Following the sudden pivot to remote teaching in 2020, UO launched an ambitious initiative to design online versions of more than 100 high-impact undergraduate courses from disciplines across the university. Online courses are built by faculty members who will teach the courses, with assistance from six UO Online instructional designers and eight faculty fellows.
Goals of the Initiative
UO is trying to accomplish three things with this project:
- Ensure we have exciting, well-designed versions of key courses that impact large numbers of UO undergraduates for use throughout the duration of this crisis and that could be drawn on as part of its academic continuity planning in the event of future disruptions.
- Expand its online course offerings in a way that may have a longer-term student success impact, giving students more access and flexibility to take courses they are likely to need.
- Invest in its teaching community in a time of crisis. The President and Provost are proud of the ways UO is becoming known for teaching excellence and want to create occasions for collaboration and teaching creativity: this project gives us a chance to think individually and together about how UO is teaching new core education learning goals, teaching toward inclusion and belonging, and building career readiness skills, for example.
Affordances of Online Courses
For students, fully asynchronous online courses maximize time flexibility, which can be a significant, even decisive, benefit for those who must manage multiple obligations, such as jobs and childcare. Offering online versions of key courses helps students manage schedule conflicts and complete their degrees without delays.
For faculty, the components of an online course—such as Canvas materials, brief recorded lectures, assignments, and formative assessments—become assets they can use in future terms at UO, whether teaching online or in the classroom. Faculty often comment that designing an online course has refined their teaching skills by expanding their portfolio of teaching strategies. As previously mentioned, one of the goals of the initiative is to invest in UO’s excellent teachers, not just courses.
Hallmarks of Excellent Online Courses
Faculty expertise and persona are critical to an online course. Each course developed in this initiative should result in a high-quality framework for student engagement with the instructor and peers—not a stand-alone product for independent learning. Once faculty have done the startup work to build the online course, the instructor’s role shifts away from lecture delivery and toward communicating with students, providing guidance, and facilitating interaction. In addition to a robust sense of the instructor’s presence in the course, excellent online courses feature streamlined navigation, clear directions, activities and assessments aligned with learning objectives, and inclusive content that is welcoming and accessible to all learners.