Online learning became a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but since the return to in-person learning, student enrollment in the University of Oregon’s intentionally designed online classes remains strong.
Many students benefit from the flexibility online courses provide, particularly those facing additional challenges, like the need to work in the current economy, restricted access to cost-effective transportation, external factors forcing them inside, or increased mental health struggles.
Instructional designers at the University of Oregon are working to meet the need for virtual options, as well as ensure that the online courses offered are as substantive as possible.
“Students would sometimes shake my hand at the end of an in-person term. I didn’t have that same connection with my online class,” said Troy Elias, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “How do we bridge that gap?”
One solution that UO Online has proposed is increasing authenticity in the virtual classroom. Creating more opportunities for students to develop personal, emotional connections to their peers, the course content and their instructors will increase buy-in, engagement and accountability, instructional designers say.
“When both the instructor and the students can bring their unique backgrounds and opinions to the table, the virtual class becomes much more authentic and personally engaging,” said Chris Edison, instructional designer for UO Online. “There are ways we can encourage this through the deliberate design of the course content, structure and even the tech within the virtual space.”
UO Online is hosting a winter workshop series that explores how to bring the human dimension into the online classroom. The series includes an upcoming panel Feb. 3 moderated by Elias.
Panelists, including professors Danny Pimentel and Gabriela Martinez from the School of Journalism and Communication, Tina Boscha from the Department of English, and Krystale Littlejohn from the Department of Sociology will discuss the challenges they’ve faced while hosting online courses and the solutions they implemented to break down barriers and connect with students.
Attendees will come away with ideas they can apply in their own teaching and information on ways to use existing technologies to increase engagement. While the panel will address primarily online scenarios, anyone is welcome to register and attend the event to learn more about authentic teaching at the UO.