George Mason University

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Two Mason faculty honored for furthering flexible and experiential learning

June 20, 2018   /   by John Hollis

David Miller

Two George Mason University faculty members are winners of the 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award for their efforts in successfully leveraging technology to further flexible and experiential learning in an online class.

David Miller, the coordinator of the Media Production and Criticism Program within Mason’s Department of Communication, and instructional designer Larisa Olesova will be honored in the “Teaching and Learning” category. The two were acknowledged for their work with COMM 380 Media Criticism,  a course which they designed with a student-centered approach that significantly enhanced participation and learning outcomes.

“It’s a very student-oriented course,” Olesova said.

Miller and Olesova will be recognized with other Blackboard Catalyst Award winners during BbWorld 2018, Blackboard’s annual user conference to be held in Orlando, July 16-19.

“The desired end goal of this initiative was to help online students examine practical criticism of a wide variety of media texts, including television programs, newspapers, articles, films, photographs and advertisements in an asynchronous online learning environment through the use of two learner-centered approaches,” Miller and Olesova wrote in a description of their work.

Larisa Olesova

Founded in 2005, the annual Blackboard Catalyst Awards recognize those who have adopted flexible, distance and online delivery, including using mobile technologies to positively impact the educational experience. Winners demonstrate innovative use of Blackboard platforms to increase flexibility while furthering learner and instructor effectiveness and efficiency.

Both Miller and Olesova said the course’s flexible learning principles allowed students to learn at their own pace, time or place.

A key part of successfully completing the course, they said, included having students write their own critical reviews in subject matters such as art, music, film and television.

As part of the experiential learning process, students were encouraged to see films, attend live concerts and check out art exhibits. Doing so gave them more choices and encouraged collaboration through a more positive social learning environment. The students received valuable real-life experience by publishing their critical reviews on an external website for a real audience.

Blackboard Learning Analytics allowed the professors to track the significantly enhanced student participation in Blackboard’s discussion forums, including general discussions.

“The course provides the foundation of media criticism,” Miller said, “but I was really keen on students applying theory into practice through experiential learning experience.”

Miller first began exclusively teaching the course online in the summer of 2015.