New eLearning community gets AMPD’d

Five years ago, Professors Michael Longford of computation arts and Judith Schwarz of visual arts volunteered to tackle the challenge of adapting eLearning to an arts curriculum for the benefit of the entire School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD).

Michael Longford

“In the beginning, I was an eLearning skeptic,” Longford said. “I wasn’t sure it was the way to go in the fine arts because I thought of Moodle and online courses as a largely text-based medium.”

With the help of an Academic Innovation Fund grant, he and Schwarz explored eLearning possibilities, such as blended courses; researched the pedagogic strengths and barriers involved; and collaborated with staff members, such as Lillian Heinson, the Instructional Technology Coordinator for AMPD, as well as the Teaching Commons, and Learning Technology Services who could assist faculty with the technical and pedagogical challenges bringing their ideas to life online.

David Gelb

The result?  Today, he is a firm believer in the possibilities of eLearning and together with Schwarz and Professor David Gelb of design, they have successfully encouraged their colleagues to give it a try.

Their project, titled “Looking to the Future: Creating State-of-the-Art eLearning in AMPD” has yielded positive results throughout the school and proven that visual media can be successfully incorporated into instruction and into the Moodle platform. There were only a few courses that incorporated eLearning during the first year of the grant; in the 2016-17 academic year, AMPD boasts 28 courses that reach 4,000 students overall.

Gelb, who joined the group when the grant was renewed two years ago, said finding ways to incorporate visuals into online learning was very important for their students, as course enrolment numbers demonstrate.

“Moodle, our learning management system, prioritizes text,” Gelb said. “We needed to find ways to engage students who take visual courses.”

Katherine Knight

There are many success stories. For example, Professor Katherine Knight of Visual Art & Art History teaches a blended course that includes assignments in which students submit and share images using the Media Gallery in Moodle. Professor Gillian Helfield of Cinema & Media Arts moved to online delivery of her first-year course, Hollywood Old and New, redesigning it for the new format. The course draws 600 to 800 students and offers 19 tutorials, and Helfield has worked hard to ensure that all students receive a consistent learning experience.

Professor Matt Vander Woude of Music also moved to online delivery of his course, Rock and Popular Music.

“We’ve all taught reluctant participants in our classes,” Vander Woude told YFile previously. “It was amazing to see how much the students became engaged in the Moodle forum: shyness was not an issue.

The three professors aren’t ready to rest on their laurels just yet, despite the obvious successes; there are more new courses in the pipeline and more work to be done.

Judith Schwarz

“We meet annually with the department chairs to see if there are professors who are interested in eLearning or courses that could easily accommodate an eLearning component,” Schwarz said.

They have also been strong promoters of eLearning across AMPD. They organized a series of eLearning exchange luncheons where a faculty member who was employing eLearning in a course could offer a case study, discussing how he or she worked through the challenges of incorporating digital media. The luncheons were opportunities for faculty members to have informal conversations about eLearning.

“Sharing experiences with colleagues is critical, and that includes discussing challenges as well as successes,” Longford said. “People have pre-conceived notions of what eLearning means and these conversations open their eyes to what’s actually possible. They can picture themselves using it and can see the benefits for their students.”

The trio also organizes an annual eLearning celebration day, featuring a panel of faculty who have used digital learning creatively. In addition, they have created an AMPD eLearning Teaching Award that recognizes a faculty member who has made a major, innovative contribution to eLearning at York.

“Faculty on our panels talk about their journeys to incorporating digital technology into their courses and the audience connects with their honesty,” said Schwarz. “Every time I hear a faculty member talk about a course, I’m inspired.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus