While students may be accustomed to learning macroeconomics with 100 other students in the halls of Andrews or Millington, economics professor Till Schreiber is moving his course to a digital forum.
Schreiber is currently developing a completely online Principles of Macroeconomics course. Currently, the College of William and Mary plans to offer the course to students who won’t be on campus but would like to take the class over the summer.
Schreiber said most courses in the economics department are at capacity, especially in introductory courses. One of the hopes is that by providing an easily accessible online version of the Economics 102 course over the summer, more students will have the chance to complete those courses.
“Part of that demand [for ECON 102] can also conveniently, for both the student and the instructor, be met through the online [offering] over the summer … and that might lead to productivity improvements,” Schreiber said.
For Schreiber, one of the challenges of creating a fully online course is making it similar to the course that is offered in person during the fall and spring semesters.
“The challenge is to [create the online course] in a way that is consistent with the courses that we offer here. The goal of the Dean’s office and of myself and also everyone involved is not to have two versions of the course that differ in difficulty, differ in the way students are assessed, differ in the amount of material presented. … It should be the same course regardless if the student takes it in the classroom here … or [takes] it online,” Schreiber said.
The timeline for Schreiber’s course is tight. The goal is to have a beta version of the course available for internal testing in May or June and to have it ready to go live as a pilot program for students in the summer.
Gene Roche, director of University E-learning Initiatives, aids the provost of the College in coordinating programs that involve technology. He said that he thinks technology is changing the way people consume knowledge and hopes that the College can continue to be part of that process.
“The world is experiencing changes in terms of the way knowledge is produced and distributed,” Roche said. “A lot [of] folks say the last time we did this was when we learned how to print books. Now we are in something that is as big a change for the future, as printing books was for that [technological revolution]. … The universities are a part of that whole process of producing and distributing knowledge, so we really need to know how we are doing that electronically.”
Dean of Arts and Sciences Kate Conley, has been working on e-learning initiatives in her department. She said that she sees technology as another way for the College to communicate with its students in a medium with which they are already familiar.
“[Students] have grown up with computers — [they’re] very comfortable with [their] online activities, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, email or texting,” Conley said. “It’s a way of communicating with the students in a medium that is very familiar to them and it is also a way of using the advantage that technology can give us [to expand] the options of what we can do in a course.”
The College does not plan on sacrificing its teaching philosophy when transitioning into the online realm.
“We are approaching e-learning the way we approach all the courses in our curriculum in Arts and Sciences,” Conley said. “Our number one priority is to have close contact with students, in person, in the classroom, in an experience that is intimate and that involves active exchange between the faculty and students.”
According to Conley, some e-learning initiatives that are being developed to take place during the regular semester at the College will rely on the “flipped classroom” model, which relies both on in-person teaching and online components. The “flipped classroom” still involves an in-person class, but it is supplemented with online homework, lectures and exercises, which will be used for in-class discussions.
Roche said he feels e-learning will help prepare students to face technology’s increasing prominence.
“Whatever [students] do professionally I can almost guarantee that most of [their] professional development over the years will be enhanced electronically. … Part of what we need to do at William and Mary is to make sure we are [teaching students] to make the best of those [technological] resources that are available to them,” Roche said.