Editors Note: This is an excellent, well-researched exploration of the foundations of our "new learning configurations". The information presented here may well function as a teacher/student handbook for navigating through somewhat perilous educational arenas.
The World Wide Web has become a ubiquitous component of American Life. Most College campuses are now using the Internet in some way. With the increased use of the Internet in college courses about 22% of all classes now have some form of Web-Based support. In order to provide students with appropriate preparation for their futures, it is incumbent that all colleges and universities incorporate technology into their classrooms. However, we must be careful that we are not simply using good technology to further bad teaching. Largely, the rules about how and when to use technology in the do not exist. Those educators who are struggling daily with these issues are the pioneers who are breaking the ground for the next wave that will follow.
This article focuses on a series of strategies, techniques, and tips for course instructors about how to successfully compete in this changing environment. Issues for discussion include: a) course management tips for Internet-based courses; b) innovative strategies for Internet-based course development and implementation; and c) technology resources and options for beginners.
The World Wide Web has become a ubiquitous component of American life. Television ads provide URLs to obtain information. Movie studios create elaborate web sites to promote their latest movie. Even school children are making the web a part of their routine. Web66 (1998) currently maintains a list of over 13,000 K-12 institutions that have their own web presence. At the post-secondary level, 33% of all college courses use the Internet, with 22% of all courses using web pages for class materials (Green, 1998). Any post-secondary institution that is not actively engaging their students in the use of this technology is depriving students of the opportunity to gain survival skills necessary for the coming decade.
The Internet is generally used in one of several ways in the post secondary classroom. Some institutions are taking a minimalist approach where the only information available on-line is a brief course description, or perhaps a course syllabus. A few institutions have pushed to the other extreme and are working to provide entire courses, and in some cases entire programs over the Internet. Finally, a third group is seeking out a midline position where courses are supported or enhanced by materials available on-line. While these three categories appear to offer a range of possibilities, in practice the difference is quite small.
Almost all of the material provided as support for post-secondary education is provided in the form of printed text. Instructors retype their lecture notes and place them on-line. Overheads are scanned, converted into electronic files, and become available for viewing or download. In some cases, presentation materials such as PowerPoint slides are converted, but even these generally are little more that outlines or brief notes.
The World Wide Web is a very dynamic and diverse environment. Relying strictly on text materials moves us little beyond the "Kinko's Course Pak" that has been used to support classroom instruction at many universities for years. There is a need to help instructors move beyond the use of new technology to support old teaching, to using new technology to support new strategies.
Making this change may be very difficult for some, particularly those with limited technology skills. However, the rapid growth of the World Wide Web and its impact on every aspect of the computer industry actually makes the task easier. One must no longer be a computer geek or software guru to create a web presence. This paper divides the needs of the instructor who wishes to use the Internet into three components: course management, innovative strategies, and technology. Each of these components will be briefly addressed, and specific strategies will be provided that will help the reader become prepared to use the Internet in the classroom in a weekend!
Course Management Tips
Managing an Internet-based course for the first time can seem overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges for the instructor involves adapting fundamental communication skills that enable them to communicate, relate to and interact with students with whom they may never have face-to-face contact. It is necessary for the instructor to develop innovative communication alternatives with their students. For example, an instructor teaching an Internet-based course may use e-mail, message boards, and chatrooms as the primary communication mechanisms with their students. The instructor must learn to adapt their communication skills to these forums. This section of the paper will provide several course management tips that can ease the transition from traditional on-campus instruction to Internet-based course delivery.
Traditional, on-campus instructors typically work independently on course development and implementation. The distance-learning instructor must become more of a team player to successfully develop and deliver a quality course. From the perspective of the instructor, course preparation time for a distance-learning course far exceeds that for a course delivered in the traditional classroom setting. The instructor must prepare course content material well in advance of the delivery time for the course. In addition to increased preparation time, the distance-learning instructor must consider delivery mechanisms, and continually interact with technical support personnel to ensure course delivery. The successful distance learning instructor must possess fundamental skills and qualities that support and enhance the overall performance during course development and delivery.
Distance teaming instructors should possess strong fundamental classroom skills. Effective classroom skills include the ability to effectively communicate, relate to and interact with students through a variety of mechanisms. Fundamental classroom skills are important for both traditional, on-campus courses and distance learning courses. The challenge for distance learning instructors involves adapting fundamental communication skills that enable them to communicate, relate to and interact with students with whom they may never have face-to-face contact. It is necessary for distance-learning instructors to develop innovative communication alternatives with their students. For example, an instructor teaching an on-line course may use e-mail, message boards, and chatrooms as the primary communication mechanisms with his or her students. The instructor must learn to adapt her communication skills to these forums. Instructors may possess excellent on-campus communication skills, and may interact effectively with students in the classroom setting, but find the transition to communication mechanisms that lack the face-to-face contact to be extremely challenging. Developing and maintaining relationships with students on-line may prove to be more time intensive for instructors comfortable with on campus student communications.
