Reaching Beyond: A Look Into the School’s Online Offerings

2013-2014 Issue 1

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.03.26 PMThe 2012-2013 academic year saw the successful début of an exciting array of new offerings – making McGill’s stellar continuing education courses and programs available to a worldwide audience via the Web. The design and delivery of online courses has become a key element in the university’s outreach to students far beyond the confines of the campus, as well as those in the Montreal community.

Inna Popova, Associate Director, Professional Development and Corporate Training, calls the webinars mode “a great way to reach many professionals quickly and efficiently,” boosting the visibility of the School of Continuing Studies and its instructors while increasing accessibility.

The choice of topics for online delivery is crucial, and the range is broad. “ Our webinars are presented by the same instructors who deliver our professional development courses and workshops. From time to time, we also invite guest speakers and alumni to share their knowledge and experience. We want to provide access to information and tools that people can apply right away in their jobs,” says Popova.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP COURSE REACHES OUT

Dr. Carmen Sicilia, Director, Career and Professional Development, takes great pride in the way an online delivery mode can revitalize existing programs. The Undergraduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship is a prime example.

“The target audience is Aboriginal students, especially those who live in the north or on reserves, plus some local students. The instructors thought they might not be energized without having face-to-face contact with students, but it didn’t take long.”

Feedback has been extremely positive. “The students love the flexibility of not having to travel. They’re logged on with the instructor every Monday from 6 to 9, with support via the computer. Students say it’s the best of both worlds,” says Sicilia.

FRENCH AT WORK CLASSES TAILORED TO MEET NEEDS OF MCGILL STAFF

The free French at Work Program is designed to help McGill staff develop and improve their competence in spoken and written French. The delivery format of the course was revamped to accommodate employees’ scheduling constraints. “Registration levels and attendance had dropped because people just didn’t have the time,” says Manon Gadbois, Assistant Program Coordinator, French Part-Time Program and Special Projects. The online version is extremely popular – registrations took a 25% leap in Fall 2012.

The Blended Learning model works brilliantly online, says Gadbois. It combines in-class work shops one day a week, at lunch hour or in the late afternoon, with online work and Lync Online activities (a simulation, like a conference call) for a total of 16 hours per workshop. Students meet online with the teacher in real time every week and simulate conversations they might encounter.

There’s a sub-theme every week, including some grammar, vocabulary, readings and oral practice. How successful is the new model? “When we launched last September, we had 60 registrants within 10 minutes,” says Gadbois. “That’s the beauty of word of mouth.

ENGLISH AND FRENCH PROFICIENCY GO ONLINE

Most second-language learners are able to achieve an adequate level of fluency in oral communication. Mastery of written communication, however, demands more time and effort. This imbalance between speaking and writing is often a problem for people who are actively seeking to advance their careers. To serve their needs, Language and Intercultural Communication is offering online programs designed for effective written communication in the workplace: the Certificate of Proficiency in Written English – Workplace Communication and the Certificate of Proficiency in Written French – Workplace Communication.

In total, there are six non-credit courses in each program, ranging from mid-intermediate to advanced levels. Students earn eight Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for each course they pass successfully.

The courses fill a clear need, says Marie-Claude Beauchamp of the Language and Intercultural Communication unit. “The idea is to break the isolation that is often associated with online courses, where people are totally on their own. We help students form links with their peers and tutor. They discuss a range of topics – always designed for pedagogical purposes, but framed as a free discussion. The whole context is the workplace.”

Feedback to date has been extremely enthusiastic. Students say they love the combination of distance learning with tutor support. They also appreciate the opportunity to work individually and collaboratively while pursuing their language goals, Beauchamp reports.

Student KG described what she liked most about one of the French online courses: “They gave us a lot of supplementary exercises and resources. There were regular support meetings with a tutor, so you always felt like there was someone there to help you. They even had us work in teams.They encouraged discussion with other students via discussion boards. The modules were short, which made it easy to quickly grasp the concepts. This is a great course for people with intermediate French who want to brush up their grammar. I highly recommend it.”

Let’s leave the last word to student Mehr Raza, from Pakistan: “Les cours de français écrit en ligne de l’Ecole d’éducation permanente correspondent à ce que j’ai toujours cherché. Après avoir suivi un premier cours, je me suis tout de suite inscrite au deuxième. Cette expérience est pour moi très gratifiante car tout en restant dans mon pays, je peux améliorer mon français écrit dans un contexte professionnel, accomplir des tâches intéressantes et échanger avec mon tuteur et mes collègues de classe. Ces cours de l’Université McGill m’ont vraiment permis de réaliser mes rêves !”

SMOOTHING THE TRANSITION TO ONLINE COURSES

Of course, you can’t just press a button and instantly turn a traditional course into an online version that works smoothly. That’s where Instructor Services and Educational Technologies (ISET) comes in.

ISET Director Jean-Paul Rémillieux notes that “Online, the instructor remains the content expert, but when it comes to delivery, many instructors are just not equipped. The instructional designer is here to help define strategies and make sure that the technologies match.

“The relationship with students changes in online courses. The ability to teach in a classroom doesn’t automatically translate into the ability to teach an online course. There’s definitely a learning curve.”

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