The Engaged Online Educator and Student – A Framework for Efficiency, Predictability and Engagement in Wholly Online Part-Time Master’s Program

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

Attendees will learn the key aspects of the two course in one model – a framework developed for interleaving multiple courses in a program.  We will focus on the engagement strategies including cases, guest speakers and critical success factors for connecting with students across disciplines with varied skillsets in a wholly online, but largely synchronous environment.

Extended Abstract

In 2016, the first cohort was welcomed into the MS-Digital Innovation in Marketing program - a wholly online, part-time program for graduate students. The goal of the program was to “provide the skills and understanding to apply digital technologies in today’s complex marketing environment. Graduates will learn how to integrate marketing strategy with the corporate digital infrastructure and maximize the impact on the business strategy.”  When designing the program, the coordinators decided to implement as much synchronous engagement as possible into the design.  According to previous research (Swan, 2001, Wilson & Allen, 2011) and the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson & Archer - 1999) it was clear that students and faculty benefit when there is a focus on real-time engagement and interaction with students and their faculty and peers.  A decision was made that rather than provide students with asynchronous content to be digested individually, the program instead focused on professor-student and student-student engagement and content integration.  To enable this engagement and integration, students enrolled in two paired complementary but separate courses each semester.  If offered separately and asynchronously, it would be left to the students to make the connection between the courses, so our school devised an approach to connect and integrate the content in each individual course and thereby generate deeper engagement over content than is typical in most asynchronous online programs.  The approach was developed with three overarching themes, to which the delivery must adhere: consistency, predictability and efficiency.  These themes formed the basis for the framework of delivery and the model by which each pair of courses was designed and delivered. 

The program is focused on the intersection of Marketing and Technology to provide students with an education that dives deep into Digital Marketing and the technology that supports the Marketing function.  Marketing and Technology are often vastly different skillsets and so within this program, the faculty set out to develop a way in which the connections between the two disciplines could be developed across students enrolled in a part time program, juggling multiple commitments.  The faculty developed the two course in one model, whereby two distinct courses are taught by two individual faculty members, but through the design of the course and the focus on efficiency, predictability and engagement, students are able to blend the two concepts together to view the disparate subjects as part of the larger industry.

In this model, students are scheduled for two 3.0 credit courses each semester.  Each course has a separate professor and separate requirements; however, the course schedule is designed so that the content delivery is interwoven. Both courses meet on a repeating fixed schedule each term via an online conferencing tool (in our case, Wednesday and Sunday evenings).  This predictability enables the students to schedule “life” around the meeting times.  In the first-class meeting, both professors join the class and review the syllabus and other administrative details.  The professors also provide the introduction of their respective subjects while referencing the interrelation with the other course’s content.  After the first week, the course schedules are intertwined so that the students meet with one professor for two weeks and then the other professor for two weeks, alternating this pattern until the last class of the semester.   Each semester culminates in a final group project presentation which integrates the content across the two courses (see more below).  In the last class, each team presents their results to both professors, who evaluate the deliverables based on their course materials.  Note that each professor designs their course independently, significantly reducing the coordination and overhead involved compared to other approaches. For instance, co-teaching a course can be very rewarding but requires detailed coordination among the instructors.

After the implementation of the two course in one model, the participating students were surveyed over multiple semesters.  Students were asked to rate multiple aspects of the two course in one model and how they perceived its efficacy on a Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree scale.  84% of respondents indicated that they either strongly agreed or agreed that scheduling the two courses in blocks was an effective and more efficient way of learning than taking two courses separately.  73% of students indicated they learned more from taking two courses together, rather than if they had taken the courses independently.  In the same survey, students are also asked an open-ended question – “List three things that are working well.”  Respondents consistently reflect and remark positively on the two course in one model, one student noting: “The two course in one model is highly efficient and a great way to learn for motivated students.”  Other anecdotal feedback from students indicates that they truly valued “a predictable and consistent schedule followed by the program” and “alternating classes that tie into each other throughout the course and culminating in a group project was very successful.”

Upon completion of the overview of the framework, we will provide a specific example of the two course in one model. We will showcase the In Class Activities that are designed to make the connection between the courses and also work through a case study with the attendees that was designed for and is delivered in both the Marketing and the Technology course.  Finally, we will highlight the areas of engagement between both classes for the professors, students and guest speakers.  We will also discuss the technology (Zoom, WordPress) used to deliver the connected, engaged experience of the two course in one model.  

It is worth noting that the professors submitting this proposal are two of the faculty that have designed and implemented the model in the program and have been delivering these classes as a "pair" for six years.