Doing E-Learning the W&M Way

Broadcasting from W&M Weather Vane

About this time last year, William & Mary was touted as the best school in the nation for undergraduate teaching. Having sent out several E-Learning Development Kits into the wild over the spring and summer, I’ve gotten more than the usual taste of why, and how, our faculty achieved that reputation.

This Summer W&M Offered Our First Fully Online Courses

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that this summer William & Mary’s School of Arts & Sciences offered the first two fully-online classes for undergraduates in its 321 year history. Of course, being William & Mary, we did it our own way. These weren’t classes-for-the-masses; the two courses — introductory economics and biochemistry — are mainline undergraduate classes that tend to fill up to the consternation of students required to take them, which makes them attractive summer offerings.

Recognizing that students who can benefit from such summer courses must also often live at home and/or work full-time during the summer, Dean of Undergraduate Studies John Griffin led our online class production efforts to meet that need: A wonderful example of how W&M is using current educational trends and technologies to benefit our traditional residential students.

Teaching Excellence and Collaboration Makes for Successful Online Courses

The W&M ethos is also prevalent on the production side of online teaching and learning here.  Larger schools with comprehensive online offerings often provide concierge-type production services to their faculty. While our technical academic support staff is long on expertise, we’re short on available person-hours — so we’ve approached developing online course materials using the tried and true methodology of collaboration and rolled-up shirtsleeves.

Intrepid faculty are diving into desktop video production using the e-kits; IT staff with a whole roster of other duties are providing part-time consultation on everything from course design to video hosting tips; student workers provided editing services … a true “takes a village” sort of effort. Best of all, early reports sound as if our efforts paid off with successful classes.

Offerings Are Growing as Are Our Capabilities for E-Learning

Which, to me, is the best part: It’s working! Our capabilities and offerings are growing. Not one e-kit is gathering dust; all are in the capable and willing hands of W&M professors. (And I’m putting together two more to keep up with demand. Let me know if you’re interested!) However, by being involved in this effort, we do hear from detractors who feel that e-learning has no place at a residential, liberal-arts-focused institution. Now we have some real successes to point to and say, “See! Look at what we’ve done to support our students and our mission, and not a bandwagon in sight!”

“E-learning” might be a dirty word to some, but it’s hard to argue against helping currently enrolled students graduate on time while keeping them engaged with William & Mary faculty as they live at home or abroad during the summer months. I am unabashedly proud of the work this group of colleagues has accomplished — administrators, faculty, and staff — and am excited to see what we can accomplish next … by doing it our own W&M way.

About John Drummond

John Drummond is the Academic Engineering and eLearning Manager at the College of William & Mary. Originally from Mathews County, VA, John graduated from James Madison University with a BA in English in 1996 and an MS in Technical and Scientific Communication in 2002, and has been with W&M IT since 2007. In addition to working in AIS, John has taught occasionally at W&M and previously at Tidewater Community College, and in other roles has been an author, a musician, a Perl programmer, a UNIX systems engineer, and a network manager. He resides in Toano with his wife Andrea and daughter Rebekah.