Steps for creating quality online modules
Online courses have gained a somewhat negative perception over the years. Some believe that they lack the quality and credibility of traditional in-person education. Students often see them as boring or isolating compared to in-person classes. But a small team at the university decided it was time to shake things up. Team member, Professor Lisa Harris reflects on the team’s collective work.
The University of Exeter Business School’s “online programmes” are currently run by a small team largely based around MSc International Business. The people involved are a combination of Lisa and her colleague, Katie, who look after these programmes, alongside a couple of tutors experienced at leading modules online. In addition, Sarah Paddock, Education Advisor, TQAE helped to produce the professional look and feel of the courses.
Professor Lisa Harris, Director of Digital Learning recalls “as soon as someone asks what you do and you say that you’re involved in producing online courses, they become disinterested and sometimes they are actively rude. There’s this perception that online courses are somehow inferior to in-person courses. I thought the pandemic would have improved this, but actually, I think it’s made it worse.” When COVID-19 hit, everyone suddenly had to shift everything online. Not exactly ideal conditions to create engaging courses! The impact of the pandemic led to an overreliance on lengthy documents and videos for online learning which just served to reinforce the opinion of online learning as tedious and passive. In contrast to this view, the team viewed this shift as an opportunity, a chance to completely reimagine online education.
How could they get students truly excited about online learning?
This team knew that with a little creativity, online courses could be just as engaging as in-person ones. Maybe even more so! So, they focused on three key ingredients:
- Active Learning – No more lengthy lectures on video! They designed activities to get students collaborating and problem-solving together. Much better than just passively watching a screen.
- Community Building – They brought in guest speakers and involved faculty across disciplines. This gave students a chance to connect beyond just their core class.
- Seamless Communication – They integrated tools like chat and virtual whiteboards that made it easy for students to interact in real-time. No more isolated learning!
It wasn’t easy. Of course, they faced challenges. Pushing faculty to try new teaching methods wasn’t always easy. But the results spoke for themselves. Feedback from both learners and tutors highlights their positive experiences with the end-of-module survey indicating that 100% of students found the content balance appropriate, and 83% felt adequately prepared for assessment. Overall, 92% of students expressed enjoyment of the module. Enrolment numbers skyrocketed with an exceptional 400% increase which showcases the team’s successful efforts.
Looking ahead, the team is excited about the future of online learning at the University of Exeter. They anticipate the establishment of a new centre for online learning, although the exact details are still being finalised. This centre will provide a broader context for their work and align it with the university’s vision for the future. By September, the team hopes to have a clearer roadmap to share, signalling a new era for online education at Exeter. Their success teaches an important lesson. With a little creativity and commitment, we can transform online education into something students genuinely look forward to.
This case study was developed by Jo Sutherst following an interview with Professor Lisa Harris.