Instructor Q & A: Melissa Beers, Ryan Hansen & Jackie Spiegel of Psychology

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In this series of posts, we’ll ask instructors to describe their experience at the onset of the online GE creation process. Once the semester has finished, we’ll revisit them to see how things went. 

psychPsychology 1100 is a popular GE course that has been taught online through a number of different incarnations.  It is currently taught by Ryan Hansen, a graduate teaching assistant in clinical psychology, who will continue to teach through fall semester.  The original version was created by Jackie Von Spiegel, who is now an advisor in Psychology Department. We spoke with Ryan, Jackie, and PS 1100 Program Director Melissa Beers about how this course first began and what it has evolved into over the years.

Q: Thinking back to the initial decision to create the online general education courses and your involvement, what were some of your first concerns or questions?

 Melissa Beers (MB):  I was first involved with developing an online section of Introduction to Psychology in 2007.  Our biggest concern at the start was what resources it would take to mount the course online. At that time, the only models we had to work with were examples in which faculty programmed their own courses, and those were an enormous amount of work for a questionable return on investment.  Carmen was key.  From the beginning, the ability to build, structure, and manage the course through Carmen was essential. Carmen makes it extremely easy to manage an online course.

My second concern was how we would assess student learning.  We have always felt it was important to have the same requirements for both the online and classroom sections, and up to this point online students have had to take exams on campus.  I was very concerned that “fully online” meant we’d have to compromise our standards in assessing student learning but we have been able to find tools that (we hope) will accommodate students taking the course from outside Columbus while still maintaining the same standards we will use for the classroom based sections.

Another significant concern at the start was enrollment and whether the online class would negatively impact our classroom-based sections.  Based on the last seven years that has never been a problem. There has been a segment of the student population who prefers and seeks out online courses, but many students still prefer the traditional “brick and mortar” environment.

 Ryan Hansen (RH): What technology to use, how to keep students engaged, how to have them actually watch the videos, will they do worse on the exams than the in-person sections?

Jackie von Spiegel (JVS):  I was excited to teach the online section of a course which I had already taught in person, but I also had some hesitations. My teaching style is very active, conversational, and casual, and I was worried that I would not be able to teach in the same style online. I was able to create videos that used this same teaching style, which I think my students appreciated. I was also worried about not forming relationships with the students, even just to know their faces. On the practical side, I had concerns about the amount of time it would take to set up the course ahead of time.

Q: One aspect of any online course is the incorporation of technology, and this can happen to varying degrees and in different directions. What decisions about technology are you making (or have you already made)? What questions arose in relation to software and services available?

JVS: I made lecture capture videos, and I wanted to make sure that students would be able to access them easily, so I made sure that they were in 4 different video formats and all posted on Carmen so that they didn’t have to go to multiple websites. I used ScreenFlow lecture capture software, which my predecessor had also used. This software was my choice because it worked well with my Mac laptop.

RH:   We decided to use premiere pro to greenscreen me in front of my notes.  We had used camtasia to stream the videos and provide in-video quizzes in the previous version, and had planned to do the same with captivate this year/next year

MJB:  Jackie was our first instructor to use video in our online course, and that made a real difference in the course.  It really helped students to relate to her as the instructor and allowed her personality to come through to students.  Ryan really took that to the next level with the “greenscreen” format.  The most important thing we’ve learned as a program is to use technology that instructors are comfortable with and best fit their needs.  Also, being willing to try new technologies is very important because it seems new tools and resources are available all the time.  The tools and resources available today are exponentially better than those we had at the beginning.  The challenge today is how to get them to all work together in a way that’s easy for the student to use and understand.

Q: What do you hope to see happen in the course when it begins in the fall that will differ from a traditional course?

RH:   I hope that students will have flexibility, but also use it wisely and not wait until the last minute.  I would also like to maintain more contact with them- to get them to call me and email me more frequently instead of only at the last minute.

MJB:  I think the layout and templates will take the good quality course we currently offer and improve the aesthetics and organization.  I’m also excited about trying new technology (ExamSoft) that will help us improve how we assess student learning in both the online and the classroom based sections.

I am really looking forward to the university “spotlighting” the importance of the GE and the broad relevance of social science and social diversity.  I also hope that this process will make Psychology 1100 more accessible to more students.  Over time, our online course will feature and highlight more of our faculty and I hope it will be a course that really represents the entire department.

Q: What would be your advice to other instructors and professors who are just beginning the process of converting a traditional course into an online course?

 JVS: Think about taking an online class yourself. I found that online students greatly appreciate a regular schedule (like something due every Tuesday) and many reminders. After taking an online course, I definitely felt the same way! Try to incorporate as much of your personality into the course to make it more enjoyable, and to show that there is an actual person teaching the course. This will go a long way with establishing relationships with the students, and they will trust you more if they know who you are. Be very clear and concise with instructions, and set clear boundaries for response times to emails. Try to have everything set up before the semester starts so that the students have a clear understanding of what will happen in the course.

RH:   That teaching online takes so much more time and effort than it originally appears.  The videos are a big investment, but there are also little things that keep eating up an unexpectedly large amount of time.  Make sure to plan ahead for that.

MJB:  I would encourage instructors to look at this as an opportunity to think critically about their courses and what we hope for students to gain both in terms of knowledge and skills.  Then, think about what resources and technologies are available for us to use to help students meet those learning goals.

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