A. Ter-Stepanian

Southern Connecticut State University (UNITED STATES)
In the past I have published articles and book chapters on effective strategies I have used in online course design, but in this article I will share my experiences of teaching a poorly designed course and provide recommendations on what not to do when designing an online course.
As a full-time adjunct I always seek teaching opportunities, and I am not always lucky to design my own online course to teach. Sometimes I have to teach courses which were designed by someone else, something I do willingly since it is a great way to compare instructional strategies used by different course designers and be able to evaluate what works and what doesn’t in the online environment.
Several semesters ago I started teaching at a very prestigious art university art history courses that were developed by designated course designers and praised for their quality. After teaching four courses I realized that instructional design is a territory that needs enormous improvement, particularly in assessment methods.
In this article I am going to focus on one these courses, a fully online, ten-week long foundational level art history survey course. Course assessments include weekly discussion board assignment, two quizzes, and two exams - a midterm and a final. In addition, students have to write a term paper, which consists of three parts, the initial proposal, the rough draft, and the final draft. Quizzes comprise of two essay questions. Students are presented with an image of a work of art, and they have to write an essay for each work of art, where they have to identify the object (title, artist, the period or style, the date) and discuss its style and technique, how it was used, how it reflects the values of the society in which it was created, and what symbolism it has. Both midterm and final exam follow the same format, they have four questions, three of which contain the same question as the quizzes (identify and then discuss), word-by-word, and the fourth question is a comparison essay, where students have to compare two works of art, and reflect on their similarities and differences. Thus, out of 12 test questions 10 contain the exact same wording. This alone can hardly create an intellectually stimulating learning environment! Moreover, tests are not timed; students can access each test in several sittings, which is not a good idea in open book online environment. Students can spend a whole week working on essays for exams. As a result, students learn only what they are tested on. Some of students’ responses clearly show that they have no command of the material; their knowledge is fragmented, not supported by deep understanding of concepts.
In addition, the choice of works of art for essays is also very problematic. For the comparison essay students are given one example from Paleolithic or Egyptian art and one example from Gothic period. Comparative analysis of works of art is an excellent tool in art history courses to show main developments from one style to the next, but when works of art of are thousands of years apart, the comparison turns into a separate analysis of works of art in isolation, not in comparison.
The article presents a detailed analysis of assessments problems in online courses, provides an evaluation of different assessment methods and contains recommendations for avoiding undesirable pitfalls in instructional design of art history online courses.