Orchestrating Online Education: The Creation of an Enriching and Effective Learning Experience

Author Information
Carolyn Siccama
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Orchestrating Online Education: The Creation of an Enriching and Effective Learning Experience through the Development of a Publication in Personality Psychology The creation of a publication in Personality Psychology course at the University of Massachusetts Lowell allowed for the integration of original writings of prominent personality theorists, famous case studies and personality assessment inventories. This not only reinforced the material found in the online course and primary textbook but, more importantly, enhanced the development of analytic skills and abilities, personal and professional insights, and collaborative efforts between faculty and students. Successful learner outcomes resulted from this enriching journey into personality psychology.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Since the inception of this online course in 2003, students have been invited to respond to my Personal Course Evaluation Form posted at the end of the Syllabus. This Course Evaluation tool contains questions with Likert type responses (e.g.,"Excellent" to "Poor") relative to the following: professor's development of this publication, ability to integrate relevant articles and applications, ability to gain practical experience from personality inventories, and overall assessment of the text. Other questions were designed to evaluate student achievements, including the degree to which their critiques and personality assessments contributed to their understanding of the course, personal and professional insight, and the development or enhancement of their self-confidence. While data analysis has yet to be performed on all courses offered, a cursory review of these evaluation forms suggest that students highly and positively rated both aspects of the course. Choices indicated ranged from "Above Average" to "Excellent" for the professor's role in the development of the course and "Extremely Helpful," "Very Confident" and "Greatly" were choices most noted for student gains. Overall, students were successful in bridging the gap between theory and practice and in enhancing their analytic and communicative skills and collaborative efforts.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

learning effectiveness: In an effort to design an effective and enriching "cyberspace" learning experience for students enrolled in my Psychology of Personality course, I developed a book of readings and personality assessments that could be interactively used with the primary text and weekly assignments that students post to the discussion board. This book is titled "Personality Psychology: Insights, Issues, Case Histories and Applications" (2004) It seemed insufficient to me to only use a traditional textbook in order to achieve my course goals. Clearly, a more traditional instructional approach would certainly achieved the course goals, but I wanted to create a more inspirational learning environment that would ensure the development and enhancement of personal and professional skills grounded in the course goals. That is, it was my hope that the design of such a text would enable students to engage in personality exercises and applications and bridge the gap between theory, research and application, as well as to participate in an online experience that enhanced their oral and written communication skills, collaborative efforts and internet searches. The creation of this text was based upon my professional belief that a collection of original writing of the great masters in personality psychology, such as Freud, Erikson, Adler, Murray, Allport, Maslow, Rogers, Watson, Skinner and Bandura, and personality exercises developed by contemporary psychologists is an extremely valuable tool for promoting a better understanding of the discipline. After teaching personality psychology for several decades at the undergraduate level, I have discovered that students come to a greater appreciation of classical theories by examining the original manuscripts and case histories of prominent theorists. They also experience a better integration of theory and practice by personally engaging in an evaluative process of assessing aspects of their own unique selves. Clearly, this dual pedagogical perspective enables students to further develop enriching and meaningful insights into the field. The book was designed to expose students to several key areas of personality, namely, theory, assessment, research, method of personality change and personal/professional application. Part One provides a breadth of exposure to classical articles in the field that illustrate the theoretical foundations of personality. Part Two further examines the major schools of thought by presenting several famous case histories, relevant research studies and articles relating to various psychotherapies. These articles provide excellent insights into the nature of assessment, research, and methods of personality change. Finally, Part Three invites students to critically examine and assess some aspects of their own personalities from each of these paradigms. These practical exercises in personality not only enable students to acquire first-hand personal insights as investigators, subjects, observers and writers but, more importantly, these exercises familiarize them with the psychometric tools and techniques employed by personality psychologists. The selection of these articles and assessments was based upon an extensive review of the literature, presentation of these original works, exercises in my face-to-face class settings, and student responses to an evaluation of their relevance to the course. My approach was to design a three-part book with an introduction to the main topic under consideration and to feature distinct chapters reflecting the various schools of thought regarding personality formation and development. "Critical Thinking Questions" and "Suggested Readings" were included at the end of each section. These questions required students to critically evaluate issues and concerns exposed in the article itself, to speculate about the implications and application of the findings. or, in some instances, to generate new ideas for future research. The list of suggested readings provided students with additional information on a particular topic, which they could use for their term paper assignments. Online learning, like a symphony, must be orchestrated and executed in a precise fashion if learning effectiveness and satisfaction are to be achieved. The instructor, assuming the role of conductor, facilitates this process by carefully integrating all of the components of the learning process (course readings, weekly discussions, personality assessments and term paper assignments, examinations, week in reviews, chat sessions and e-mail collaborations) and by orchestrating the tone and the flow of the information. Each aspect of the process must be fine tuned and effectively incorporated if these end results are to be brought to fruition. That is, all of the pedagogical tools and instruments, like the violins, horns, cymbals and cellos in the symphony, must work in perfect harmony to produce the intended goal. It is my belief that through the creation of this book students were able to more effectively proceed along their journey into the field of personality psychology by critiquing the original thoughts of these great masters and posting their responses to the discussion doard on a weekly basis. This assignment provided them not only with new- found information, but further reinforced relevant information about a particular theoretical paradigm. The educational insights gleaned from these weekly critiques/discussions were further reinforced through the students' selection of a personality assessment inventory. In this regard, students were able to personalize the information and also present it in professional manuscript format to the discussion board. Moreover, these weekly assignments enabled them to not only personally and professionally further develop their own analytic and communicative skills, but to collaborate and respond to the work presented by their colleagues. As learning conductor, it was my task to further utilize their products by incorporating excerpts of their critiques and personality assessment results into my "Week in Review" component. In my opinion, all of these components of the online learning process worked in tandem in order to produce a well orchestrated symphony of learning that resulted in greater learning effectiveness and student satisfaction.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

There is no cost associated with this practice except for the purchase of this publication. In truth, some of the students have recommended that the primary text be abandoned and replaced exclusively with the presentation of my course material and publication, "Personality Psychology: Insights, Issues, Case Histories and Applications."

References, supporting documents: 

Cannon, Joan B. (Editor, 2004). Personality Psychology: Insights, Issues, Case Histories and Applications. Ohio: Thomson

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Joan B. Cannon, Associate Professor of Psychology
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