The joys and tribulations of setting up a distance course

Doug-Campbell-reducedDr Douglas Campbell
Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Canterbury

I’ve been asked to write a bit of a blog entry about distance teaching, to accompany the attached video of my talking head!  So here goes nothing.

I started distance teaching out of necessity after the earthquake. I went on to set up a distance philosophy course (PHIL110) that’s been going out to schools (and more recently regular distance students) ever since. I’m now thinking of setting up a couple of 200-level distance courses.

Is it a big job setting up a distance course? Yes!! Set up PHIL110 consumed hundreds and hundreds of hours.

What are the upsides? You get more students (although so far the numbers of distance students haven’t been all that stunning, admittedly!) You are forced to think creatively about assessments (since exams are a logistical nightmare in a distance course). You end up with a really good, well-organised course, that pretty much runs itself (if you do it right!) The work you put into the course makes the course better for all students, not just the distance students.  All and all, it is a huge learning curve, and so of course you learn a lot by doing it.

What are  downsides? Number one is the huge amount of time it takes up-front to get such a course on-line and working smoothly (thinking about how to make the Learn site self-explanatory, finding online content, creating quizzes, designing online assessment tasks, etc…). Providing pastoral care to students who aren’t on campus can be a big deal. And there are lots of other issues–like, for instance, the fact that on-campus students tend to skip  lectures if they can access videos of the lectures online.

If you’re thinking of setting up a distance course and you’d like to look at some existing distance courses in order to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work, please drop me an email! I can give you access to PHIL110, and perhaps some other distance courses too.

To see more videos please visit the Sharing teaching Practice page.

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