EVOLUTION OF ASYNCHRONOUS DISCUSSION BASED ONLINE GRADUATE COURSES TO COMPREHENSIVE STUDENT EXPERIENCE WITH LIVE INSTRUCTION COMPONENTS
University of Illinois at Chicago / Nova Southeastern University (UNITED STATES)
Biomedical informatics program at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) offers a unique curriculum that combines medical, research, and information technology topics to prepare students for emerging careers as leaders in clinical informatics. As a small niche program, it initiated several years ago with a few core course offerings designed in an engaging highly interactive asynchronous 8-week online discussion format, with topics covering both foundations and latest developments in key areas of informatics and leadership in the field. As program expanded and student base diversified to include many professional backgrounds, from technology to business to advanced degree clinical professionals, the initial format no longer served everyone equally well, especially at the polar “no-experience” and “extensive experience” in industry and research ends of the prior knowledge spectrum.
Two distinct courses – healthcare project management and healthcare networking and telecommunications – were completely redesigned to include video lectures, group projects culminating into live student presentations delivered via Blackboard Collaborate, comprehensive essay-formatted quizzes, and analytical papers requiring research of the latest medical technology trends. While student satisfaction remained high in both old and new formats, it was apparent from reading student satisfaction survey responses that not all students were previously aware of the full sets of knowledge and skills they needed to possess in order to position themselves for success in the field. Despite rising pressure, difficult assignments, variety of learning formats, and average time spent on coursework rising from 11-15 to 25-30 hours per week, students indicated ultimate satisfaction from overcoming challenges, appreciation for the live components fostering academic partnerships, and comprehensive learning experience. Some indicated newly discovered passions for subjects taught in the courses and brought up as part of the research process to satisfy assignment requirements, while others changed course after discovering their lack of passions for certain subjects – an important part of academic exploration experience. While most students did not miss discussion-based format, some needed peer-to-peer network development, which led to further format and curriculum modifications to include blended learning that combines discussions, group project work, comprehensive individual assignments, and opportunities for collaboration.
The paper will outline challenges, risks, and benefits associated with online academic experience transformation; highlight areas of strength supported by online learning technologies; initiate debate on the subject of interpreting student feedback on graduate courses and what it truly means; discuss evolution of the courses while selectively addressing student input; and conclude with future curriculum design considerations as takeaways for the readers to consider as part of their own academic coursework design journey. The paper will also address differences between coverage of the materials and preparation of the students to face real challenges of their chosen field.