This fall, Garrett Huck, an assistant professor at Penn State Hazleton and Penn State Wilkes-Barre, has been working on making his Rehabilitation and Human Services course more innovative and engaging for students.
Huck has been able to do this through the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) REACH initiative. REACH, which stands for Re-imagine, Engage, Align, and CHange, gives Penn State faculty who teach in shared academic programs the necessary resources and experiences to develop innovative and engaging courses.
Since December of last year, Huck has been working with TLT staff on the design and development for his course, RHS 401 Community Mental Health Practice and Services.
For the current academic year, TLT instructional designers have been working with both Huck and Professor Michael Chorney of Penn State Harrisburg, who will be teaching his newly blended BIOL 416 Biology of Cancer in the spring.
Huck has been working with Lang and Roche to turn his video delivery synchronous course into a blended format course, where a portion of the face-to-face instruction is replaced by online learning.
For Huck’s redesigned hybrid course, he will have students from Penn State Hazleton and Penn State Wilkes-Barre attend his class via videoconferencing, explained Amy Roche, a TLT instructional designer.
“He wanted to move to a blended course environment where the in-class interactions would be more student-to-student versus lecture-based, and he also wanted to increase the engagement of the students who were attending remotely,” she said.
To make his course more innovative, Huck will be having teams that each include four students from Penn State Hazleton and two students from Penn State Wilkes-Barre, which will go out and interview employers to get a sense of how employers perceive a potential employee who has a mental illness. The project’s purpose is to challenge the stigmas of employability of those with mental illnesses, Roche said.
Throughout the class, Huck will be using online lectures and interactive scenarios to enhance his students’ learning.
For the scenarios, which each involve a type of severe mental illness, the original plan was for Huck to have his students read through different scenarios and he would ask questions about what was happening, explained Julie Lang, another TLT instructional designer.
“Reading through them, I thought, ‘There’s different characters within them, so how could we make them more engaging for students?’”
To make the scenarios more engaging, Roche said several TLT staff members narrated and created the illustrative videos. Huck’s students will be using VoiceThread to answer questions about what they see in the scenarios.
To determine what would work best for Huck’s course, Roche and Lang used an instructional design model, where Roche said they took a look at Huck’s assessment items to see if he wanted to re-evaluate or change them from the former version of his course.
A common difficulty with blended courses is having good integration between the online and face-to-face class sessions, which Roche and Lang helped to solve.
Using instructional design strategies, which helps sequence the online and in-person class work, Roche said that they looked at what students should do before, during, and after class. Students said that this not only helped them with their studies but also helped them know what to expect.
Next year, Huck will be able to present his work at the TLT Symposium at Penn State. The annual event serves as a venue to bring Penn State faculty, staff, and students together to learn about and share transformative ideas for higher education.
In the future, Roche said TLT will be focusing on potential research that comes out of the REACH program, which will allow staff to come up with and distribute best practices to faculty. This will be especially important for courses that use communication technologies to bridge that distance gap between students at different campuses.