Overall, I am pleased with the course and student performance. I believe that the students have developed the knowledge about clinical supervision that will allow them to be successful in the next course, which involves practicing clinical supervision of master’s level practicum students in School Psychology. Although this course probably would also work well as a traditional face-to-face doctoral seminar, I found that there were several benefits to teaching this course online. Due to the nature of the course content, I think many students benefited from the opportunity to independently generate written responses to discussion questions. They were able to take as much time as needed to generate answers that thoughtfully integrated their personal views, prior supervisory experiences, and new information from the course readings and instructor materials. I found that the online discussion forum allowed all students to participate equally, without the problem of a few vocal students dominating the conversation. Because much of the discussion involved personal reflection and disclosure, I also believe it was probably more comfortable for some students to participate in a virtual classroom than it would have been to participate in vivo.
Challenges and Benefits
Logistically, teaching the course online presents challenges and benefits. Since the course had not been taught before, I had to develop all instructional materials from scratch. This took considerably longer than it would have for a face-to-face course because everything needs to be explained in writing. There were additional materials that I would have liked to generate, but simply ran out of time. For example, I would have liked to develop mini-lectures or audio podcasts for some of the topics. The benefit to spending so much time developing materials this year is that most of the materials can be re-used in the future, so next year I will have more time to add supplemental materials.
The other logistical challenge I encountered was the need to create a routine for logging in and guiding the class. It would have been easy to just post materials once a week and let students work their way through the content, but I wanted the class to be more interactive so I could shape students’ thinking as I would in a face-to-face course. To make this happen, I ended up establishing a predictable routine. On Sundays, I posted the week’s course materials. Mondays, I posted grades and feedback from the previous week, and often a class announcement. And approximately two other days during the week, I participated in the class discussion. I had to adjust to logging in to the Blackboard site nearly every day to monitor discussions, and I do believe this required slightly more time than it would have to teach a 2 hour face-to-face seminar each week. Students reported a similar experience. Although students appreciated the flexibility of the online course schedule, they also reported that the course required more time than expected for a 2-credit course. A few students commented that the course felt like more work because they were doing the normal amount of assignments, but also spending time on a discussion board (which felt like homework/assignments) instead of spending 2 hours per week in a classroom.
I was particularly pleased with the success of the discussion board, which was the aspect of teaching online that I was most skeptical about. I put a lot of effort into setting up the discussion board activities because these were critical to the success of the course, and I believe several of the strategies I used had a large impact on the success of the discussions. First, I provided a document with specific guidelines for the number of weekly posts, frequency of participation, length and content of posts. I set up the grading system so that discussion participation accounted for about 50% of the course grade, and I assigned points weekly based on students’ adherence to the discussion guidelines provided. To make sure that expectations for online participation were clear, I provided frequent and specific feedback to each student during the first few weeks of the term. I provided feedback publicly on the discussion board with a focus on reinforcing high quality participation (e.g., “I like how you’ve supported your opinions with reference to the conclusions drawn in the Wilcoxon et al. article from this week’s readings.). I also provided individualized feedback to each student about his/her participation in discussion and on assignments. Individual feedback was provided privately using the comment feature in the gradebook. During the first few weeks, I tried to be very specific about how to improve course participation, if needed (e.g., linking personal reactions to content from readings, returning to discussion throughout the week). I reduced the frequency of feedback after students consistently demonstrated high quality participation in discussions.
Ideas for Future Offerings
The next time I teach this course, there are a few things I’d like to do differently. First, I will make some adjustments to reduce the workload. Based on student feedback, I may have underestimated the amount of time required for students to complete assignments and navigate the Blackboard site each week. I will likely keep the basic format for the readings and discussions the same, eliminate one of the application assignments, and modify the topic paper. I will likely eliminate the ethics vignette application assignment because it would be possible to set up one of the class discussions to focus on examination of ethical dilemmas or vignettes, which would accomplish the same purpose. Additionally, I will provide more explicit time management tips to help students efficiently navigate the Blackboard site and discussion boards.
Second, I would take a more active role in the weekly discussions. At times, I found it difficult to decide when and how often to post to the weekly discussions. I typically logged in and read student posts on a daily basis. I often wanted to reply to posts right away, but I also wanted to wait and give the other students a chance to post their replies first. I was often concerned that if I replied to student posts early in the week, I might influence the initial posts of other students or prematurely interrupt student-to-student dialogue that was proceeding well on its own. In the future, I will continue to work on finding the right balance, and will more actively intervene when discussion posts start to become repetitive.
One final thing I’d like to do in the future is work to expand class enrollment to include professionals with more supervision experience. I believe the course would provide relevant information for individuals who are in supervisory positions but have not received formal training in clinical supervision. Having individuals with more diverse supervisory experiences in the course would contribute to students’ development of the knowledge and attitudes needed to become effective clinical supervisors. I do anticipate, though, that if class enrollment increases, I will need to consider ways to keep it manageable for students to participate in discussion without dramatically increasing the amount of time needed to read other students’ posts. For example, I might break a larger class into smaller discussion groups of 5-7 students, with each group having its own discussion board.