In December 2016, Cape Breton University first announced the launch of three new Open Online Learning courses: The Meaning of Life; Food and Culture; and Positive Psychology, each beginning in January 2017. The goal of making these courses open to the public is to create widely accessible learning opportunities and connect communities through education.
“It is in society’s interest to make learning available to all citizens and CBU has a strong mandate to our community to do just that,” says Dr. Tanya Brann-Barrett, Dean of Research, Teaching & Graduate Studies. “Open online learning helps us fulfill this mandate as we can reach out to people across the island, country and world and invite them to learn with us.”
Anyone, anywhere can take these courses for university credit, for a certificate of participation or for curiosity. The Meaning of Life and Food and Culture are offered to students on-site at CBU and are also live streamed and recorded for those who wish to participate from a distance. Positive Psychology is offered entirely online. Each course has social media groups in which all learners can ask questions, share insights, and interact with each other.
Each course also has peer facilitators who work with the professors to help guide online discussions and engage with the course participants. Peer facilitators are fellow CBU students who are trained to assist in building relationships with course participants and helping to facilitate their learning. A parallel goal is to create a positive learning experience for the peer facilitators. They have a chance to advance their communication and facilitation skills. They also develop multimedia production skills as they assist with recording and live streaming. Finally, they are engaged in the courses so they learn about the subjects being taught in the class.
Dr. Ian Brodie, Dr. Rod Nicholls and Dr. Peter MacIntyre are the professors teaching these courses and each are finding innovative and creative ways to engage with their many students worldwide. For example, Dr. Brodie, Associate Professor of Folklore, teaches Food and Culture and he start each class by sharing comments participants posted through the course’s social media sites throughout the week, helping to build connections among the students in the classroom and those taking part from a distance. With the assistance of the facilitators who monitor the social media sites throughout the class he is always willing to answer questions and respond to comments distance participants post during the live streaming of the class.
In addition to students who have registered for credit, the Open Online Learning courses have over 850 unique registrants who have signed up to take courses for a certificate of participation or curiosity, with many learners enrolled in more than one course.
“You can’t imagine how surprised I was to open my email and find more than 200 inquiries from people locally, nationally and internationally,” says Laura Baker-Warren, Manager, Online Learning. “That number continued to grow exponentially to where we are today and I couldn’t be happier with the response.”
Another surprise noted after the launch of the courses was the diversity of students enrolled.
“One thing that surprised me was the diversity of students who signed up – we have a wide age range from teenagers to people over the age of 90,” says Dr. Peter MacIntyre, Professor of Psychology and currently teaching PSYC3303: Positive Psychology. “We have single parents and folks with medical conditions who appreciate the ability to learn online, we’ve had people join from all over the country, the USA and Iceland.”
With the positive feedback and outstanding enrolment numbers, CBU is planning and looking forward to offering more of open, online courses in upcoming semesters.
Visit the Open Online Learning Program page to learn more.