George Mason University

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Mason offers program to help faculty design and teach their online courses

June 8, 2020   /   by Anna Stolley Persky

Photo by Getty Images

Jennifer L. Wood has been teaching Shakespeare at George Mason University for almost a year now. During the spring semester, her classes, along with everyone else’s, moved abruptly online in the chaos accompanying the coronavirus pandemic. For the summer, she wanted to create a more deliberate remote learning environment.

While she has some experience teaching online, Wood jumped at the chance to attend the five-week “Online Course Design Primer” run by the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning.  Wood, an adjunct professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that her summer class, ENGH 323 Shakespeare: Special Topics “Cruising Shakespeare,” will benefit from what she learned by taking the Stearns Center course.

“I’m not that technologically savvy, so I wanted to learn how to match my teaching strategies and goals with what the technology can do,” Wood said. “The course was incredibly helpful. It takes a fair amount of reflection and time, but it is such a good investment into the future success of your course and our students.”

The online course primer was created to help summer faculty transfer their face-to-face classes into engaging online courses. Between mid-April and the end of May, 279 faculty members learned the basics of online course design and the specifics of using Blackboard, including the different tools for encouraging student collaboration and participation. The Stearns Center is planning an online course design primer for faculty teaching in the fall, which will begin in June and last seven weeks.

During the course, participants were divided into 13 smaller cohorts based on the colleges in which they taught. A professor with experience teaching online and an online instructional designer co-led each cohort.

“We decided to create the online primer, a professional development course, when it became obvious that we would be offering all online classes for the summer,” said Charles R. Kreitzer, executive director of online operations in the Office of Academic Innovation and New Ventures. “We planned the primer around what we thought faculty absolutely needed to know to build a successful course.”

In addition, said Kreitzer, faculty participating in the course had the opportunity to see what it’s like to be a student in an online class, including engaging in discussion boards and other activities with their peers all going through a similar experience.

Faculty members learned how to design courses in a way that creatively engages students, said Jessica Matthews, associate director of composition in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a cohort co-lead.

“Faculty also learned that online course design is a continuous process,” said Matthews. “The first iteration of an online course will have a few bumps in it, but it will still provide a structured learning environment. Faculty will be constantly tweaking and revising as they get student feedback and figure out what works best for their classes.”

In the end, said Kreitzer, students will benefit from the extra time and effort faculty put into designing their online courses.

“When students are taking an online class at Mason, we want to make sure they are having a great learning experience,” Kreitzer said. “This means that we are constantly improving the quality of our education in the online space.”