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    Summer Online Course: Pilot Program A Success

    Jim Mazouť, Distributed and Distance Learning Coordinator, Educational Technologies

    During the 2002 summer session Educational Technologies and the Center for Instructional Technology conducted a pilot program testing the feasibility of offering summer online courses. The goals of the program were to:

    1) Offer students an opportunity to work toward the completion of their degrees while living off-campus
    2) Provide training and resources for faculty interested in developing quality online courses,
    3) Identify unmet institutional needs and strategic interests that could be served by providing distance learning opportunities during the summer
    4) Collect data concerning faculty and student attitudes toward the desirability of online teaching and learning.

      Although JMUís student demographics are those of a traditional university during the regular semester sessions, itís student profile changes dramatically during the summer when most students leave the area to live and work elsewhere. Many students, however, would like to continue their coursework at JMU while living and working away from campus. A survey conducted by the Center for Instructional Technology during Spring 2002 found that students have a strong interest in taking online courses, especially during the summer. Of more than 4,200 students who responded, 85% indicated an interest in taking online courses during the summer.

      Two sections of General Education Reading and Composition, GWRIT 102, were offered, one during the first 4-week session and the other during the second 4-week session. Faculty received compensation for course design and development and for self-assessments of their courses. Educational Technologies funded the program and the Center for Instructional Technology assisted with online course conversion, client support, and technical services.

      Two anonymous student surveys were conducted; one during the first week, and the second during the final week of the course. The survey found the most frequent reasons students gave for taking the courses were: convenience, scheduling flexibility, completing a GenEd cluster requirement, and avoiding credit transfer from other institutions. More than 80% of students were living outside of Harrisonburg and connecting to the Internet from home.

      Overall, students were highly satisfied. 100% indicated they would recommend the course and their instructor to others. 86% stated that they would recommend that others take an online course. Two out of three students said that they believe they would not have benefited more if they had taken the course as a traditional face-to-face course. The majority of students surveyed (86%) indicated that they were satisfied with their online course and felt that the course had given them a better understanding of the subject matter.

      The Blackboard course management system was used as the primary instructional medium to submit and exchange written assignments, facilitate group work, and participate in online discussions. Survey data indicate that students did not experience the use of technology as a barrier to learning and that, given most studentsí previous experience using Blackboard, the transition from a classroom-based to an online learning environment went smoothly. As a result, students reported that Blackboardís self-paced, technology-assisted learning environment enabled them to focus effectively on their courseís instructional objectives.

      Based on data from the Pilot Program, summer online courses offer the potential for serving a number of strategic institutional needs, such as helping to alleviate scheduling and enrollment pressures encountered in high demand/high volume courses during regular semester sessions, meeting student need for flexible and convenient educational options during the summer, and providing instructional development opportunities for faculty who are interested in creating innovative instructional practices. With continued support from the University, we hope to build on the success of the Pilot Program and expand access to online courses for students and faculty interested in summer teaching and learning opportunities.


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