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A Shift in Perspective–Facilitating Learning Online

A motivated group of UGA School of Social Work faculty became the first students in a new online course designed by the Office of Online Learning, Facilitating Adult Learning Online. The big motivating factor was the upcoming Fall launch of UGA’s new online Master of Social Work degree, the first fully online MSW to be offered in Georgia.

“The Facilitating Adult Learning Online course was designed so that professors could experience first hand what it’s like to take an online course while balancing a busy life, family, work and other responsibilities,” said UGA Online Learning Instructional Designer, Rachel Cassity. She designed the course to model best practices when teaching online and to show professors how instructors and students can maximize the potential of course tools and resources in UGA’s eLearning Commons.

Cassity earned her Doctorate in Adult Education from the University of Georgia and pulled from her research, education and experience to develop this course. When the faculty are in the position of the student, they experience what may or may not be beneficial in their own online classes and adapt their curriculum to reflect that. All nine professors teaching in the MSW Online program enrolled in the course and dedicated two hours per week to the four week long class.

Kate Stahl, a professor in the School of Social work, hadn’t had previous experience teaching online courses and benefited tremendously from her completion of Facilitating Adult Learning Online. “Its different to come at the course from the perspective of a student than it is to see things from a designer side,” says Stahl, “I didn’t expect that I would get as much out of it as I did, and yet, by engaging in it I think that I have a lot better sense of how online teaching could go and how I might design a course.”

Working through the process of taking quizzes, participating in discussions, reading and completing assignments, this course allows professors to gain the perspective of a student. It is commonly known that the best way to learn is by doing, and this Adult Learning course allows that. Many students don’t have experience with online courses prior to enrolling in an online degree, so it is important to ensure that all of the virtual curriculum is easy to follow, complete and allows for the best learning experience. By understanding what is required for the best learning experience, professors are able to provide better content and assignments.

Professor Stahl was able to see and experience many challenges that students might face in an online learning system and has ideas for course design and implementation. She plans to reduce the number of deadline assignments to make the course workable for people who are really busy. She also noticed an increased potential for discussion boards which allow for students to reflect on their thoughts and relate deeply to the prompts.

The outcome of this Adult Learning course was positive overall and led to strategies for more effective online learning. Other MSW professors revised some of their online course content to better suit their students’ needs as well. Some of the most important aspects of an online course were improved such as: open and regular communication, accessibility, and consistency. In addition, they recognized the importance of building an online learning community for students in order for them to feel engaged within the course. This decreases the likelihood of the students feeling isolated, losing motivation and withdrawing from the class.

“The course was inspired by the administration to give the faculty the exposure of what online students experience. The hope is the course can be adopted and implemented in other departments across the University,” Cassity says.