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Program employs team approach for online courses

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Program employs team approach for online courses

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October 6, 2013

With the popularity of online courses growing throughout academia, UGA's Office of Online Learning is continuing to ramp up its offerings and is developing 20 new courses through its UGAonline Learning Fellows Program.

Launched last year, the program walks selected faculty members through the process of designing, developing and implementing an online course to be taught during the summer. The primary charge is to focus on high-enrollment, bottleneck courses for undergraduates who might study abroad or go home during the summer.

For the first group of fellows, the development process started in January, and the
36 courses were offered in May. This year, under the leadership of Keith Bailey, the new OOL director, the fellows program has expanded to focus even more on the quality of the courses developed.

"The program is a two-semester process this year, with the idea that it takes two semesters to develop a high-quality online course," Bailey said. "We have a set of milestones that need to be accomplished throughout the year, and each course will go through a really strong, quality design review."

The UGAonline Learning Fellows Program also transitioned from one-on-one development to a team-based approach. In the past, each instructor met with an instructional designer separately during the development process. This year, each of the four instructional designers is paired with an interdisciplinary team of five faculty members.

"Six minds around an idea is going to produce ideas that are more thoughtful," Bailey said. "Putting the fellows in different cohorts leads to more interdisciplinary thinking."

Bailey said the team-based approach also allows for the program to be scaled up in the future. He hopes that this year will allow the Office of Online Learning to determine if one instructional designer can team up with six or seven faculty members. This would allow the fellows program to expand even more.

One of the biggest challenges to the fellows program, according to Bailey, is preparing faculty members for it ahead of time.

"A lot of the faculty members come into this not having designed an online course before. They're reasonably a little nervous and reluctant about the technology," he said. "The more we can inform faculty upfront, the more comfortable they are and the more successful they'll be."

Kimberly Grantham, a senior lecturer in the marketing department of the Terry College of Business, developed a principles of marketing course in the last fellows program. She said learning a new platform to deliver the course as well as implementing the best practice for online instruction was a large commitment.

"The challenge was in transforming the manner in which I have taught face-to-face for more than 10 years into a totally different learning environment," she said. "While the preparation of the course material requires a huge time commitment, online teaching can have some built-in flexibility that enhances the overall learning process."

The fellows program is designed to help bring faculty members together to create a community of online educators while providing an incentive for those members to be a part of it. Each faculty member receives $5,000 per three or more credit-hour course to support its development.

"What I'd like to see is something like a symposium where all these fellows come together and share their best practices, trials and tribulations," Bailey said. "The future of the fellows program doesn't just stop once they deliver their course. I'd like the faculty to become part of a larger community in which they serve as mentors or peer-reviewers. It is an ongoing relationship."

John Grable, the Athletic Association Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences, developed a course on financial planning in last year's fellows program. For him, the process is ongoing.

"I'm anticipating being able to teach this course every summer, but it's not going to be that on June 2 I just turn the class on without doing anything," he said. "Everything is always changing, so I'll always be updating it."

Grable said he has received at least two or three requests weekly from people interested in taking an online financial planning course.

"There's a huge interest in being affiliated and involved with the University of Georgia," Grable said. "I think once other departments on campus and other colleges jump in and start to create more online courses, the demand will be unbelievable."

After an online course is developed in the fellows program, the decision to offer it in fall or spring semesters is up to each individual school or college. Bailey said it would be possible for several members of the same academic home to go through the fellows program consecutively, allowing one or two required or popular online courses to be taught by multiple faculty members.

"I want faculty to come back all the time and make updates to the course," he said. "There's a lot that can be done. I'm excited to see what happens."