Queen's University

Courses redeveloped to improve student engagement


The Faculty of Arts and Science is redesigning several large courses as part of a plan to expand the way students learn in large lecture classes.

“We want to provide a better learning experience for students, and we believe the blended learning initiative will help us achieve that goal,” says Brenda Ravenscroft, Associate Dean (Studies), Faculty of Arts and Science. “Students want to be engaged but that can be difficult when you’re sitting in the large lecture theatre in Biosciences.”

Blended courses combine online and face-to-face learning in a purposeful and complementary way to achieve the learning outcomes of the course. In blended learning courses, professors put some course material online for students to access in their own time. Professors can then use some of the classroom time for more engaging activities – for example, team-based learning, group work and peer assessment – that help students integrate and apply what they have learned.

Alan Ableson, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Mathematics and Statistics, will redesign MATH 121 Differential and Integral Calculus.

“Do you remember your own classroom lectures? Where sometimes the textbook and the professor’s notes were indistinguishable? The whole dynamic of a classroom changes when students are active and engaged, rather than passive and uninvolved,” says Dr. Ableson, who is also the 2011 Queen’s University Chair in Teaching and Learning. “Having students participating allows them and faculty alike to push towards the more meaningful aspects of a field together.”

Five courses — first-year offerings in Chemistry, Gender Studies, Calculus and Sociology and a second-year Classics course — will be redeveloped during the 2011/12 academic year and offered in the blended format in the fall term in 2012. The current enrolments in the courses range from 250 to 1,000 students. By developing blended models, the enrolments in all of the courses will increase by 15 to 20 per cent, giving more students access to the courses.

Psychology 100, the largest course at Queen’s, will be offered in blended format starting this fall, as will Geography 101, which was first offered in blended format last winter.

The blended learning initiative also has the potential to enrich the teaching experience for instructors.

“Instead of delivering, in some cases, material that’s in a textbook, instructors’ contact time is freed up to do a case study and bring in materials and ideas from their own research,” Dr. Ravenscroft says.

The Faculty of Arts and Science received academic transition funding through the Principal’s Office that is supporting the instructors who are redeveloping courses. An instructional designer will provide advice on the kinds of material that are best offered in person or online. Professors will also work closely with Information and Technology Services and Queen’s librarians during the development and implementation phases. The faculty will work with the Office of Institutional Research and Planning to evaluate and assess the blended courses.

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Last updated at 3:43 pm EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
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