Portland State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Pages: 6717-6726
ISBN: 978-84-615-5563-5
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
Superlative online education for undergraduates needs to focus on more than substantive content. The learning process requires multiple avenues for student engagement. The course must be exciting from the perspective of the students. Online courses are sometimes little more than readings and assignments with no student involvement other than cursory discussion board postings and drop box submissions.

We took an existing online Criminology and Criminal Justice course at Portland State University on the "American Courts" and overhauled it using total quality management concepts from the business world. This course had adequate content and had received acceptable reviews from students. However, some students expressed the opinion that the course was not dynamic and that the only reason that they endured it was that the course was a requirement for department majors.

A team of faculty and graduate students strategized to improve the quality of this course. The group hypothesized that by incorporating total quality management ideas into the design of this course, students would feel more engaged with the substantive material and would become active learners. Hopefully, they would also enjoy the educational experience. Student satisfaction, rapid response to student queries, fostering a cooperative learning environment, and an on-going commitment to continuous improvement during the five-week period became the guiding principles for the course overhaul.

First step, the instructor design was upgraded to a team teaching effort. Next, the entire course was renovated to make it student centered. The online presentation of the course was altered to make it more user-friendly. Instead of maintaining more than one hundred students in a central group and simply dividing the grading work among four teaching assistants, the class was re-structured into four separate learning communities. Each student lived in their learning community for the duration of the course. A graduate teaching assistant was assigned to work exclusively in each learning community.

Students provided feedback regularly throughout the course instead of only at the end of the class. Student recommendations were reviewed and often implemented. The group decided to create weekly videos, sometimes in unique costumes, where the students witnessed the teachers and assistants talking about course content, student suggestions, and possible revisions. A contest was devised for naming this video series.

Student queries were made a high priority and responses were generally provided within an hour of the time a question was submitted. Students were encouraged to use the discussion board for their learning community to assist other students who might be experiencing difficulties with the textbook material or the course assignments. Students were able to monitor their own progress using self-assessment tools built into the course.

The student evaluations of the course, both during the five-week period and at the completion of the class, indicated that the efforts made to overhaul the class had been successful in making it more engaging, participatory, and fun. Students expressed a desire to have more courses offered in this manner.