Hello everyone! My name is Lauren Krznaric and I’m thrilled to be the newest team member on the Program Marketing Team at Blackboard. The Fall is already shaping up to be packed with many great community programs including our Exemplary Course MOOC! I’m excited to also be a part of the Catalyst Awards and Exemplary Course Program. The 2013 program will kick off in early December but over the next few weeks I will be highlighting some of the 2012 winners.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the 2012 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award Winners, Elena Pravosudova. Pravosudova wears many hats at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) – a school with roughly 18,000 students and 900 faculty. She is an associate professor, an undergraduate advisor, and a University Curriculum Committee chair. The winning course, Principles of Biological Investigations, is a team effort between herself and instructional designer, Alina Solovyova-Vincent. The course also earned one of the coveted six spots for Directors’ Choice for Courses with Distinction.

UNR’s Biology department has been teaching this course for quite some years by several different faculty members. Additionally, the course consists of multiple sections taught by 5-6 graduate teaching assistants. When Pravosudova began teaching the course, she noticed inconsistencies with the various instructional methods utilized for different weekly topics, as well as with TA instruction across different sections, and became determined to make sure the student experience would be the same across all sections of the course no matter who was teaching. “Having different instructors teach the same course is not at all unusual – it happens all the time, and people value their academic freedom. What is unusual about this particular course that it is a majors’ introductory lab, and there are certain student outcome expectations that are hardly flexible,” explained Pravosudova.  Thus began the makeover of the formal lab manual into an online course component that would become consistent and student-friendly.

Pravosudova is no stranger to online education and strongly believes in the integration of education with technology. She has taught several fully online courses, but she is trying to get a new message across about blended courses. Pravosudova notes that there are a huge number of hybrid or pseudo hybrid courses with large substantial online components and no reduced instruction. She goes further to say, “They probably don’t get as much attention, but they are really common and those online parts can be actually a lot more functional than they are, that just a content dump kind of depository.” That statement goes to the heart of what Pravosudova was trying to accomplish in revamping her biology course. One of the reasons she submitted her course was to showcase the online components that can complement a more traditional, high enrollment course. The online components of hybrid courses can be a great deal more functional then a content dump of depository.

One of the key ingredients is conciseness. Pravosudova notes that you must “mak[e] yourself condense the content because content, after all, is not the most important part of learning.  Content isn’t the textbook. So when you just do a short narrative of what’s important, that’s what it ends up being, you can’t just shove everything into that ten minute presentation.”

Conciseness makes it easier for her students to prep for class allowing her teaching assistants to focus on specific problem areas. Pravosudova has been blown away by her students’ commitment to the online component of the course. They watch the recorded lectures multiple times, choose to complete optional activities, and thrive in the online group environment. In fact, in Pravosudova’s twenty years of teaching, the online group collaborations rate more favorable to traditional classroom group work. I’d say that Pravosudova has figured out a few more key ingredients in her online courses besides conciseness!

Pravosudova’s newest initiative is working on redoing another one of her traditional biology courses into a hybrid course. She continues to update and revamp her winning course as well. Winning wasn’t easy though. As Pravosudova encourages her colleagues to submit courses for the 2013 Exemplary Course Program, she admits that the process was hard and a lot of work, but very rewarding and useful to go through the formal process including self-reflection.

Check out Elena Pravosudova’s award-winning course tour:


For more information about the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program and 2012 winners, please visit www.blackboard.com/catalyst and register here for Blackboard CourseSite’s latest MOOC on how to build an Exemplary course.

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