Academics and Research / Magazine

Virtual classes catch on at DU

Mike Keables was one of the first faculty members at DU to participate in a pilot program for online courses. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Online teaching isn’t new. But it conventionally has been targeted toward nontraditional students or used when a professor can’t be in the classroom.

At the University of Denver, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has a different approach. Through a pilot program, the center is helping professors set up online versions of traditional undergraduate courses. More than 30 undergraduate online courses were scheduled for summer 2011, and at least 15 will be offered during the upcoming fall, winter and spring quarters.

“There’s a misconception that students are less engaged in an online course,” says Bridget Arend, associate director of instructional development for the CTL. “Our feedback from students in this pilot is that because of the small class sizes and frequent interaction, students often feel a better connection to their classmates and professor in an online setting.”

Mike Keables, associate dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and associate professor of geography, was one of the first faculty members at DU to participate in the pilot program. He taught Environmental Systems I, an introductory meteorology course, online.

Keables explains that he covers the same material in his on-campus course and its online counterpart, but in the online course students have to take more responsibility for learning. Students who come to class in person are given the material through lectures and laboratory assignments. The online students have to go through the material—including readings, video lectures and lab assignments—on their own. Once done, they then have to discuss what they learned with their other classmates.

Kathy Keairns, senior instructional design coordinator for the CTL, says Keables’ course was designed so that it was easy for students to navigate. Keables set up an introductory video to let students know where he posted the content they’d cover in class, and he asked students to post blogs about themselves so the entire class could get to know one another.

“We were really impressed how Mike redesigned his course for the online environment,” Keairns says.

The CTL offers a three-week class to help professors prepare their online courses. It’s online, naturally, so that professors can learn by doing.

“The workshop provided me with an excellent foundation for what it takes to develop an effective online course,” Keables says. “It also challenged me to think differently about how to present content and keep the students engaged in the learning process.”

The online course Keables developed from the workshop ended up winning a national award from the Blackboard course management system recognizing best practice in online course design.

“It’s a nice recognition of my effort and the help I received from the CTL,” he says.







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