Maisie Caines By Maisie Caines, Blackboard ECP Director, MC-OnLine Consulting, Campus Administrator, College of the North Atlantic (Newfoundland, CA)

I’ve been posting about the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program.  First, an entry about my eight-year experience as a review and then director, and then entries highlighting best practices in two past winning courses (General Biology and Public Speaking).  In this post I’ll explain exactly what I do as volunteer course reviewer in the program and why I find it rewarding, because I hope you'll join me.

I always begin the task of reviewing an online course by visiting the course discussion board.  You can learn so much about a course by spending some time browsing through the various threads and postings of both the students and facilitators.  I look for answers to a series of questions:

Are students engaged?  Is there evidence of learning?  Have critical-thinking skills evolved?  Are students collaborating in teams?  Are the students helping each other?  Who is moderating and driving the interactions—students or facilitators?  Is the discussion board organized around topics, objectives, teams?

Very quickly you can gain a sense of whether or not the online course is “alive” based on the level of activity in a tool such as a discussion board.

Of course, there are many other tools that encourage student-to-student, student-to-instructor and student-to-content engagement.  I also look for evidence of other internal and external tools, such as email, blogs, wikis, journals, whiteboards, homepages, presentations, etc., that engage learners in the content as well as encouraging learner-created content. 

For me, a quality online learning environment has never been about the bells and whistles of technology.  It’s about the evidence of learning aided by technology.  One of the best examples of online learning from my experience as a director/reviewer was in a “Philosophy of Education” course.

Students in that course were studying the five philosophers of education and had to assume the persona of one of the philosophers.  The entire course was based around a case study whereby students were challenged to respond to the scenario presented.  However, they had to respond as their chosen philosopher.  What a wonderful way to help understand the teachings of a particular philosopher by having to assume that persona and act accordingly.  The level and quality of postings were exceptional.  I quickly realized that course would be a challenge for me!

My involvement in the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program continues to be one of the best professional development exercises I participate in.  It allows me to see new and emerging tools put into practice.  I get to see what is happening in online learning at many institutions around the world and in so many disciplines.  And, I get to share that experience with the faculty and course development team at my institution.  Every course you review provides a learning experience.  It is a fabulous venue for inspiring new course development ideas and sharing best practices.

You can also participate in this professional development exercise by becoming a reviewer for the 2009 Blackboard Exemplary Course Program.  To find out more, submit a course for review or volunteer for the program, visit the ECP site.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact the program directly at ecp@blackboard.com.

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