Dr. Helen Doss is in her fifth year of teaching as an associate professor in the Department of Communications and Fine Arts at Malcolm X College, a two-year community college in Chicago. She teaches a variety of humanities courses for a diverse student population, some of whom are beginning college students while others have degrees and are seeking career changes.
Experiencing a well designed and content-rich science course
Dr. Doss enrolled concurrently in the Genetics and Earth courses in the summer of 2005. She took the Earth course as preparation for a unit on Global Warming in the sophomore humanities curriculum.
The quality of the course content and instruction was just great. The textbook was very approachable and it was easy to use, both for beginners and advanced students. The field studies were excellent and the instructors were good at inviting participation. They posted interesting discussion questions and each student responded to the thread that they were investigating.
The assignments were carefully structured and sequenced so that each successive question built on the knowledge and experience that we had acquired early on. I always knew where to go to find information because I had enough prior knowledge to understand the why of the question.
Integrating social science and physical science in a humanities course
Dr. Doss wanted to teach the unit on Global Warming from a social science and a physical science perspective. The SoS course had an impact in two ways—in the content and in the course structure. She used the Earth course as a template for designing the Global Warming unit, both for the investigations that she incorporated, and also in the use of online assignments and discussions.
Originally Dr. Doss set up the discussion forums and posed the discussion questions but as the unit progressed, her students began to take charge of their own learning. They posed their own questions and initiated their own learning communities. She said this about the influence of the Earth course on her teaching and her students' learning:
When teachers are also learners, they teach better. Because I was excited about this and had learned in this way, I could bring my students along. At first my class was quite reticent, but they began to engage in interesting discussions about the topic among themselves, which they initiated via the electronic medium. They could access this collaboration from their own sites and since many were in distant and dispersed locations, 75% felt that this greatly helped them learn. It became a different learning process.
At the end of the unit, we had a Global Summit and each student presented his or her research at the gathering. They were scared at first, but then they realized that they were the experts. They had the information and the resources and could talk about the topic with authority.
The convenience and surprising efficacy of online learning
I think I approached it (the course) in a suspicious way. I did not think it could be as interesting or as rigorous as a face-to-face course. But it certainly was. It allowed me to learn differently and better-at my own pace and on my own schedule. And I had 24-hour access to materials and resources. It changed my opinion of electronic courses.
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