Part 2: Collaborating with a Specialist on Learning & Tools
The online course environment is an attractive instructional option for graduate-level programs. In fields as diverse as business and social work, online courses draw people who work full-time, have family responsibilities, and live some distance from campus.
Dilafruz Nazarova knew that the students coming to her Rutgers political science course shared these characteristics. She also knew that online learning could offer a rigorous learning environment.
But she didn’t know how to get there.
While she had taught in face-to-face classrooms, Nazarova wanted professional guidance in transitioning to an online teaching environment. At first she was unsure about what instructional technology could offer her and her students.
The summer of 2015 was “my first experience teaching an online course,” recounted Nazarova, a scholar in international law and Rutgers political science lecturer and doctoral candidate. Her course was on the topic of international law and the United Nations for a new program in political science: the M.A. in the United Nations and Global Policy Studies.
So she turned to the instructional designers at Rutgers for help, with the support of the master’s program. Instructional design teams are available to support faculty through instructional support units including the Office of Instructional & Research Technology (OIRT) and the Center for Online & Hybrid Learning and Technology (COHLIT). Nazarova was matched with Sharla Sava, senior instructional designer, who introduced her to the process of online course development.
Nazarova said she and Sava collaborated in the course development process. “We started from the very beginning—and all technical aspects, methodology, software, and structure. So we did all that. It took us, I believe, about six months.”
“We took our time. We had time. And since I never taught online courses before, and I never taught graduate level courses before, I really wanted to be sure that the course that I developed was a very strong course,” Nazarova recalled. “And since I got help from instructional design, it was just a gift for me to work with Sharla on every aspect of my course.”
Nazarova also headed to the 2015 Rutgers Online Learning Conference (#RUOnlineCon)—which Rutgers hosts again January 11-12, 2016.
A Learning Ecosystem
The result of their collaboration was an online course environment that encompasses a suite of instructional technology tools.
One is Camtasia, an instructional tech tool for recording and editing video and computer screens. Nazarova uses it to record class lectures and introductions to course modules. She recalled: “We had a lot of fun recording my videos, but in the beginning it was very stressful!”
As an instructor, Nazarova puts a premium on class interaction. Students use a software program called Screencast-O-Matic to record their own 15-minute screen captures and videos for class assignments. “Each student has to reply to my question” in an online discussion board, akin to a classroom discussion, explained Nazarova. “They cannot see other's responses until they post something first. And then they have to respond to two peers.” The course also uses Adobe Connect for synchronous web conferencing so that the class can have live meetings as a group.
As with many face-to-face courses, the instructor assigns readings and papers based on a syllabus (posted in the Sakai learning management system). Nazarova releases lesson content weekly.
Other tools she uses in a different course include a class blog for students to post relevant news articles and comment on other students’ articles. “In my face-to-face class with undergraduates, [the students] do news reports. Every time we meet in class, we start with the news reports. So [my online graduate students] tell me what happened in the world that may be relevant. And so we discuss it” in the online environment.
Nazarova also uses a calendar tool that Sava brought to her attention. And they added a forum discussion about the learning management system itself and how the course works within it.
Kicking Off Live
Her International Law and U.N. course is online, but Nazarova included three live meetings on campus over the course of the semester “in response to some students’ demands.” And she believed in giving students the opportunity to have “direct interaction with each other and the instructor.” The live meetings also gave students chances to pose questions about the online environment and learning tools, since “not all of them had online or hybrid class experiences before.”
Some instructors expect any student to “just take to it [an online environment] like that. But that might not be the case,” noted Nazarova.
Students expressed “the concern about how much they're going to learn. So it wasn't that they just wanted to take the course, get the credits, and be over with it. No, they really wanted to learn. And so they wanted to make sure that the money they invested in the course was well spent,” reported Nazarova. Meeting students in the department and at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference in January 2015 gave her another chance to explain the online course environment. “After talking to me, a few of them said: ‘Oh, it's good that we talked. Now we know. And now we want to stay in your class and continue.’”
Nazarova sees the online environment as making her more accessible to students than she would be without it. “One of the important things I want my students to know is that even though we almost never meet in person, that I'm there. And every question they have will be answered,” she asserted. “And every time they want to contact me, I'm available—if not immediately, then later.
“But they know for sure that I will be there. And I'm also pretty flexible in this regard. If they want to do live web conferencing with me, I can Skype. If they want to call me, I provide them with my phone number. If they want to meet me in person, they can come to campus. I'm happy to do it.”
-- Charles Wasilewski
About Rutgers Center for Online & Hybrid Learning and Instructional Technology: COHLIT supports Rutgers academic units University-wide in creating and delivering hybrid and fully online courses, supporting credit and non-credit course development. Contact: Sharla Sava, Senior Instructional Designer (sharla.sava@Rutgers.edu).