Online courses receive funding for redesign

By Wendy Chan posted on February 2nd, 2016

Ten distance learning courses will undergo major course redesigns after receiving renewal funding of $5,000 each. The renewal fund, offered for the first time in Summer 2015, was open to all undergraduate, for credit, online courses that had not gone through a major revision in the past three years. Courses that received funding ranged across UBC departments and faculties.

One of the courses that received funding, EOSC 310: The Earth and the Solar System, will use the funds to help streamline content and create multimedia components. The course, taken by around 450 students each year, is led by Dr. Kirsten Hodge.

Last revised in 2007, EOSC 310 introduces students to concepts in planetary geoscience, including plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes. It looks at the evolution of the earth, and uses earth as a model to compare how processes may work on other planets in the solar system. After collecting student feedback, Hodge realized that it was time to give the course a facelift.

“I wanted to do an overhaul of all the assessments and all the quizzes, and make it a better learning environment for the students,” Hodge says. “I really want them to learn something about earth science in a fun and interesting way that’s relevant to their life.”

Among the changes Hodge has planned are to restructure content, increase active learning, and create more diverse and frequent assessment and feedback opportunities.

Course notes will be revised and integrated directly into Connect, UBC’s online learning management system. Notes will also contain more text, images, figures, and short videos. For more difficult concepts, Hodge aims to create videos using Lightboard, a lecture capture tool that allows instructors to produce short videos while writing or drawing on a board of illuminated glass.

The revised course will allow students to discuss concepts in smaller groups. Hodge hopes this will encourage students to engage more with their peers and the materials. Students will also have weekly quizzes and more ungraded or low-stakes assessments, where they have the opportunity to receive feedback as they move along in the course.

Hodge notes that even with the online nature of the course, the content lends itself well to students exploring their physical space, wherever they may be located.

“You walk outside, and every aspect of what you see is earth science,” Hodge says. “I hope [the revisions] allow students to take away more knowledge from the course and a better appreciation for earth science and their surroundings.”

Another course that received funding, FNH 200: Exploring Our Food, similarly hopes to improve students’ experience through revisions. FNH 200, which is offered both online and face-to-face, looks at the basic chemistry of food, how foods are processed and food safety; students also examine food production, consumption, and food choices. It is a required course for Food, Nutrition and Health students, and a popular elective for students across all other faculties, with a combined 900 students enrolled in the online and face-to-face sections each year.

Currently, several different instructors teach the course, and the revisions will work to maintain consistency across all sections. Dr. Nooshin Alizadeh-Pasdar and Dr. Azita Madadi-Noei, who will lead the revisions, want to make the course more interactive for a wider range of learners.

“The student evaluations always give us an idea of what we can improve,” Alizadeh-Pasdar says. Based on the evaluations, the instructors knew that students enjoyed the content, but there were areas that could be revised. “For example, a little more user friendly, or more videos with that added human touch,” Alizadeh-Pasdar notes.

“Technology is always changing and evolving, and we want the course to be more up to the standards of the [current] generation,” Madadi-Noei adds. By using different technologies, they hope to facilitate more in-depth learning and increase student engagement.

Some of the tools they hope to implement are Lightboard; CLAS, a media player for recording, sharing, and reviewing videos; and Camtasia, a tool for creating multimedia screencasts. In the past, FNH 200 received flexible learning funding to update eight videos they had created; with the renewal funding, they plan to make minor edits in order to adapt the videos for use in the online sections as well.

With the online nature of the course, Madadi-Noei notes that, “It’s important that the students are more proactive.” The revisions aim to encourage students to be more engaged and feel more connected with their peers and instructor.

The revised version of EOSC 310 is set to launch in Fall 2017, and the revised version of FNH 200 is anticipated to begin in Spring 2016. To learn more about distance learning courses at UBC, please visit