and discussion questions online and expect to replicate the same dynamic as in the classroom. Prof. Julie Cassidy explained that she uses mini-lectures as a foreground to longer questions and discussions.

 

Prof. Joe Bisz noted that teaching online forced him to think about how information is disseminated apart from orally-aurally, and how the learning management system can function as a website to create a custom course package.

 

Helping Students Help Each Other

 

How can instructors of online courses respond effectively to their students? Several panelists said that instead of trying to respond electronically to students individually, which can be repetitive and time-consuming, it is important to structure and facilitate processes so that students help each other.

 

The question of negatives emerged, with one concern being possible trolling or other reprehensible online behavior. However, all the panelists noted that students are very supportive of each other, and that the Facebook congratulatory culture is prevalent.

 

Other concerns included contacting students who are erratic or absent, the time it takes to communicate with students, and setting boundaries for communication. Faculty offered solutions such as rubrics, clear expectations and firm deadlines that help keep students on track. E-Learning Center Director, Janey Flanagan, emphasized that the E-Learning Center has staff to assist in contacting students.

 

Best Practices

 

Moderator Prof. Crocco solicited tips and activities that worked well online. Prof. Cassidy mentioned journals with quotes from the texts, which begin more personally but end up being reflective and analytical by the end of the course. Prof. Pamplin uses rotating discussion leaders. Rotating discussion leaders are students who have to pick a question, post it and manage the discussion. Prof. Pace uses audio and walks through papers with screen casts.

 

Teaching Online: A Positive Learning Experience

 

All the panelists expressed that teaching online was a learning experience in itself. Teaching online taught them to be more organized and to communicate more clearly. It forced them to reflect on the pedagogy being used in the classroom, and led to improvements or innovations in their face-to-face classes.

 

BMCC instructors who want to teach online should apply to participate in the E-learning course development program, which covers basics of online pedagogy as well as the course development process. Applications can be found at http://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/elearning/page.jsp?pid=1261&n=Forms.