October 30, 2014

Can you move classroom courses online quickly and cheaply?

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In a previous post, Will lecture capture replace asynchronous distance learning, I wrote:

I come from a background where distance education courses are specifically re-designed for distance learners. In particular, they are designed to allow students to interact with instructor and other students any time and anywhere. They are designed to ensure that distance learners have adequate support and help from their instructors. This takes longer and means thinking differently about how the course is designed and delivered – not taking the standard classroom model and multiplying it to extra students.

This prompted the following comment from Carsten Ullrich, who is teaching at a college in China:

In China this situation (taking classroom lectures and putting them online) is the norm. Only 1/3 of those who apply for a place at a university can be accepted. What to do with the remaining ones? One solution are online colleges that take the “tired old classroom model with technology added” and at least offer this type of education. Teachers are used to this kind of teaching and content can be produced quickly. It is not ideal, but it is something that can be done immediately.

What is your suggestion? Better not offering these classrooms? Can you suggest anything concrete that can be implemented right now? I’m teaching and doing research in such a college and I know that this is not the best way of teaching and learning. But still, I feel that it is better than nothing.

Here’s what I replied:

Hi, Carsten.

Good questions, Carsten. I’m afraid there is no quick and easy solution. You are in a system of teaching that is given and difficult to change from where you are. Nevertheless, there are models of designing distance teaching programs in other parts of the world that have successfully dealt with the problems of large numbers of students, such as the Open University in the UK. However, their programs are designed completely differently from the classroom model.

Even in the campus-based institution where I worked (UBC, a large research university in Canada) the distance courses were designed completely differently from the classroom courses, focused on how students could learn without coming to class. We didn’t try to take classroom courses and make them available to students online, because we found it didn’t work. The drop-out rate was much higher when we did this.

In China, the Central China Television and Radio University offers fully distance courses to over one million Chinese students, but by Western distance teaching standards, they are poor quality, again being mainly talking head lectures relayed on television, with a great deal of unstructured reading from text books.

The problem in China is that even if you re-designed your courses, the students would likely not like them, because of the culture and tradition of learning, which is focused on rote learning and memorization, rather than inquiry-based learning and problem-solving. Thus in your context, taking the ‘traditional’ model of classroom teaching and making it available online through lecture capture probably is a good solution. However, in the long run, China will suffer, because it will lose out on the knowledge economy, which requires a completely different model of teaching and learning that requires both classroom teaching and online courses to be designed differently. This then becomes as much a political as a pedagogical issue, because it would mean teaching critical thinking.

If you are really interested in teaching in a more constructivist way that encourages critical thinking and problem solving, then I suggest you take courses online about constructivist online teaching – for instance, UBC’s Master in Educational Technology (http://met.ubc.ca). But it’s not something I can teach you in a single e-mail, I’m afraid!

I don’t feel this is a very helpful answer, though. Especially for those with a background in instructional design, how would you have answered Carsten’s questions? Should he change the whole design of his teaching to suit both classroom based and distance students? Should he design two versions of the course, one for classroom teaching and one for distance students? Or is the lecture capture and downloading for distance students the best solution in his context?

Useful reading

Wei Runfang (2008) China’s Radio and TV Universities and the British Open University Nanjing: Yulin Press

Cleveland-Innes, M. and Garrison, R. (2010) An Introduction to Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2007) Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Comments

  1. Andy Benoit says:

    This is an interesting question and one that I think will be increasingly relevant in Canada in light of increasing enrollment at Post Secondary Institutions, decreasing funding, and limited infrastructure. (http://cupe.ca/budget/budget-2010-post-secondary-education)

    I can offer one conversation spark that would make use of blended delivery using lecture capture as a potential solution for an institution confronting high student demand, but insufficient space to accommodate learners. My solution would also allow the institution to double student enrollments using preexisting physical infrastructure.

    Suggestion:
    At the risk of oversimplification, imagine that an instructor creates a blend of face to face an online instruction, each comprising 50% of the total course.

    The online version has two options. In option one, students would have a synchronous online portion using something like Elluminate, Adobe Connect, or a free technology like Skype.

    In option two, students would participate asynchronously by accessing the lecture captures. Each of these could then be blended as well.

    What this blend does is reduce the amount of time that students are in the classroom by 50%. With the class now vacant an extra 50% of the time, an additional course can be offered, and again, this group of students would also have access to an online portion as well.

    I see this blended approach having a few key benefits:

    1. Using this structure would enable the institution to effectively double the amount of learners in can accommodate using existing physical infrastructure.
    2. Rather than force students into a new medium, a blended approach creates a bridge between something old and something new.
    3. By offloading the lecture or content delivery portion to lecture capture, the face to face time can be used to facilitate learning, not content transmission.

    Andy Benoit
    Bow Valley College

  2. I have preferred creating narrated screencasts or videos for my distance students (or regular students who were not in class). I couldn’t get away with just uploading a recording of my in-class teaching, because it would be way too long and too boring.

    From the comments I get in the student ratings, students seem to really like the videos. Universally positive comments, and Katherine Rose found the same thing last year: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no3/rose_0909.htm

  3. I think this is the new wave of education. Soon, teachers will simply teach all their classes from their home while students can connect online to their classes and learn from their bedrooms.

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