Photo Yolanda Mathews, Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of the International College OED (L) and James Whalley, Director of the Online Education Department at Suwon University (R)

E-Learning to Engage Students and Faculty at the University of Suwon International College


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Dec 19, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version

The University of Suwon International College’s groundbreaking e-learning initiatives are changing the course of how students and faculty engage in the classroom. Offering original content like “Zombie Film Studies,” and Blackboard’s advanced education tools, innovative educators are introducing a new style of learning into a culture rooted in the traditional classroom model.

South Korea’s University of Suwon (USW) International College’s rapid two-year e-learning growth initiative is being led by James Whalley and his OED Board of Directors. The International College’s newly created Online Education Division (OED) is exposing the college’s 10,000 students to over 28 e-learning courses utilizing Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.

“Balli, Balli,” is a well-known phrase in Korea, according to Yolanda Matthews, assistant professor and assistant director of the International College OED. The translation is literally “fast, fast.”

Fast is how a team of three grew to create a new department with a board of six. It started when Whalley joined the university in the fall of 2015 and began working 12 hours days teaching himself Blackboard to create his first e-learning course. Through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Whalley learned to develop class presentations and student quizzes while seeking out a better way for students to interact and engage in a digital environment. Supporting Whalley’s mission, International College Dean Kim Ok Soon, Lead Administrator Emi Chen, and USW’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) propelled Whalley’s mission forward. Their approval resulted in the creation of the college’s Online Education Division.

It was while teaching his class that Whalley started to identify core components he needed to learn to improve his efficiency and student engagement. The positive response from his class provided Whalley with the incentive he needed to further expand the e-learning program. 

By the spring of 2016, OED was supporting five e-learning courses and two blended courses.   Whalley recognized that additional support was needed to maintain current initiatives and grow the program. Mathews and Assistant Professor Samantha Russel joined Whalley as Assistant Directors and OED board members.

At the time of Whalley’s first course, there were only 12 e-learning opportunities throughout the university. By his second semester, students were starting to take notice. One e-learning class experienced a sizable growth to 250 students. 

It was unprecedented for 150 to 250 students to take a class from a first-time online teacher, says Whalley. “At one point, it seemed like we were double courses.”

From the beginning, Whalley has recognized the need for faculty training and support. In addition to developing courses for the spring of 2016, Whalley created a 20-page OED Handbook that outlines processes and procedures.

The team found that the greatest challenge was exposing faculty to the e-learning technology. “Cohesive professional training is outside the norm,” says Whalley.

Early on, Whalley offered a one-day e-learning Blackboard workshop but found it too long and complicated. Whalley went on to develop a 13-week workshop that walks faculty through a step by step process and each Blackboard module. Using his own experience and understanding of Blackboard, Whalley created a set of 21 Blackboard training modules that taught more than 70 skills within Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Today, prospective faculty of blended and e-learning courses are required to go through the training program. CTL supports the program by working in conjunction with OED to create tutorials in Korean for the standardized use and learning of Blackboard tools.

The 13-week workshop creates a culture of success for faculty and allows OED time to gauge students’ interest in a course. During the first four weeks of the workshop, faculty learn about Blackboard tools and develop four weeks of course material. This includes creating blogs and journals, understanding wikis, discussion groups, and weighted grading while students are surveyed to determine if there is course interest.  Less popular courses are shelved for potential development later. Courses of interest are further developed through the remainder of the workshop as professors continue to learn how to integrate Blackboard tools.

Whalley credits the administration for giving him the freedom to develop and experiment with e-learning classes. Recognizing the success of the e-learning program, the administration mandated additional growth in e-learning classes in fall 2016. 

In order to change the mindset and integrate technology into the education culture, it was important to expose faculty and students to Blackboard. Working with Mathews and David Dunne, OED Board of Directors member and assistant director of E-Learning Technology, Whalley revised the Blackboard training modules and began releasing them once a week throughout the semester. 

In South Korea, the norm is for students to demand larger classes. “Many students travel up to two hours each way to attend the university,” says Mathews. Their mindset is to participate in as many classes during the trip. In some instances, one traditional course can enroll over 1,000 students.

To enhance the learning experience for both faculty and students, the OED began limiting class sizes. Whalley is continuing to encourage a lower-class size by advocating that all e-learning courses should not exceed 20 to 30 students.

For the fall of 2017, USW International College students had the opportunity to participate in 22 e-learning courses including 19 English spoken classes, two in Chinese and one in traditional Korean. Three additional blended courses were offered to bring the total to 25 OED e-learning opportunities. “We now have tutorial videos on how to use Blackboard that students are tested on the first week of class,” adds Mathews.

Mathews went on to explain the importance of the OED Board in the day-to-day success of the program.

Whalley agreed, “There are six of us on the board. Three of the six are new so I’m trying to train them so that next year I can take a step back to look at the bigger picture. I think it will be stronger if we have people focusing in different areas instead of me trying to cover everything.” 

“Fast growth and the embracement of digital learning has been exciting,” says Mathews.  Whalley and the team believe that after two years, it is a time to reflect, learn and plan. According to Mathews, the success and struggles of the e-learning model are being carefully reviewed through ongoing research initiatives. The research findings will drive the future direction of digital learning.

To continue changing the mindset of students, Mathews and Whalley know there is more to learn about the Korean culture. Going forward, the OED will focus less on growth but will continue to look to improve current course offerings. OED’s goal for 2018 is to add one new e-learning course.

“We may not attract students physically to the campus, but we will have the opportunity to get students through online courses,” says Mathews.

Whalley agrees and adds, “We are definitely going to try to stay cutting edge with Blackboard.”

Photos: AFP Kim Doo-Ho