Keeping class connected earns professor honours

His Western course may be completely online, but Michael Friesen makes sure his students remain deeply connected.

Teaching the Social Media and Organizations course in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies since 2014, Friesen has embraced the pros and cons of long-distance education.

“The in-class version has its advantages in terms of immediate feedback from the students, or interactions between professor and students and students with each other,” he explained.

“On the other hand, in an online class, you can study the material at your own leisure. Most is asynchronous, so it doesn’t really matter, down to the precise hour, when you do it. There is flexibility in the online version. But, of course, it risks losing some of the social or collaborative aspect of the in class.”

Friesen, however, found a means to have a collective feel to the course material and the students taking the class. “I make sure I meet with each of the students via video call and give them a variety of ways they can interact with each other, with me and outside organizations. I maximize the opportunities to engage them in social learning.”

Special to Western NewsFaculty of Information & Media Studies instructor Michael Friesen recently won an Apereo Foundation Teaching and Learning Award for his innovative instruction and learning using open source software. He has taught the Social Media and Organizations course since 2014.

Recently, his efforts won an Apereo Foundation Teaching and Learning Award for his innovative instruction and learning using open source software.

The Apereo Foundation is a global network of higher education institutions and partners that collaborates on the creation of open-source software for teaching, learning and research. The term ‘open source’ refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible. Western is a member of the Apereo Foundation and an end-user of a couple of its projects, including Sakai, which powers OWL, and was what Friesen used for his course.

“I hear from students who have taken e-learning courses before and it’s typically ‘Read this chapter. Post a comment to a forum.’ And that’s it. That is convenient for an instructor and gives students a clear, and perhaps tiring, way to interact with the course material,” Friesen said.

“I spend a great deal of time working on the interactivity of the course. But then when I get student comments back saying it’s the most interactive course they’ve ever taken, it feels good,” he continued.

Friesen would embrace further opportunities to do more online course offerings. Currently, he is also putting together a syllabus for a course in Faculty of Education to help teachers how to use e-learning effectively.

Friesen said Western is doing a fine job creating and offering support for e-learning, but there needs to be more buy in at the faculty level. Currently, Western offers more than 300 fully online course offerings at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“It’s an understudied area, an area that warrants more careful attention. We seem to assume, in my perspective as an educator, that when we make a tool available to teachers that they are simply going to know what to do with it and how to use it effectively as soon as we put it in place.

“Western has some wonderful and fantastic people who help with this, like the Instructional Technology Resource Centre and the Teaching Support Centre. But I’m not sure how much work is happening at each faculty level to encourage the use of implementation of these tools in a way that is effective in giving the students a good learning opportunity, but also preserves the professor’s time and energy.”