OLC Effective Practice Awards Nominee
Asynchronous online environments, by removing transactional distance when teaching and learning occur in separate locations, can support the possibility for implementation of active learning approaches. One approach, experiential learning, has demonstrated that it can enhance student learning outcomes and prepare learners for success beyond the classroom. Examples of experiential learning as a philosophy of learning by doing are the following: internships, study abroad, field trips, apprenticeships, clinical application, cooperative education, fellowships, practicums, service learning, student teaching, and volunteer experiences.
The notion of experiential learning is not new. However, most courses still don’t include activities for experiential learning. This innovative practice made it possible. It modified experiential learning as the method of instruction in an asynchronous online course for undergraduate students majoring in media communication.
Learning activities and assignments were designed in a way that students were able to engage and interact with the content, the instruction, and their peers in the real world scenarios. This practice was designed on the key principles of experiential learning: learning by doing, reflecting, and applying what was learned. Students were actively engaged in the experience of writing critical reviews for the real audience – learning by doing. They reflected on their own experience through participation in online discussions and peers reviews -reflecting. Finally, students were involved in decision-making process while participating in voting for publication activity – applying what was learned.
This practice can be implemented in any learning environments. Learning activities and assignments are replicable in any fields and areas of study. This practice is relevant to undergraduate and graduate levels. The online course “Media Criticism” has been developed in Blackboard. It can be archived and copied to any other courses if instructors would be interested in using this approach. Other tools used in this practice: Google Forms, Inc, WixCom website, Inc. The results of this innovative practice have been presented at the annual conference for faculty and staff at George Mason University “Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference” in the fall, 2014.
Using a 4-stage Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning, this practice was designed to accommodate conditions under which students learned better. In the asynchronous online course design, objectives were stated and learning activities articulated. To that end, online learning activities and assignments followed several broad areas to include weekly asynchronous online discussions, peer reviews and publication of reviews themselves covering various aspects of media. Each of these online activities was tied to the learning objectives to create effective learning. In effect, students found themselves engaged in four aspects crucial to learning effectiveness i.e. through concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation as described in Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning.
The first stage in Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning is called “Concrete Experience or Feeling.” At this stage, students learn by “diverging” or “feeling and watching.” At this stage students learn better when they are allowed to observe and collect wide range of information. In this practice, students were encouraged to immerse themselves in media by going to a live concert, attending a movie and visiting a local art exhibition.
The second stage is called “Reflective Observation or Watching.” At this stage, students learn by “assimilating” or “thinking and watching.” At this stage students learn better when presented with sound logical theories to consider. In this practice, instructor recorded authentic instructional videos “How-To” to help students understand how to critic media. In addition, they also participated in asynchronous online discussions to share their views or learn from others in the class. Instructional videos and online discussions were located in LMS Blackboard.
The third stage is called “Abstract Conceptualization – Thinking.” At this stage, students learn by “converging” or “thinking and doing.” At this stage students learn better when provided with practical application of concepts and theories. In this practice, students wrote drafts of critical reviews for peer review. Peer reviews were done with different tools: Blackboard Journal tool in summer 2014 and Blackboard assignment dropbox in fall 2014.
The fourth stage is called “Active Experimentation or Doing.” At this stage, students learn by “accommodating” or “feeling and doing.” At this stage students learn better when provided with “hands-on” experiences. In this practice, students gained “hands-on” experience by going through real publishing experience. They submitted their critical reviews for publication and went through accepting procedure for publishing. Google Forms, Inc was used for accepting procedure. Accepted students final critical reviews were published in the public blog created by the course instructor. The blog was created at WixCom website, Inc
Over the past academic year, this practice has been implemented in the online course “Media Criticism” in the summer 2014 for 40 students and the fall 2014 for 60 students. Students’ response to experiential learning practice has been very positive.
As the learning activities and assignments in this online course were designed for experiential learning, the students were asked to rate the course learning activities and assignments. The end-of-the-course survey revealed overall student satisfaction with the course activities and assignments.
They rated the sample items either as 5 (strongly agree) and/or 4 (agree) as the following:
• Discussion Board – 83%
• There was a sense of shared learning in the course – 67%
• The course promoted active interaction (e.g. discussions, exchanging ideas, collaborative projects, assignments, etc.) – 83%
• The instructor encouraged the students to be actively involved in the material through discussion, assignments, and other activities - 99%
This practice has become possible due to the grant by the Distance Education Office at George Mason University. The Office of Distance Education conducted an assessment of the online course through portfolio review. It was determined by one portfolio reviewer in the feedback “the DE course outcomes are more in line with best practices surrounding objective development. They are more measurable and defined providing clarity to the evaluation process.”
The course evaluation survey in fall 2014 when the practice was redesigned revealed that the learning outcomes exceeded Department, College and University mean ratings. Students rated very high the following items in the course evaluation survey in fall 2014 (mean score out of 5.0).
When asked, “The instructor encouraged the students to be actively involved in the material through discussion, assignments, and other activities,” students rated the item 4.72 out of 5.00 while mean rate across Department 4.41, College 4.51 and University 4.36.
The item “Whether the course promoted active interaction (e.g., discussions, exchanging ideas, collaborative projects and assignments, etc.)among students” was rated 4.65 exceeding mean rate for the same item at Department 4.54, College 4.38 and University 4.32.
Students rated the item “There was a sense of shared learning in the course” very high." The item rated 4.24 exceeding mean rate for Department 4.11, College 4.02 and University 3.95.
Student responses to the question “What aspects of the course and the way it was taught helped you to learn?” were very positive. Qualitative data pointed out to the effectiveness of this practice:
• the critical reviews were great applications of theories we learned in class
• required “field trips” helped add a tangible learning experience to the electronic field
• we really like how the instructor went above and beyond to try to help students understand the material
• the course was very good in terms of finding creative and intriguing ways to get students to discuss the topics
Students repeatedly noted in the qualitative data that their participation in online discussions and peer review helped them learn:
• I enjoyed the peer reviews and the discussion board posts were interesting.
• The discussion boards were a very compelling portion of the course, and I feel that that's where I learned most.
• I enjoyed the outline and set-up of this course. I liked the week by week modules that sectioned off each part. I think the group discussions were helpful, mostly in the aspect from the deliver material to read and evaluate. I did like some of the discussion, but until the end of the course it mostly ends up being people just agreeing with everyone else.
• Prof. Miller did an amazing job with the discussion board questions and the additional readings and videos for each week. It made it fun and educational!
• I think that these discussions helped us learn to question everything that we are presented with.
Students also reported that the instructional resources were very supportive and helpful:
• The outside news articles helped me better analyze the material.
• I liked that Professor Miller would link the lessons in the textbook to real life news and videos. Plus using a Feminist Frequency video (the Bechdel Test) was awesome :)
• I really liked that Dr. Miller included videos that he had personally recorded to aide in instruction and to clarify information about the course and to help us understand the course. They helped me to really understand the material and feel a lot more connected (I typically don't feel connected at all or like I know the professor in an online class, so I really appreciated the videos).
Additionally, students commented positively on the critical reviews they wrote in this course:
• The writing assignments really helped me put the concepts covered in the textbook into context.
• For our first two papers we had to write my professor provided us with easily accessible examples of good papers that had been published for us all to see. They were extremely helpful and it gave me and idea of how to put my paper together effectively.
Overall, students liked the structure of the course and how the practice was implemented:
• Although this course was entirely online, I enjoyed this class tremendously. I look forward to another course taught by this professor.
• I found that the weekly emails were the most beneficial. Due to the online nature, it was easy to forget to sign into blackboard and be up-to-date. I was able to keep track with everything cause the instructor sent weekly reminders to everyone via email.
• Professor Miller was very organized when he laid out all the topics we were going to cover. He had an outline for each week and I thought that was great because the topics were in depth.
This practice is accessible. All accepted students’ critical reviews have been published and accessible through the class public blog at WixCom website, Inc. Wix.com was used to develop the website for students’ critical reviews collection. Currently, the blog covers 12 students’ reviews on 12 topics.
Department leadership has indicated support and encouragement in the development of the online course and continues to authorize repeat teaching of the online course (faculty satisfaction). The course has historically been offered as a face-to-face class in the summers. In the past four summers, the course ran twice with enrollments between 9 – 12 students. In the alternate years, the course was cancelled due to low enrollment. In the first semester that the course was launched as a DE course, 40 people enrolled. Due in part to the success of the summer enrollment, the DE course was offered again immediately in the fall semester. Traditionally, the course has a 40 person capacity but due to the enthusiastic response from students, enrollment was expanded to 60 students. Subsequently, stakeholders such as the department and college endorsed the continuation of this offering. Institutionally, George Mason University supports faculty to develop courses for distance education. Faculty are encouraged to apply to develop courses and the Office of Distance Education provide support with instructional designers and financial incentives are provided to the faculty that agrees to participate fully in this program which takes approximately 9 months (scale: cost effectiveness and commitment).
This practice can be designed and implemented using any Learning Management System (Blackboard in our case) to locate resources and other instructional materials. Any survey tools to collect students’ responses when they participate in voting activity can be used (Google Forms in our case). Other tools used: Blackboard Discussion Board, Journals, Assignment, Learning Modules, email and WixCom blog.
There are no extra costs except access to the Internet.