Online Courses: Summer 2014

Last March, we published a story on two Communication Arts courses, CA 100 and CA 260, that will be offered online during Summer 2014. Now that the summer session is only a few months away, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Dr. Sarah Jedd and Professor Sara McKinnon to see how their preparations are going.

After speaking with each instructor, it quickly became clear that there are many reasons to be excited about online Comm Arts courses. Perhaps the greatest reason is the impact it will have on non-traditional students. Prof. McKinnon feels that "online education in general is a great way to serve our students and diversify what we can offer to them." Transfer students, busy students, and students who have full-time jobs will especially benefit from being able to take the classes from home. For CA 100, Dr. Jedd explains that providing an online course "really fills a void for students to fulfill Comm A but haven't been able to. CA 100 hasn't been offered in the summer for about nine years, so making it available will hopefully help a lot of students."

Students who enroll in either CA 100 or CA 260 should expect an engaging experience. Both classes will retain the heavy writing elements of their in-person counterparts, but they will also include a lot of online interaction. For example, Dr. Jedd emphasizes the importance of discussion boards in the course, and that they will be a large portion of students' grades. As a result, she will be very involved with students on said boards. Prof. McKinnon explains that "effective teaching is still at the forefront of using the digital medium. Uploading recordings of long lectures is not the design of the class... [students] should expect very multi-media diverse lectures" when they take her course.

But developing online courses is not without its challenges. Each instructor has had to devise ways to surpass the hurdle of lacking face-to-face interaction with her students. Prof. McKinnon has recorded videos in her home instead of a neutral location in order to let her personality shine through to connect with students better. And Dr. Jedd has "been able to capture that same spirit [of her classroom] by incorporating similar student interaction through the types of assignments done online. Students will still do the same peer review they do now—reviewing speech videos and reading classmates' speeches, for example—and build community through this interaction." Furthermore, preparing content for the internet means becoming proficient in multiple tools. Discussion boards, Prezi presentations, recording, editing, and streaming video—all of these tools take time to learn.

To the benefit of students at UW-Madison, both of these courses will be available beginning this summer. As far as the future of these online courses is concerned, both will be assessed after the initial summer session in 2014. The online section of CA 100 is already slated for spring 2015 as well, and Dr. Jedd hopes it will be available every spring after that. Prof. McKinnon's goal is to offer at least one section of CA 260 online each semester.

"Online courses meet students where they're at right now—on phones, laptops, tablets—they update the learning environment," Prof. McKinnon said. "Ten years ago, online courses were scary to students, but they aren't anymore."