We've heard it said often these last couple of years - we are in unprecedented times. Faculty, staff, and students alike have shown their adaptability and resilience through these past several semesters, moving from in-person classes to online classes and back. However, even before the pandemic began, UNT has provided faculty the opportunity to think outside the box and design online courses using educational technology.
Through UNT's Division of Digital Strategy and Innovation (DSI) Center for Learning, Experimentation, Application, and Research (CLEAR), faculty can participate in an online Course in a Box development. Per CLEAR, Course in a Box (CIB) "enables instructors to engage in a 'do it yourself,' independent development pathway by equipping" them "with the tools, techniques and best practices recommended by CLEAR". There are approximately 90 instructors per spring, summer, and fall semester that participate in CIB, as well as about 300 Coursera courses being built in those same semesters. DSI CLEAR honors the work of faculty participants by giving the Outstanding Online Teacher and Course award to 1 Course in a Box instructor and 1 Coursera instructor. We are proud to announce that Dr. Kara Fulton (affiliated faculty member of the Department of Geography and the Environment, archaeologist, anthropologist, Chair of New College, and B.A.A.S. Program Director) is being recognized with the Online Teacher and Course Award for ARCH 2800! ARCH 2800 has been deemed outstanding based on nationally recognized standards for excellence in online course design.
For those interested, an online course development training must be completed. Once completed, faculty can begin using the CIB development shell to build their online course. But the question begs, "why develop a course online?" Please read below to find out Dr. Fulton's process of developing ARCH 2800, as well as her motivation, the course's benefits, and what she's most excited about the online course.
When did you begin the process of developing ARCH 2800 into a Course in a Box? I first started thinking about ARCH 2800 as an online course toward the beginning of Spring 2020 but wasn't planning to offer it online until maybe Spring 2021. Then, as everyone knows, March 2020 happened, and the world changed. I transitioned to online sooner than I expected, first as synchronous in Fall 2020, then as asynchronous in Spring 2021. It wasn't until Summer of 2021 that I went through the CIB process with CLEAR. It was actually really nice having a couple semesters of the class online to draw from when I did the CIB process because I learned a lot and modified quite a few things for the better. I'm still continuously tweaking things thanks to student and TA feedback (shoutout to TAs Ciara Mason and Eric Gilmore who have been huge assets!).
Though a lot more courses are offered online, what was your motivation for doing this? When I was originally thinking about ARCH 2800 online, it was pre-COVID. At the time, I was thinking about how complicated so many undergraduate students' lives are and how great it would be if students had more general education classes with the flexibility of an online environment. Archaeology is such a hands-on discipline, too, so thinking about how to convey those concepts virtually was really exciting to me. Now, even (or especially) with COVID, the flexibility of an online class is still important. More than just their schedules, though, online options give students a choice for how they interact with their educational setting - some might prefer online, while others might not, for whatever reasons they have.
What are the benefits of students taking an online course developed by a faculty member? I think the biggest draw for students is flexibility. For example, some students might work during the day and only have time to dedicate to schoolwork in the evenings when classes aren't typically scheduled. There are still due dates and such, but not as strict of a schedule than with class meetings. However, being online also means that in order to be successful, a student needs to have strong time management skills and some level of independent motivation. A portion of students enter the class with these abilities, while others use the semester to grow their capacities. I include external resources throughout the course to help students understand and develop skills like these - they're transferrable and are certainly applicable elsewhere in their lives, even if they don't become an archaeologist (because most of them won't!).
What are you most excited about your online course? I am most excited about seeing student growth throughout the semester, specifically in relation to online collaboration. I take a team-based approach in this course, so students work on assignments in small multidisciplinary teams throughout the entire semester. Collaboration in an asynchronous online environment is challenging for many students, and this class gives them an opportunity to advance their abilities in being an effective online team member and being accountable (to themselves and to the classmates they're working with). Virtual collaboration is something many companies nowadays are embracing, so it's an important skill to hone. To be honest, the teamwork component is the aspect of the class where I encounter the most issues throughout the semester, and it often comes down to misaligned expectations and lack of effective communication. Guiding students on how to work together is incredibly gratifying, especially when I can see how they've grown throughout the semester. Student evaluations suggest that students also realize the importance of this type of work, and actually enjoy teamwork once they figure out how to approach it productively. I've really enjoyed designing and teaching this class and look forward to seeing how it evolves in the future.