It Takes a Village to Transition to Online Teaching and Learning
In his role as chair of the Department of Africana Studies, Dr. Charles E. Jones has made it his mission to bring his department into the 21st Century. This transformation began with the online addition of Africana Studies Course 3020, “It Takes a Village”. This major-required course has presented unique challenges and opportunities for Jones as a professor new to the online teaching landscape. In this course, students fulfill co-op or service learning requirements, which, Jones says, “emphasizes civic engagement and giving back to the community.”
As a part of this civic engagement mindset, a bulk of the class is dedicated to an internship that requires 40-50 hours of work with a non-profit organization. The other half of the class is comprised of reflective essays and group discussions facilitated via Blackboard and WebEx.
“It Takes a Village” is Jones’ first online teaching experience. He says regular reminders of assignment due dates and responsibilities are what helps him and his students stay on track. “It takes announcements,” Jones says, “to keep students engaged in an online course.” Jones acknowledges that it’s easy to forget about a course when you’re not regularly meeting somewhere physically.
“I’m aware of that for myself so I need to be extra sensitive to that for students,” he says. “Online learning takes a certain amount of self-discipline. This is not the type of class you can go into the last week and make up 30-40 hours of work.”
Online learning also brings many benefits. This is the first time “It Takes a Village” has been offered online, and Jones has already started to see some unexpected positive outcomes.
“Online courses require the students to be more attentive to their homework,” he says. “Hosting discussions on Blackboard can help prevent students from staying in the background during discussions.” According to Jones, this inability to “hide” as Jones puts it, actually facilitates better discussions.
Jones never thought he would be teaching online. A self-professed technology luddite, Jones sought to build connections with the Center for Excellence in eLearning (CEeL) for instructional design assistance. As a part of this partnership, Jones and 90% of the Department of Africana Studies faculty attended an online course building workshop offered by CET&L and CEeL. “I know that distinguishes us in A&S in terms of commitment to buying into eLearning initiatives,” Jones says of the faculty participation.
That commitment to eLearning initiatives is part of the department’s larger goal to connect with the current generation of college students. “We’re trying to capture the interest of this new generation of students,” Jones says.
“Millennials have an affinity for social media and technology. We can’t sit back on our high horse and do it the way it’s always been done. You have to go to them and spark an interest in the students.”
To achieve this goal, Jones’ faculty have an agreement to teach at least one online course throughout the academic year. By teaching his course online, Jones hopes he can help model the future direction of the department’s use of technology. “As the head of the department it was important for me to lend the endorsement for online learning to help steer the department into the future of technology,” Jones says. “Our ultimate goal is to be able to offer the major online.”