How are online courses developed at Fontbonne?

HomeNews StoriesHomepage NewsHow are online courses developed at Fontbonne?
Student at desk taking an online class

Online classes were becoming increasingly common even before the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic disrupted systems across the world, however, educational institutions found themselves transitioning to a fully virtual space in a matter of weeks — or, in some cases, days. Fontbonne tackled this transition alongside many other universities this spring, and it did so with a hidden superpower — a staff member named Jo Ann Mattson.

Course Development Process

As Fontbonne’s Director of e-Learning, Mattson works with the university’s deans and department chairs to develop new online programs and courses. This rigorous process typically involves many hours of planning, approval and review.

Once an online program has been approved by all key constituents (Board of Directors, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean and undergraduate or graduate faculty review committee), Mattson collaborates with the faculty designer to create a course that adheres to online learning best practices. The course is then reviewed by the department chair, who checks the content and ensures that learning outcomes align with program goals and standards for academic rigor. Finally, Mattson confirms that the class is well-organized and can be easily navigated by students. She then provides support throughout the term and meets with the instructor once it is complete to review student feedback and make any necessary changes. Just like face-to-face courses, online classes go through a yearly evaluation process where other faculty and/or department chairs “visit” the classroom and provide feedback for the instructor.

When Fontbonne made the temporary shift to a fully online learning environment in March, this process had to be condensed for some courses. Despite the significant time constraints, faculty and staff were able to successfully navigate the transition with Mattson’s help.

“I’ve been amazed at how everyone has rallied with support to adapt face-to-face classroom projects and discussions to online activities,” Chancellor Barbara Jennings said. “Students have steadily been reminded that resources are in place to support them mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Making an Online Class Successful

Although many of the classes which were moved online due to COVID-19 were initially developed for an in-person learning environment, Mattson worked closely with faculty members to ensure the transition was as seamless as possible. The first step in this process was the same one she uses for all of Fontbonne’s online classes — ensuring that three key connection points were in place:

  1. Student-to-faculty
  2. Student-to-content
  3. Student-to-student

In other words, a fruitful online learning experience must offer the student opportunities to engage with their instructor, the course content and their peers in meaningful ways. In a traditional classroom, this engagement could occur through small group work, class discussions, note-taking, quizzes and other familiar activities. In a virtual space, these connections can also be established through discussion boards, Zoom calls, wiki pages, course announcements, direct messages, multimedia content and detailed feedback on assignments.

Monitoring students’ grasp of the material on a regular basis is also especially crucial in an online setting. Formative assessments are ongoing, low-stakes assessments (like quizzes or journal entries) that provide more immediate feedback to the instructor than summative assessments like midterms and final exams.

“Building in formative assessments is really important,” Mattson says. “They help the faculty determine where students are in the learning process so they can make changes when needed if students are struggling.”

Blended Learning

Some classes are easy to imagine in an online format, while others — art studios and science labs, for example — seem more challenging. Thanks to the widespread availability of video and audio capture technology, though, even these classes can succeed virtually in a blended or “flipped” learning environment.

In a blended classroom, students watch a video lesson on their own before coming to class. Class time is then used for discussion, group projects and assessment. This approach has traditionally been used to create hybrid online and in-person courses, but it works for fully online classes as well. For a virtual blended course, the in-class portion can take place synchronously through Zoom or asynchronously through discussion boards or wiki pages.

“I joined one of the art classes when they met for the first time to make sure no one had trouble with the technology,” Mattson explained. “They all took turns sharing images of their paintings, reflecting on their own work and discussing the project with the class. It was really cool — I almost didn’t want to leave the course myself!”

Unique Benefits of Online Learning

Students love online classes for the freedom they provide. Since many are offered asynchronously, students are able to control when, where and how they engage with the material. Fontbonne’s robust, user-friendly learning management system (Canvas) and other technological tools like Zoom allow students to accomplish the same goals that they would in a traditional classroom from the comfort of their homes.

Distance learning also creates opportunities for creativity and innovation — a challenge that Fontbonne faculty and students have risen to with surprising vigor.

“I just worked with a history class that created podcasts to show the faculty they had learned the material,” Mattson said. “The faculty member loved the project and says she’ll be implementing it again whether the class is meeting face-to-face or online.”

Across the university, instructors are inventing new approaches and strategies for providing students with the rigorous academic experience they deserve. Over the past several weeks, faculty have created their own instructional videos about topics ranging from ceramics to algebra to gender communication. They’ve held virtual office hours, hosted screencasts about science fiction literature and sent students to their own closets to analyze different types of stitching.

Reflecting on the shift to online learning, instructor James Fortney says, “I have learned that almost any element of a face-to-face course can be converted to a virtual learning environment. Even in cases where an exact replication of an activity or assignment is impossible, simple modifications can be made to ensure the same learning outcomes are met.”

 

COVID-19 took the world by surprise. Thanks in large part to Mattson’s tireless work and expertise, though, Fontbonne is equipped to ensure a high-quality educational experience for all students — regardless of the format.

“Our faculty are so passionate about their content and about the students,” says Mattson. “They’re very dedicated, they’re willing to try new things, and there are support systems in place for students who are struggling. We’re going to be here for them.”

We are using cookies to give you the best experience. You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in privacy settings.
AcceptPrivacy Settings

GDPR

  • GDPR Privacy Policy
  • Google Analytics

GDPR Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Overall Policy

Thank you for visiting our website. We’re pleased to share our policy regarding the use of information received here. Privacy is a matter of concern to us. We are committed to protecting your privacy and the security of the information that you may provide to us.

Personal Information

We do not track individual users. Your email address or other personal information is not collected unless you provide it on a form, survey or application. We will not sell or otherwise make available any personally identifiable information to any organization not directly affiliated with us. We will comply with legitimate government or legal requests as necessary to protect our organization or to comply with laws.

Traffic Analysis

We analyze traffic to this site. We collect statistical data on an aggregated basis through Google Analytics. For example, we collect information about the domain names of servers that bring visitors to our site. We count the number of visitors and keep track of where they go on our site. Such information allows us to find out what areas users visit most frequently and what services they access the most, which enables us to create a better overall user experience. To gather such data, we use cookie technology, which collects data in aggregate form, not by individual user.

Cookies

As referenced above, we use cookie technology for traffic analysis. Cookies are small pieces of information stored by your browser on your computer’s hard drive. The cookies placed by our server do not gather personal information about you, do not provide any way for us to contact you and do not gather information about your computer. The cookies simply allow us to enhance our site by letting us know what sections are visited most often. The use of cookies is common on the Internet, and our use of them is similar to that of other reputable online organizations.

Links To Other Sites

Our site contains links to other sites and Internet resources. We are not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of these third-party websites and Internet resources.

Updates To Privacy Policy

We may update the privacy policy periodically, and we encourage visitors to review them on a regular basis.

Last revised: June 2015

Google Analytics

Griffin Return: Review Fontbonne's plan for a safe return to campus.Learn more.