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Increased Student Engagement in Online Courses Emerges Out of the Chaos of COVID-19 – Featuring Prof. Muffet Jones

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a once-in-a-generation global challenge with consequences we are only beginning to understand. In the face of uncertainty, Boise State met the challenge head on by bringing high enrollment, high impact courses such as the Foundations of Arts, Art 100 Introduction to Art course fully online in Fall 2020. Prof. Muffet Jones, Art History lecturer and coordinator for the Foundational Art 100 program, and Prof. Jacob Banholzer, sculptor, accepted the challenge. Together they successfully converted a face-to-face course dependent on in-class lectures and exams into an engaging and active learning environment serving upwards of 450 students a semester. She’s since adopted several of the online course approaches into her classroom-based course with continued success.

Shifting Focus

Early in the design process, Muffet recognized the challenges and barriers posed by online exams and proctoring. She also recognized the importance of maintaining academic integrity. To overcome these challenges, it was determined that the number of exams would be reduced and their overall impact on students’ final grades would be dropped from 70% to 18%. To offset this change, low stakes quizzes, student-centered application and writing assignments, small group discussions, and a Visual Culture Journal became weekly features in the course. 

By shifting focus away from traditional exams to authentic assessments that required students to apply course concepts to personal experiences and local environments, the team created a space for students to construct new meaning and enhance their understanding of themselves and their world(s). The new assessments also allowed for an additional enhancement of some of the course objectives – specifically, the ability of students to recognize their own aesthetic preferences and to apply them to things encountered in their daily lives.

Authentic Assessments

Some examples of authentic assessments in the course include:

  • Analyzing commercial advertisements by applying principles learned in the course
  • Conducting an architectural scavenger hunt in which each student visits a structure in their community and then shares selfies and an analysis based on course concepts
  • Analyzing garments from an online fashion exhibit and relating them to medieval sculptures to reveal how the sculpture may have influenced the garment’s design

The digital Visual Culture Journal (VCJ) in this high enrollment class also emerged as an effective authentic assessment that, according to Muffet, “…could only ever work online” due to the ease of access for her (traditionally, hundreds of journals that would have to be transported and stored by instructors) and the multiple means of expression available to students. 

The VCJ helps students develop a critical awareness of their environment(s) through the application of course concepts to objects or places of interest to them, in a format of their choice (e.g., video, images, text, their own artworks, et cetera). VCJ entries are compiled in Google Slides or a Google document shared with their small class Group  and the instructor. The VCJ are assessed at three points over the semester; twice by the instructor and once by peers. To keep assessment consistent, both the instructor and peers use a common rubric and peer assessments are reviewed by the instructor as well. 

Muffet has found that students continue to be  engaged and that teaching Art 100 in this platform is very rewarding. She described her experiences during the pandemic as demanding a greater acceptance of risk in adapting her courses and instruction in new and original ways, saying “The lockdown made innovations necessary that might have been included organically in time; however, the beneficial changes that did result can be utilized going forward.”

Managing it All

Authentic assessments take time to grade. To manage grading and feedback, Muffet shares the load with at least two teaching assistants (TAs). Muffet works with TAs early in the course to normalize the use of rubrics and the feedback provided to students and randomly checks grades and feedback over the duration of the course to ensure quality and consistency. Students are encouraged to reach out to TAs with questions; sensitive or challenging issues are forwarded to Muffet for resolution.


Article Credit

Thanks to Prof. Muffet Jones and Kim Barker, the eCampus Instructional Design Consultant who worked with Muffet to design the ART 100 course. Thank you to Gavin Izzard for providing his VCJ as an example.