by Jane Shulman
Distance-learning courses are becoming more common at Concordia as the
university expands its integration of the Internet into the curriculum.
The number of Web-based sections of courses that used to be taught only
in classrooms is growing steadily.
While many courses have Web sites that complement classroom lectures and
discussions, distance-learning courses have no class time, and rely solely
on video and online resources.
Concordias mandate is not just 18- to 24-year-olds. Distance
learning makes the institution more accessible, said Andrew McAusland,
Director of Academic Technology in the Faculty of Arts and Science and
Executive Director of IITS, the universitys computer department.
Reeta Tremblay, chair of Concordias Political Science Department,
agrees. We find that a lot of people who work, seniors, stay-at-home
moms, women who are pregnant, and students who want to take a fifth class
but dont have any more time during school hours, take these courses.
They like it because time is not a constraint, she said.
Political Science has a few distance-learning courses at the moment, and
there are plans for others to come.
Tremblay explained that only 200-level courses are part of this initial
phase of the project. The department tries to choose courses of interest
to students across disciplines, in the hopes of attracting students who
might not otherwise take a political science course.
Tremblay noted that 60 per cent of the students in Web-based courses were
not majoring in political science. The students are more diverse
online than in classrooms.
In the human rights course she taught online last year, Tremblay was not
surprised to find that there are many differences between classroom-based
and Web-based courses.
The class readings are all online, and a portion of the grade is for students
participation in online message boards. Students are required to participate
in eight discussion periods, where they answer questions about the readings.
However, the exams, worth 50 per cent of the final grade, are held on
campus to maintain academic integrity.
Its a strange feeling not to see students faces,
Tremblay said, but in some ways, there are many similarities.
There are people who speak a great deal in class, and there are
some students online who write more than the others. In classroom settings,
people sometimes feel like the odd one out. They feel they wont
fit in. Distance learning courses help take away peoples inhibitions.
Tremblay realizes that many students take distance learning courses because
they think the courses will be easier. Not true, she said.
It tests what people read, which makes it challenging. Students
tend to find that these courses are more difficult because they know they
have to discipline themselves.
Web courses abroad
The future of Web-based learning at Concordia extends far beyond Montreal.
Martin Singer, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science and a Sinologist
for 35 years, is working on exchanging resources with institutions in
Most of the agreements that we have just signed in China are general
agreements of academic co-operation, typically in a specific field,
he said in an interview.
Several deal in a preliminary way with the possibility of co-operation
in educational or academic technology. This is an emerging field in China,
and one in which Concordia is playing a leading role in Canada.
Singer outlined four ways that these agreements will benefit Concordia:
in research, exchanges, recruitment and raising Concordias international
profile. The long-term plan would allow Concordia faculty and students
(undergraduate and graduate) to participate in exchanges and internships
[Such agreements also] provide us with a means of recruiting outstanding
Chinese students for selected Concordia undergraduate and graduate programs,
of bringing other Chinese students to our campuses for study abroad experiences,
and of providing virtual-study-abroad experiences for others, he