Professor Marjory Harper, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, tells us how this new 100% online Master's Programme, was launched after identifying a niche that was not covered by courses in other institutions.
Taught for the first time in 2018-19, this is one of four core courses in a new, 100% online Master's Programme, launched after identifying a niche that was not covered by courses in other institutions. It has been developed with expert, enthusiastic and consistent support from graduate trainees in the e-learning department and has benefited from insights into good practice gained in discussions with colleagues at online workshops. A priority has been to create a sense of community and collegiality among students from three continents who meet and interact only through written discussion boards and occasional video conversations.
A variety of online written, visual and oral teaching and learning material was supplied weekly. After working through these resources at their own pace, students interacted with
each other, and with the tutor, in discussion board forums whose questions were tailored to the week's themes. Occasionally this was supplemented by Blackboard Collaborate real-time discussion, which was challenging because of technical difficulties (inaudibility if several people participated) and time zones. Discussion also took place by email. Students particularly welcomed the addition of videos in which the tutor either summarised the week's discussions or reviewed them with a colleague.
Effectiveness was evaluated primarily by regular monitoring (and moderating) of discussion boards, by two summative assignments, and by reviewing feedback from two previous courses in the programme. Student feedback from discussion boards and SCEFs was acted upon. Specifically, students' positive response to the introduction of summary videos led to these becoming a weekly feature. Feedback has been 100% positive, including appreciation of the variety of material, its practical application, 'and the way it has developed knowledge and skills'; interaction with staff; support and encouragement; and general comments such as 'It has been such a fantastic experience taking the course'.
When the Programme was inaugurated, I developed a template for its delivery in collaboration with colleagues from e-learning. Other colleagues have since used that template to develop their own courses, and the same template is currently being used to create an inter-disciplinary training course for Scottish Tourist Guides. One specific impact of this course, articulated in student feedback, has been to demystify the methodology of historical research. The student wrote 'I found it very useful and reassuring because until now I've always felt rather intimidated by the idea of asking for and using archive materials.'
Results have been disseminated internally through presentations I have given at online teaching workshops, and a School seminar. External dissemination has taken place through marketing the Programme and its component courses, not least in four promotional videos that I have made. In April 2018, when students from Australia, Canada and Switzerland visited the University, the opportunity was taken to make another promotional video, in which they were interviewed about their experiences of the Programme. In March and April 2019 I hope to promote the Programme in person during a visit to Albuquerque, New York and Chicago.