One of the major goals of the Global Health Initiative is to educate students about how to interpret global health research and to learn to think critically about the available information. One of the ways in which this is achieved is through coursework. Students have the opportunity to develop these skills through their interactions with their peers, both at their local campus and at Njala University in Sierra Leone in an online course setting. Dr. Mary Kalantzis and Dr. Bill Cope at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus have been actively involved in designing and implementing an online environment that promotes original thinking and collaboration among students.
Dr. Kalantzis and Dr. Cope began their interest in developing educational tools in Melbourne, Australia, where they held positions involved in pedagogical research and designing learning environments. They are currently professors in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at UIUC, and heavily involved in the development of Scholar, a multimodal writing and assessment environment. From 2006 to 2016, Dr. Kalantzis was also the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois.
During their time in Australia, they experienced challenges in developing a curriculum for cultural diversity. The approaches they encountered appeared to be more perfunctory than effective, and demonstrated the importance of designing a curriculum that engages diverse learners. The development of Scholar involved cross-disciplinary teams of literacy experts, psychometricians and computer scientists. These teams have combined their skills to develop a learning information environment usable by learners, parents, teachers and the public to allow students to represent their ideas and track progress through formative assessment tools.
Scholar provides a medium for students to show their ideas through written texts, embedded images, sounds and videos. These ideas can also be shared and built upon through collaboration with their peers and feedback from their instructors. Importantly, Scholar can track and measure student progress over time while providing continuous feedback, so students are informed of their project throughout, rather than the end of, the course.
Eventually, the Global Health Initiative online courses plan to move away from their current platforms and be taught exclusively through Scholar. Current online learning environments were designed to replicate the traditional classroom environment. Scholar, however, was developed to reconfigure instructional roles, and re-design the traditional curriculum. We are very excited for our students taking online classes to maximize their learning outcomes through the tools available in Scholar.
Sources: Interview with Dr. Cope, Interview with Dr. Kalantzis, and info.cgscholar.com