September 19, 2019

Instructor-led online courses: How one faculty member prepared for the new model

By Jackie Amsden, Centre for Educational Excellence

Suzanna Crage (senior lecturer, sociology and anthropology) is one of eight faculty members teaching a course based on the university's new model for online course delivery this semester.

A new course model for online learning is being piloted this fall at SFU. Under this model, online credit courses are “owned” by academic departments instead of a specialized online education unit and are taught by instructors rather than facilitated by tutor-markers and course supervisors.

And while many instructors are still figuring out what teaching with the new model looks like, one faculty member has a very clear idea of what the change has meant in terms of course prepping. 

Suzanna Crage, a senior lecturer and undergraduate program chair in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, is currently teaching SA 150 C900: Introduction to Sociology—a course she previously taught face to face.

Online is different

“Learning online is different than in person,” says Crage. “When I took on the role of leading SA 150 C900: Introduction to Sociology, I wanted to make sure I offered my students an effective learning experience, so I put a lot of work into revising the course to make sure they do.”

Her approach to modifying her face-to-face course for the online environment? Rethinking both course content and learner engagement.

Stripping it down, then building it up

“You can’t expect a student to listen to a two-hour lecture recording. If you think about it, there are all kinds of things that are happening in a face-to-face setting that keep them engaged that just aren’t there when they are online, like active learning activities, conversation—and even a joke or two from the instructor. This means you can’t teach the topic in the same way. So, the first thing I did was strip my course to its most essential concepts, before building it back up for the online version.”

Crage explains that identifying explicit objectives for each week helped her to decide which material was not essential to the course—such as particular concept examples—and then, when needed, to redesign content so it would fulfill the same objectives in an online setting. Instead of lectures and tutorials, she teaches students through a combination of eight-to-10-minute videos, written modules, online discussions that she facilitates, and announcements that highlight discussion themes and add content in response.

Letting learners take the lead

Another key part of her preparation: incorporating opportunities for students to shape the course.

“I want my course to fit to the students, instead of the students fitting to it, so I designed opportunities for them to determine what comes next. In one part of the course, a module currently says, ‘You have read ahead too far. This page hasn’t been determined, yet.’ ” That’s because the content of this module is going to be dictated by the results of a survey the students take a week earlier.”

Alan Doree, a program director with the Centre for Educational Excellence who helped design the new course, says, “It’s exciting to see how instructors are making the new online courses into such rich teaching and learning environments for their students, and I look forward to seeing how other faculty choose to approach their own courses.”  

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Institutional Initiatives, Flexible Education, Technology and Media, Teaching Practice