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Online course creators meet and share experiences

Cornell Online Learning Community panel
Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Marketing Group
From left, Daisy Fan, senior lecturer in computer science; Brad Bell, associate professor human resource studies; Rajesh Bhaskaran, senior lecturer in mechanical and aerospace engineering; Debra Perosio, lecturer in food industry management; and Wendi Hawkins '96, a executive master's degree student and employee, discuss online learning March 7.

Creating online courses isn’t something you can just jump into, but those who have done it are making an important contribution to the university’s mission. That was the theme of the third annual meeting of the Cornell Online Learning Community (COLC) March 7, where educators gathered to share their experiences in offering Cornell courses in “Any study, to any person, anytime, anywhere” – the organization’s unofficial motto.

COLC began with discussions among the Academic Technologies division of Cornell Information Technologies; eCornell, the university’s for-profit online learning subsidiary; the ILR School; the School of Hotel Administration; and the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. Other college units have joined. The group held its first meeting in 2015, created the Cornell Online website to inform the public about the univrsity’s  online courses in 2016 and in 2017 launched a Facebook page.

Keynote speaker Julia Thom-Levy, associate professor of physics and provost’s fellow for pedagogical innovation, cited evidence that students learn better if they are engaged in discussion or other active participation in class, rather than just sitting and absorbing information. If they can watch lectures online or do self-paced study they can be prepared to participate in the classroom. Research by the provost’s office shows that students agree, she said.

Some courses for residential students are now “blended,” combining online material with classroom work. “Cornell’s experience providing MOOCs has positioned us to better support online and blended learning,” Thom-Levy added.

In a panel discussion, faculty members who have developed online courses described their experience. There were “surprises,” said Brad Bell, associate professor of human resource studies in the ILR School: “It’s not the same as building a regular course.”

And if a course contributes to a degree, there are approvals and other details to be managed. Because “online students are not in this little bubble in Ithaca,” the demands of their personal lives have to be taken into account. Keeping the material up to date is also a challenge, Bell added.

To conclude the meeting, participants broke into small groups to suggest challenges they face and brainstorm solutions. A report on the results will be forthcoming on the COLC website, which also offers resources for course creators.

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Melissa Osgood