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Brown to offer five online courses this summer

Online courses aim to give more personal, intensive learning experiences for undergrads who enroll

The School of Professional Studies will offer five online undergraduate courses this summer, marking an uptick from last year’s two. Each course will last seven weeks and provide full semester credit.

James Chansky, director of summer session and pre-college programs at the School of Professional Studies, said he began planning this summer’s courses about a year ago, when he emailed faculty members asking them to consider developing online coursework. The project accelerated soon after, as Chansky worked with Ren Whitaker, director of online development for the School of Professional Studies, as well as structural designers and deans to adapt each faculty member’s curricular goals to an online course format, he added.

Professor of CognitiveScience and Psychology Dave Sobel, who will teach CLPS 0610: “Children’s Thinking: Introduction to Cognitive Development,” met with a designer once a week throughout the fall semester to design the course, he said.

Sobel said he was drawn to teaching an online course because the format will allow him to “explore a very different aspect of pedagogy.” The online format will contrast starkly with the large lectures in which introductory courses are usually taught, he added.

“What appealed to me about the style of this kind of online course was that it was going to be very interactive; it was going to be much smaller; it was going to be discussion-based,” he said.

Using Canvas, faculty members will participate in discussion boards with their students, as well as post assignments and videos of themselves giving lectures and outlining lessons, Chansky said.

Assistant Professor of Humanities Johanna Hanink said she anticipates using video technology to enhance course materials. She added that she intends to teach her CLAS 0900: “Greek Mythology” while in Greece, where she usually spends her summers.

The online courses will be capped at 18 students, so that each student can take a prominent role in discussion and have valuable interactions with peers. Sobel plans to use voice threads, in which the professor poses a question, and “every student generates 10 seconds of speech using their webcam to answer the question,” he explained.

In relation to these highly personal modules, Chansky said he believes the online course format will require more constant concentration from students than some large lecture courses on campus. “It’s just a lot easier to show up in a room at 10 o’clock and pay half attention. … But you can’t really coast and be invisible in an online course. It requires more self-discipline and focus,” he said.

Hanink noted that online courses also require increased attention on the part of instructors. “The standards for best practice are higher, because it’s so scrutinized,” since online coursework is such a new format for learning, she said. Faculty members must be sure that they are “being really clear about their learning objectives and (are) making sure that the content matches up with those objectives,” she added.

Sobel echoed Hanink’s sentiment, saying that he expects to “learn as much about how to teach in this format as the students will hopefully learn about the content of the course.”

Other courses to be offered online this summer include Professor of Classics Joseph Pucci’s CLAS 1120U: “The American Presidents and the Western Tradition,” Senior Lecturer in English Elizabeth Taylor’s and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Stephen Foley’s ’74 P’04 P’07 sections of ENGL 0930: “Introduction to Creative Nonfiction” and Senior Lecturer in German Studies Jane Sokolosky’s GRMN 0120: “German for Reading.”


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