Too often in virtual learning environments, the basic element that connects students to the course is a static onea plain syllabus that merely outlines assignments without taking advantage of the digital medium in which it resides. In our fourth Commentary, Sylvie Richards describes how an interactive syllabus can prompt students to engage with course material in adaptive ways. She first distinguishes between two different models for the interactive syllabus: a sequential form ideal for the sciences and a nonlinear form ideal for the humanities. Through example syllabi for courses on diverse subjects (from Jane Austen to Picasso to the Vietnam War), Richards then shows how such an online resource can employ multiple media and communication tools to address a variety of learning styles and to promote a more multi-dimensional experience for students. Whether you are a wide-eyed neophyte or a seasoned expert in need of fresh ideas, you will enjoy this discussion of creative design features and constructivist pedagogy.
The increasingly competitive educational environment in Canada impelled one department at Brandon University to explore distributed learning as a means of reaching its target market: rural students. As Gabriele Ferrazzi reports in our first Case Study, the Department of Rural Development (DRD) began testing the waters of online education in August 2000. The faculty found that while small steps might be taken by instructors willing to design single Web-based or Web-supported courses, a programmatic approach with broad institutional support would offer vastly improved outcomes. Of course, such an approach would raise the stakes, involve more complicated tasks, and require a plan for overcoming greater resistance and anxiety. The DRD experience highlights the need for clear road maps that can help small departments or institutions (with limited resources) create partnerships, build organizational support, and make an appropriate commitment to distributed learning.
Undergraduate students in elementary education programs at the University of Western Ontario used to take 9 credit hours of large lecture classes. In the 2001-2002 academic year, however, that traditional component of the course sequence was replaced with interactive online content modules and discussion conferences. In our second Case Study, George Gadanidis and Sharon Rich explain the motivating philosophy behind this shift: a desire to model the kinds of active, collaborative learning environments that they encourage preservice teachers to create and sustain. The authors also discuss specific concerns that shaped the online initiative, assess its impact on faculty workload and compensation, and reveal what made the first year of its implementation so successful. Their highly organized and effective efforts are sure to inspire other instructors interested in aligning how they teach with what they teach.