New Direction For Online Courses

November 19, 2003

Arthur Nead

Christian Brady with on-screen view of the Hebrew Bible A new University College online class puts students in touch with some of Western Civilization's most ancient writings using state-of-the art computer technology.

The course, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, was developed by Christian Brady, associate director of the honors program and associate professor of classical and Jewish studies.

As the college's first online course representing the traditional liberal arts and sciences, the course marks a new direction in University College's offerings, according to Terrence Fitzmorris, associate dean of the college.

University College has offered online courses for about five years.

"Our first online courses dealt with computers," Fitzmorris says, adding that the college's "virtual" offerings soon expanded to areas such as business and finance, accounting, paralegal studies and language instruction. "Online education presented an opportunity, a challenge, to our faculty and to the administration of the college to see what we could offer," Fitzmorris says.

Brady, who had an interest in trying to adapt one of his Jewish studies courses to online use, approached University College with the concept and got the go-ahead. And this has been the pattern for most of the online courses, according to Fitzmorris.

"Departments per se are not behind this. It has been individual faculty members coming forward to teach courses online," he says. In deciding which of his courses to adapt for online presentation, Brady chose Introduction to the Hebrew Bible because, "This is the one that I thought would convert best, because it's lecture-based as opposed to discussion-based," he says.

The path for adapting the course from classroom to online was clear. "I have all my lectures in PowerPoint," Brady says. "I've added my lecture notes, or what I usually would say in the lectures, in the 'notes' field of PowerPoint and then printed them out as PDF files."

Two new PDF-format "lectures" are timed to come online each week, and the students download them. At the same time they proceed through a schedule of readings. "Then to add the discursive element, at various points in the lectures, I have a notation in red, 'Directed Discussion,'" says Brady. On seeing this instruction, the students go to Tulane's "blackboard" website, which operates like a chat room.

A question from Brady kicks off each discussion, and then he "stands back" to allow students to discuss the issue among themselves. Occasionally, Brady steps in to steer the discussion or call a foul. Substantial participation in the blackboard discussions counts toward each student's total grade, as do weekly quizzes taken online, and a midterm and final paper submitted by e-mail. Richard Marksbury, dean of University College, is pleased with the positive response to Brady's course.

"Here's an example of a faculty member in another division, collaborating, working with us, and trying to use us as a way to deliver a course in a different venue," he says. "So in a sense, this is breaking out a little bit. What I thought it might do is generate an interest in some other liberal arts faculty member to say, 'Well, I'd like to do that.'"

Brady hopes that his course -- and others like it -- will provide a new dimension for Tulane in the community. "This summer I sent out a notice with the Jewish studies newsletter letting folks know that they can take a Tulane course for credit," he says.

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