George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Admitted students get to test drive some of Mason's best online courses

May 26, 2020   /   by Anna Stolley Persky

Photo by Getty Images.

For the first time ever, George Mason University in May offered its incoming freshmen and transfer students an opportunity to sample four free online courses. The innovative program allowed admitted student to participate in a one-week class and then, for a reduced fee, continue the 3-credit class in the summer.

“We wanted students to get a sense of what our online courses are like, and we wanted to highlight some of our best faculty,” said Charles R. Kreitzer, executive director of online operations at Mason’s Office of Academic Innovation and New Ventures.

The one-week sample courses began on May 20. Students could pick from six course offerings, which included “Graffiti, Street Art & Conflict,” “Pandemics and Contentious Politics,” and “Anthropology of the Undead: What Zombies Can Tell Us about Disease, Science, and Technology.” More than 700 admitted students signed up to participate in the program.

By taking sample classes, admitted students got an opportunity to connect with other students, faculty and the Mason experience, said Dean of Admissions Amy Takayama-Perez.

“The traditional in-person yield season has been completely changed for our admitted students,” Takayama-Perez said. “We wanted to give them another experience that would get them onboarded to Mason and to understand what it’s like to be a Mason student, while at the same time, learning some really cool content.”

The idea for the online sampling program came from a conversation during an instructional continuity working group created to help support communication across Mason during the coronavirus pandemic. Juliette Shedd, associate dean for the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), brought up a program her school had created to encourage prospective students to sample online classes there.

S-CAR, which is changing its name to the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, offered prospective students sample classes that included readings, a lecture and either virtual discussions or another interactive activity.

“We were aware that students were experiencing online learning as it is in emergency mode, and maybe weren’t as familiar with what intentional online learning looks like,” Shedd said. “We wanted them to experience what a good online class is like.”

Kreitzer and other members of the working group took to the idea and created a team to set up a similar program for all Mason incoming students. They worked with Shedd, Continuing and Professional Education, and Information Technology Services to turn around a program within weeks.

Each week-long class represents a unit within a larger class. For example, “Pandemics and Contentious Politics” is a module within S-CAR’s “Global Conflict Analysis and Resolution.” The College of Visual and Performing Arts and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences also contributed course offerings.

The professors include Haagen Klaus, Cortney Rinker, Douglas Irvin-Erickson, Terrence Lyons, Edward Knoeckel, Elizangela Storelli and Byunghwan Son.

“Hopefully we were able to address the anxiety people have about online learning, and show how Mason offers high-quality, robust education in both the in-person and online space,” Kreitzer said.