Online Learning at Albright College!

As a relatively new assistant professor at Albright, I was surprised to hear that there have not been fully online courses created or offered at our college.  Over the past summer, I created and ran a five week summer session of Art265 “Computer Graphics,” as a way to test the waters and potentially create a template for other instructors to consider.  I’ve been invited to share some of that experience and the related challenges here.

As a student, I took my first Internet based class in 1999.  Though connectivity and software were a bit more challenging at the time (remember Netscape?), it was an important part of my undergraduate experience.  I feel I had a huge amount of contact with the instructor during the semester.  However, I often look back on the course as one of those events that led me to “self-guided” learning.  My need to efficiently manage my own time and produce clear communication was nearly as important as the course content and assignments.

I selected Art265 for this “test” as it is a course that is taken by students with a focus in Digital Media and other students who are simply looking for a different spin on their Art credits.  At first glance, the course may appear to be “trade” class where students learn how to use industry software.  Under the hood, the class has been designed to simultaneously teach basic visual communication, digital aesthetics, and an introductory understanding of the social and cultural context that frames creative production in our era.

Though the enrollment was fairly small for our first online session, the offering gathered students from inside and outside our traditional daytime program.  I consider the course a great success, and believe it could also serve as a template for Albright’s alternative learning programs and initiatives.

One of my first decisions was to communicate the potential problems a student could face in an online class before they registered.  The session not only required a certain amount of proficiency with computers, software, and online communication, but it also required exceptional time management. These students would be managing their own hours, there own technology AND dealing with a full semester workload compressed into five weeks. I asked the Registrar’s office to augment the course description with a link to this page: http://dmweb.albright.edu/art265/

For those students that may have missed the link, I emailed the information to all registered students before the first day of the session, and again duplicated the information on the course site.  If there is one thing I feel worked, it’s redundancy of information.

In my next entry, I’ll discuss what it takes to convert an existing class to a fully online course, and my observations on student participation.

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