In an effort to reach Minnesotans across the state, the Labor Education Service at the University of Minnesota offered their "Introduction to the Labor Movement," course online for the first time, which allowed participants to take the class at the time most convenient for them during the month of February.
About 20 people participated in the class, tuning in from areas across Minnesota and spanning out to the Dakotas.
"I am particularly excited about this class reaching more workers in greater Minnesota, which has always been an important part of our mission," course professor Mary Bellman said. "Many people cannot travel to the metro [area] for training, and that is part of the impetus for offering the online class."
The Labor Education Service is the primary educational outreach component of the University of Minnesota serving working men and women of the state and region in the areas of labor relations and labor studies.
The course provided an overall view of labor unions and their role in the past, present and future of society.
"[A recurring theme] is that unions aren't needed now," said Barb Kucera, Director of the Labor Education Service. "Part of the purpose of this class is to show why they are relevant now."
Even though the students were not graded, they were asked to participate in quizzes, readings, and discussion questions, and received a certificate for their efforts. The course was set up on the class Moodle website, an interactive course management tool where the instructor can post homework assignments, videos and engage with students in discussion.
"I agreed to teach the course because I enjoy this topic and wanted to learn more about online education as a resource for reaching workers," Bellman said.
Although there are many benefits to having a course taught solely online, such as providing more reading materials, there are some disadvantages too. Kucera was worried the material would not be presented clearly enough for the participants to understand how to navigate through the course.
"The biggest challenge has been [making the material] really clear because we are not there in person to describe the sections," she said.
Another challenge was deciding when to instruct, and when to let the participants instruct themselves.
"We needed to find a balance of self-guidance and instructional support," Bellman said.
Because of different levels of computer literacy among students, LES staff made extra efforts to guarantee the class was clear on all of the instructions by making the set-up as visual and easy to follow as possible.
Bellman has always valued in-classroom instruction, and hopes to include more collaboration in the future.
"This first version [of the course] is fairly self-explanatory," Bellman said. "As someone who values the classroom interaction, I am hoping we can incorporate more collaboration into the class in the future."
At the course's end in February, Bellman received a lot of positive feedback, and deemed the online class a success.
"The students were really engaged in issues presented in class," she said.
According to Bellman, LES staff is looking forward to "exploring new ways we might expand our work with this tool."