Online and On Target for Deeper Learning

By Will Heikoop, Online Learning Coordinator

Professor Bill Ju has taught HMB300 Neurobiology of Behaviour numerous times since joining the University of Toronto in 2009. It’s an intermediate course in neuroscience that focuses on higher brain functions and mechanisms underlying human and animal behaviours. The course was taught in a familiar fashion: two hours of lecture, one hour of tutorials and one hour dedicated to office hours – all face-to-face (F2F). For his latest offering he tried something radically new. He incorporated a number of innovative approaches that transformed his teaching and enhanced student learning. The course was thoughtfully redesigned to include:

  • Online activities that reduced the need for F2F time in the classroom (a hybrid model).
  • An online student cohort that attended the live lectures Bill delivered to his F2F students at a distance using the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool.
  • Collaborative peer work and assessment using peerScholar, an online pedagogical tool that helps develop students’ critical- and creative-thinking skills to manage the workflow.

Bill Ju, Human Biology Program, Senior Lecturer

Sound intriguing? Let’s break down what it all means and what innovative approaches he brought to his teaching.

The hybrid portion of the course involved moving tutorials and office hours online. Normally held in person on campus, the move online reduced the need for direct F2F time. To ensure a sense of community and a virtual presence, the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool was used to support interactive work and conversation.

Turning to the lectures, Professor Ju had an in-class section of 70 students as well as an online section of 40 registered students attend together. Lectures were delivered synchronously using Blackboard Collaborate to online students while simultaneously providing the same lecture material to the students in-class using a streaming model.  Active learning was emphasized in both sections and Bill was careful to incorporate opportunities for both the F2F section and the online students to interact using Collaborate to answer specific questions during class. Additionally, his course re-design involved the development of a strategy for effective engagement of students through peer-based activities – specifically problem sets to be discussed in lectures that required students in-class to interact with their online cohorts.

Finally, his capstone writing assignment utilized peerScholar to encourage active learning between both the F2F and online student groups.  Students designed and peer reviewed infographics/online posters related to specific aspects of neurobiology, which were then made available in an online environment.

What did Professor Ju think of having a F2F cohort, an online cohort and general class activities moved online?

He admits,  “Running a 3 in one classroom was definitely a lot of fun – in person, streaming live and off-line self-paced study.”

For more on Professor Ju’s approach to teaching and learning take a look at this recent CTSI interview.

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