Housed in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), the Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning (ASTL) curriculum focuses on helping K-12 professionals to achieve a deeper understanding of student learning, improve students’ classroom performance, and meet individual student needs. With many program participants teaching abroad in China, Ukraine, Sweden, South Africa, and beyond, the ASTL division now offers many of its core courses online.

A unique combination of synchronous and asynchronous coursework allows for participation across all time zones, incorporating constant access to course content as well as various opportunities to interact and engage as a live classroom community. In fact, peer collaboration continues to be a core component of the ASTL experience, even online.

“For our online classes to be effective, we really had to think about how to incorporate that collaborative effort, which is a huge piece of how we teach,” notes ASTL professor Dr. Stephanie Dodman. “I think that we’ve done a good job of structuring the online courses to meet that need in creative ways.”

At a recent faculty development event, Dr. Stephanie Dodman shared her Critical Friend approach for engaging students through group work. [Starts at 26:16.]

In her online section of EDUC 614: Designing and Assessing Teaching and Learning, Dr. Dodman utilizes the Critical Friend concept as a powerful approach to promote student collaboration. Similar to peer review partners, critical friend pairs engage in reflective dialogue, reflect on their learning together, and continuously challenge and support one another.

One course project requires students to videotape themselves teaching and share those videos with their critical friend, posing questions to one another to receive constructive and meaningful feedback. While initially apprehensive and curious as to how the critical friend approach would translate to the online format, Dr. Dodman notes that it actually works better online.

“We should always be questioning our teaching and trying to look for things we don’t usually notice ourselves,” explains Dr. Dodman. “By going through a series of prompts and looking at the work together, students are learning and interpreting the experience through an approach that they can mimic with their own colleagues and in their own schools.”

Dr. Stephanie Dodman welcomes her online students to EDUC 614: Designing and Assessing Teaching and learning. Video courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Dodman.

As the Office of Distance Education’s open call award winner, Dr. Stephanie Dodman received an Online Course Excellence Award earlier this year for her work in EDUC 614. See the related article here.