by Rajeswari Mohan, Assistant Director
November 10, 2020
"students work through the course as a cohort with regular, scaffolded assignment deadlines and opportunities to interact with and gain feedback from their instructors and peers"
When the pandemic struck in January 2020, higher education programs everywhere, including FAES, had to make swift changes so student learning could continue uninterrupted. While the transition from face-to-face courses to online education has been a challenge for some institutions, FAES had already initiated the process of transforming our classes to asynchronous virtual learning prior to the start of the pandemic.
Based on the feedback from Spring and Summer 2020 student evaluations, the courses were quite successful shifting from on-ground to online. One student from the Basic Principles of Immunology and Hypersensitivity (IMMU 403) course stated that there was “constant communication, great feedback, and creative assignments.” Many students in other courses also enthusiastically shared similar sentiments, particularly regarding individualized feedback from instructors. Faculty interact with their students to foster a sense of community, connect students with relevant digital learning materials, and motivate students to improve their performance through frequent and substantive feedback for their assignments.
Our online courses are designed to be highly flexible for someone with a busy schedule. There are no required real-time learning activities, such as livestreamed lectures, but students work through the course as a cohort with regular, scaffolded assignment deadlines and opportunities to interact with and gain feedback from their instructors and peers. These intentional course design choices promote a sense of community, and research has demonstrated that when students feel that they are a part of a learning community, they are more likely to persist and make greater learning gains.
On the first day of the course, students enter their virtual classroom and listen to their instructor’s welcome video message. Students learn to take advantage of the peer-to-peer interactions that take place in collaborative groups. Videoconferencing and virtual office hours have become the new norm for instructors to connect with their students and answer their questions. Project-based active learning assignments enable students to apply the skills they have learned to their chosen specialty. Online guest speakers can come from anywhere in the world and are often global experts in their field. This differs from many in-class guests, where scheduling and proximity can constrain the ability to recruit top-quality guests.
The reception to the online format by students and faculty has been very positive. FAES will continue to build on these successes, and we expect 2021 to develop into an even more positive and collegial online academic environment.