Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Engaging Students In The "Online Course Resource"

Students in my online course SOC 415 Global Social Change are actively engaged within our new online course resource.   This is our first quarter using the resource.

So, what is an online course resource?  This is not a "textbook".  This is not an e-book.  Instead, it is an interactive platform containing not just a book, but features that allow instructor and students to bookmark pages, highlight passages, post sticky notes and annotations associated with passages, and most important --- post comments, questions and answers to the instructor and classmates.   Think back to those days in college when you used a yellow highlighter, wrote notes in margins and dog-eared pages.   However, you had to wait until the next class to ask the professor to clarify or explain a difficult concept.  Now, students can post a sticky note next to a page with a question or comment to the professor.  And, this starts a conversation about the content of the readings.

So, what about the book, you might be wondering.  Well, Courseload uploads a PDF file of a textbook from the publisher, but with all of the above interactive features as well.  In my course we are using Scott Sernau's Global Problems:  The Search for Equity, Peace and Sustainability 2nd edition, Pearson Publishing 2009.

So far, the students and I are getting comfortable with this new resource.  Yes, there is a learning curve, but our instructional design department has provided students and instructors with excellent training and the HelpDesk provides round-the-clock support.   So far, students are using the resource and starting to interact with me and their classmates.

Just because the online resource exists does not mean students will automatically embrace it and use it.   First, the instructor must embrace it and use it..... and more.   

So, how can we get the students to engage and interact within the online course resource?  This requires encouragement and creativity from the instructor.  One way is to give an assignment that requires students to post a note in the course resource and respond to a classmate.

This week my students are completing a PBS online interactive about the global coffee trade, "Your Coffee Dollar"  I posted a link to the interactive within this week's reading in the course resource, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/guatemala.mexico/coffee1.html.   Students are posting the results of their exercise and a conversation has started about the complicated global trading system of coffee -- the second most valuable commodity (after oil) now traded in the world.     This conversation will carry over to this week's discussion forum where we will make connections with economic globalization, trade and other important course concepts.

Many research studies have shown that interaction -- with classmates and the professor -- is one of the major factors that predicts learning success.   I plan to ask my colleagues to share some tips for getting students engaged in this new interactive online course resource and will post these on my blog soon.