Guest Contributor: Audrey A. Wick, Blinn College (Texas).
Like many institutions, mine has followed the trend of offering accelerated courses. The idea is simple: help students focus on a singular class by offering it in a shortened (two-to-four week) format. Their engagement can be maximized through exclusive attention on the subject matter, and motivated students can thereby succeed.
The instructional challenge, however, with this type of course in the online environment is the frontloading. The class has to be mapped-out clearly so that time is capitalized and expectations are evident. Every day is precious, and because there are so few of them, pedagogical changes, due date changes, or reading assignment charges are near impossible to make. I knew in teaching my first mini-mester course online this May that I would need to be organized and equip my students with the material—and the technical knowledge—necessary for successful completion starting on day one.
I did have to make some choices about what to cover and what to leave-out. Unless I could pair an activity (for instance, a reading assignment with a writing activity), I left it out of the class. In a shortened time frame, students needed structure and to easily see how work built one concept to the next.
Structuring my mini-mester course also involved my planning of readings, quizzes, discussions, and other participation activities on a daily, weekday basis. I kept weekends reserved for student research and writing essays. This helped maximum the course time, as students were able to work in structured, multi-day units. Some even worked ahead!
The choice to use an e-book was easy. This way, my students could access the readings, if they desired, even before the online class opened—and many students, especially those who were traveling or going back home internationally for the summer, did.
Then, I took the learning experience one step further by integrating MindTap so that my students had individualized learning paths, instant feedback on certain activities, seamless upload process for papers, and could check their grades any time. One student, an off-season athlete, appreciated being able to use the e-book and learning platform, thankful that the class was delivered in this way. She told me (and her athletic eligibility coordinator), “I know I was extremely lucky [to take this first-time class] and I honestly felt as if I learned more online through the activities and being able to focus on my own time than if I was stuck in a [traditional] classroom.”
Her positive experience was mirrored by others, and I saw a roughly 20% greater passing grade rate in the mini-mester course with MindTap than in my long-semester, traditional textbook online classes. The low drop rate (only two students out of twenty-five!) was also a testament to the success of the course.
As more institutions offer accelerated courses to meet student demand, real tech solutions exist. I am thankful for Cengage Learning’s quick implementation help and white-glove support services so that I could reach this student population during my mini-mester course so successfully.
Audrey A. Wick is a full-time English professor and kinesiology instructor at Blinn College, a two-year college with four campuses in central Texas. She serves as a TeamUP Faculty Advisor and Technology Power User for Cengage Learning.