Instructional Technology Newsletter 32: Transforming Semester-Long Online Courses into 8-week Courses

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Instructional Technology Newsletter 32: Transforming Semester-Long Online Courses into 8-week Courses

Dr. Drew Gogian, Pamela Dressler, Dr. Monica Heck
School of Nursing, Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences

Why the change?

From its conception, the MBU nursing program has sought to incorporate new innovative models of nursing education to facilitate the academic progression of nurses. Students enrolled in the nursing programs at MBU are adult learners who must balance competing demands between work, school, and family.

Adult learners want to finish their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible. Consideration of this resulted in the decision to transform our semester-long courses into 8-week courses. This allows students to progress through the program at a quicker pace if they desire, and assists in making the MBU nursing program competitive in the nursing education market.

Teaching-learning practices used in the nursing program are appropriate to adult learners who typify our students, and incorporate a variety of techniques to accommodate a range of learning styles. Based on the principles noted in Knowles’ (1984) theory of andragogy, the nursing faculty believe that:
1.    Adult learners need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction;
2.    Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities;
3.    Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life and;
4.    Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

Initially students were anxious about the change and how the newly condensed courses would unfold. We have now completed a full semester of two 8-week sub-terms and the majority of our students have expressed positive feedback about the new design. Only a few students have mentioned that they feel the increased speed of the courses can make it difficult to engage. However, we have found quite the opposite. For example, reducing the time frame for completion of discussion board postings from two weeks to just one has resulted in a much more robust dialogue, keeping students engaged with the material and with the faculty and each other.

As a faculty, we understood the importance of maintaining the same level of rigor in the newly condensed course structure while also ensuring that program accreditation standards could be met through demonstrated outcomes. There has been no deletion of assignments, although we did need to change the order of completion and/or combine a few assignments in some cases to give students an opportunity to work ahead on larger projects. This requires timely feedback on the part of the instructor, especially when assignments build on each other.

All students were advised of the new 8-week course format in advance of implementation this past fall and appear to be adjusting quite well. There has been no evidence of decreased engagement or quality of work from our students as a result of the new schedule and pace of the coursework. Students are encouraged to participate in end-of-course evaluations that provide direct feedback regarding course strengths and areas for improvement. The survey results are evaluated each semester for reinforcement of what is working well within the course and faculty are able to make any necessary revisions in areas that students indicate are problematic.

The conversion was also a big adjustment for the faculty. Writing intensive courses or courses that use assignments that build to a final project require timely feedback from the instructor, which can be challenging when the instructor is teaching more than one course and/or has a large class size. For these situations, it may be helpful to stagger the assignment due dates so that the courses do not have a time intensive grading assignment due in the same week. It was a bit challenging to convert 14 weeks of readings, assignments, and discussion boards to an 8-week format. One suggestion is to have the course shells developed as soon as possible to give the faculty ample time to work on making the change.

Previous Instructional Technology Newsletters are located here:

About the Committee:
The Instructional Technology Committee at Mary Baldwin College is a faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and Instructional Technology staff at MBC. Members of the Current Committee are:

Sharon Barnes
Doreen Bechtol
Paul Callo
Calvin Chung
Carol Creager
Emily Ely
George Guba
Joe Johnson

Carolyn Moore 
Beverly Riddell
Carey Usher

The charter of the committee is to:

  • Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
  • Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
  • Try out new technologies that seem promising
  • Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
  • Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
  • This committee meets as necessary.