March 2018 marks the relaunch of two online group-based courses: ‘Introduction to Political Science’ and ‘Governance in Theory and Practice’, which will now start at fixed intervals. Course coordinator Dr. Mindel van de Laar spoke with one of our long-term tutors, Biljana Meshkovska, about this small but important innovation.
You’re the tutor for two of our online courses: ‘Introduction to Political Science’ and ‘Governance in Theory and Practice’. We sometimes see staff rotation, but you’ve delivered these courses for the last five years. That makes you a very experienced online tutor. What appeals to you most about online teaching?
Online courses enable independent learning from any location, while offering a chance to interact and exchange knowledge. In my experience students enrol because they choose to, not because they’re obliged by programme requirements. In general this makes them more committed to the course and the tutor-student relationship. Students come from all over the world and usually have some professional experience, which often feeds back into the theoretical parts of the course. So as tutor I also have the chance to gain new knowledge via my students.
Most of our participants are working professionals who want to be trained on a specific topic. They tend to have experience in the field and know the topics from practical experience – but they’re often less grounded academically. What’s most challenging about teaching this group online?
Of course working professionals face time constraints in these courses. So I always keep this in mind and try to be flexible. Students sometimes find the theoretical parts challenging, not least when applying strict conceptual definitions to the real world. However, our courses are intertwined with practical applications: incorporating real-time, real-life world news and developments to the theory that is being covered in the course. In this way, students eventually learn not to take each definition and the theory they cover in its literal sense, but as something that is dynamic and may be further developed to apply to particular situations.
So far we’ve offered our online material as individual courses, with one-on-one tutor support. In March 2018, we’re going to experiment with online group-based learning, opening up the two courses to start at a fixed time. Of course we hope enough people sign up and try out this new format, and that there’s real value in the interactions. What are you looking forward to in particular?
So far my student-tutor online interactions and discussions have been incredibly rich. But things get even better when we have a critical mass of participants. Each person brings something new to the discussion – whether it be a new perspective, new knowledge, or new experiences. This not only enriches the online exchanges, but also prolongs and enlarges them. In addition, I believe that when a student sees the feedback from their colleagues, they are further encouraged and motivated to do their work, and contribute even more. Finally, the participation of several people means that you never know where the discussion will go and what new doors it will open. I really look forward to this, given the ‘interesting times’ we live in.
The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
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