Improving online course options for students

Asha Katz - March 20, 2014

Economics prof Teresa Cyrus (left) with Aaron Panych (centre) and Adrienne Sehatzadeh from the Centre for Learning and Teaching. (Nick Pearce photo)

With registration for the fall now open, and many students already signed up for summer classes, course offerings are top-of-mind for many in the Dal community.

Adding to those offerings is a new suite of online courses. These are part of a joint initiative between the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT) to better meet the needs of Dal students. The project was funded by the VPA and provost and is now under the umbrella of the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative.

The courses include three that Dal has offered face-to-face and one new elective, none of which have been previously offered online, but they are courses which many Dal students were taking as distance courses from other academic institutions. They include: 

  • ECON1101 – Microeconomics (Summer 2013/14) - Dr. Teresa Cyrus
  • SOSA3147 – Aging Cross Culturally (Summer 2013/14) - Dr. Robin Oakley
  • PSYO1031 – Introduction to Psychology and Neuroscience I (Summer 2013/14) - Dr. Jennifer Stamp and Dr. Leanne Stevens
  • PHIL2080 – Ethics in the World of Business (Fall 2014/15) - Dr. Andrew Kernohan

By offering these classes in an online format, the Faculties and CLT hope Dal will be able to better respond to students’ class and timetabling needs as well as help these Faculties retain students. 

A quality learning experience


The two instructional designers with CLT, Adrienne Sehatzadeh and Aaron Panych, have been supporting professors in building the online courses to ensure they are accessible and engaging learning environments.

“This style of course delivery offers a lot more flexibility for doing the sorts of things that take the student beyond the textbook,” says Sehatzadeh.

For example, students taking "Aging Cross Culturally" can look forward to a series of video lectures/interviews with elders from Halifax’s African Nova Scotian, Muslim and Mi’kmaq communities on the subject, giving students first-hand, local examples of the topic they are studying.

Similarly, students taking "Principles of Microeconomics" will have the chance to watch brief videos by a variety of Dal professors speaking on their particular interest within the subject.

“The students will have access to all the different professors’ interests and we hope that will make them feel more a part of the department and the university,” says Teresa Cyrus, who will be teaching the class. Considering the busy academic lives and conflicting class schedules of the professors involved, these sorts of talks could not be so easily organised in the face-to-face versions of the class.

“It is great to have the financial support to offer what we know will be a truly quality learning experience,” says Sehatzadeh.

Moreover, this is an approach to learning that students have been calling for. President Florizone’s 100 Days of Listening report included e-learning — a category which includes online courses as well as other uses of technology to support teaching and learning — as one of the priorities to “expand the transformative power of education” (p9).

Flexibility for students


For those students who are still unnerved by the prospect of an online classroom, there are plenty of bonuses you may not even have considered.

“Beyond the flexibility and accessibility of these classes, you have the ability to revisit material with much greater ease,” explains Panych. All of the course materials, lectures and discussions are available on the other end of the Internet connection.

Another benefit is that for students who are taking these classes as prerequisites for other Dal courses, these versions are better tailored to Dal’s programs than distance courses at other schools. “We can be sure the students will learn the material we want them to learn and also get involved more directly in how they learn,” adds Panych. Additionally, the face-to-face version of the Economics class, in particular, is taken by hundreds of students at once, whereas the capacity of the online version is 50. Dr. Cyrus says students may end up with even greater access to her during the course.

Sehatzadeh also points out that students will get to practice communications skills that they may not be able to develop in the campus classroom: “You have to be prepared to do group work, which is great training for the team work and community building that is required all the time in the work world.”

“As long as you go in with your eyes open and with a clear understanding of the expectations of the workload, you will be successful,” says Sehatzadeh.

For students with busy schedules (in Halifax or elsewhere), these classes offer a compelling new option.


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