Faculty Example: Astronomy 311

jeremyheylilaria375

Why did you decide to run your course on edX?

UBC is trying to increase its distance education course offerings in order to meet the needs of students throughout the province and internationally and also to offer more flexibility to students in Vancouver as well. Instructor Jeremy Heyl decided to take up the challenge with his Exploring the Universe: Stars and Galaxies course (ASTR 311). His main concern, however, was to offer the students of the distance education course the same content, equally effective assessments, activities and learning tools that they would receive in an on-campus course, but in a different form. Jeremy and doctorial student Ilaria Caiazzo decided to build the course using EdX, thanks to the possibility of including multimedia content smoothly and of creating interactive exercises and practice questions. The rich possibilities of EdX seemed to make it the best suited platform.

The rich possibilities of EdX seemed to make it the best suited platform.

What were the main challenges/successes on running your course in edX?

The distance education course ran for the first time in parallel with the in-class section last spring. The main challenge, which is intrinsic in every distance-education course, was that it was hard to get a sense of how the students were progressing, what they liked and what they disliked and especially, in which parts they were encountering the biggest challenges. Ilaria argued it was crucial to communicate regularly with the students to encourage them contact the course team with any problems and also to remind them of the deadlines as they come up. During the first run of the course, they ran the schedule in lock step with the in-class course, but on the second run Chris Crowley and Hailan Chen from CTLT suggested to make the assignments on EdX due with even more regularity (every second Saturday) than for an on-campus course, so that students know precisely what is expected and when.

It was crucial to communicate regularly with the students to encourage them contact the course team with any problems and also to remind them of the deadlines as they come up.

Some of the students were more active than others, and they sent emails and came to the office hours, so it was possible to get at least partial feedback. It was also challenging to implement activities in which the students could interact with each other and discuss. Jeremy and Ilaria set up a Google Community to foster the interaction and the students themselves set up Facebook groups as well.

What has been the result?

From the homework and tutorials it was clear that the distance education student were performing on average as well as the in-class ones. In fact, the average grade of the final exam was similar for the two sections. At the end of the term the reviews of the course were positive and during the summer the course registered a big increase in the amount of students that signed up for the distance-education course: from 30 in the spring to 80 in the summer. They have decide to offer the distance-education section continually through the year to meet the demand.

Furthermore, Jeremy and Ilaria are considering to migrate the on-campus section offered in January to EdX from Connect. In this way the students in the on-campus section will benefit from the activities that they developed on EdX.

What is your advice for the new user of edX?

Jeremy and Ilaria’s advice is to explore all the possibilities offered by edX/Edge. The best feature of edX is the possibility of creating a wide range of activities, which can at least in part compensate the fact that the student of a distance-education course cannot participate to the lectures. Another important aspect is the interaction of the students with each other, which can be encouraged by using the peer assessment tool, the discussion page inside EdX or using other platforms, like Google + and Facebook.

The best feature of edX is the possibility of creating a wide range of activities, which can at least in part compensate the fact that the student of a distance-education course cannot participate to the lectures.

The edX platform poses some challenges to blend assessments on the platform and assessments graded by the instructors and teaching assistants. Ilaria argues that these graded assessments provide crucial feedback to the students and are absolutely worth the effort. Using the Staff Graded Assignment tool makes it easy to grade and offer feedback. Jeremy also has set up a form using survey.ubc.ca to help match the students on EdX to their UBC identities and an LTI tool to upload grades (such as the final exam) to EdX, so the students can see all their progress in one place. Jeremy also wrote a script to migrate the entire course from one term to the next by changing all of the due dates to reflect the schedule of the new term.

The Staff Graded Assignment tool makes it easy to grade and offer feedback.

Faculty and staff looking for edX support, please visit the Learning Technology Hub