Instructors of a distance-learning course should have a high level of subject matter expertise on the topic being presented in a distance-learning course. Familiarity with subject matter allows the instructors to concentrate efforts on course delivery mechanisms. Instructors teaching distance-learning courses for the first time should select courses they have previously taught and with which they feel extremely comfortable.
Instructors should be flexible and willing to make changes necessary to ensure course delivery. Traditional, on-campus courses may rely on technology to supplement course material; for example, videos, overheads, or even power-point presentations may be used to convey content information to students. If technology problems occur in traditional on-campus classrooms, instructors generally find alternative ways to convey the content material. Similar plans must be made in advance of offering a distance course to ensure adequate delivery of course material. For example, if the university computer system experiences network failure, or if the instructor or students experience e-mail problems, the instructor must rely on a back-up method of communicating with students. The instructor may choose to communicate with students using the telephone, fax, mail, or other appropriate communication methods. It is important for the instructor to recognize that, even with the best of planning, things may go wrong.
PREPARATION OF COURSE MATERIAL
The development process of the distance teaming course can be divided into four stages: 1) needs assessment; 2) course development; 3) course implementation; and 4) review and revision of the course after it has been completed by the students. The first three stages often overlap since it is critical that a continual information exchange and mutual consensus building occur throughout the process. Flexibility is a key element for success.
Successful completion of the needs assessment involves the identification and discussion of the following major issues: 1) course content; 2) student teaming outcomes; 3) student population demographics; 4) teaming strategies; and 5) technology options.
The first and most essential step in course design involves gathering the information necessary to meet both course and student needs. To provide a specific example, we will focus on the course "Gender Issues in Criminological Theory and Research" (Gender Issues). The Instructor began the process by addressing each of the areas that correspond to their subject matter expertise. It was necessary for the instructor to fully develop course content material to be used in the course prior to meeting with the team to discuss strategies. Figure 1 presents the areas involved when designing the course.
The identification of subject matter to be covered in a course establishes the foundation for all subsequent tasks. The instructor remains responsible for development and implementation of course content, while working together with technical support personnel to design and implement the appropriate delivery mechanism for that content. Though the instructor retains intellectual responsibility for the of the course content, he or she must recognize the value of teamwork for effective distance learning course delivery. Reliance on the team requires the instructor to relinquish absolute ownership of the course. The instructor must clearly identify all major topic areas to be covered in the course, the major areas of emphasis, and the natural breakdown of the subject matter into logical areas of presentation.
Student learning outcomes
Once the instructor has identified the major topic areas to be covered in the course, focus shifts to identification of student learning outcomes (Barr and Tagg 1995). During this stage, the instructor works to establish the learning objectives and the particular learning outcomes students should master upon completion of the course. Student learning outcomes may be identified at various levels, ranging from the most broad, university outcomes to the more specific course outcomes. Ideally, the final product is a student that has accomplished all the goals set forth in the mission of the university. For example, in the Gender Issues course, learning outcomes were identified that involved effective communication, information literacy, problem solving abilities, and technical literacy.
When addressing student learning-outcomes, various learning styles and modalities must be accommodated. A range of strategies is considered that accommodate an individual's inputting and processing ability. As characterized by Kolb (1976), these styles include convergers (question "How does it work?"), divergers (question "Why or why not?"), assimilators (question "What?"), accommodators (question "What can this become?"). These categories reflect a spectrum of the learning cycle ranging from concrete to abstract and from active to reflective experiences.
The Gender Issues course used a variety of learning strategies that encompassed a wide range of individual learning styles. Videos were used throughout the course to enhance and elaborate points of view for those visual learners. Web Searches were conducted to support or refute current and past concepts on gender issues. Collaboration among the students was also an integral part of this course. The research project required students to communicate, collaborate, and evaluate specific gender issues using community and university resources. Written communication was incorporated into the learning strategies throughout the course.
Student population demographic
During this stage, the instructor examines available student demographic information. From this data, student needs are considered in the context of specific course content. It is important, for example, to identify such things as traditional versus non-traditional students. This information facilitates the development of strategies focused on the target populations. Based upon course content and the student population, strategies are devised to facilitate student learning.
Consideration of available technology options for course delivery is a critical component of the needs assessment (Pisel 1995). The technical support personnel works with the instructor to identify the most appropriate delivery mechanism for the course. The technical support person provides an overview of the technology that is available; and, with the other team members, determines the most viable options for the instructor and students.
While specific technology options vary depending on available resources and institutional support, both asynchronous and synchronous technology options should be considered. With asynchronous technology options, communication is delayed over time. Asynchronous communication allows students to interact and to access course information at times that are most convenient to their schedules. Examples of asynchronous technology options include email, listservs, and web-based bulletin boards. Synchronous technology tools allow communication to occur at the same time. Synchronous communication allows immediate interaction with the instructor and other students; however, students are required to be in front of their computers at a specific day and time, which detracts from the convenience of distance learning. Examples of synchronous technology tools include chatrooms, net phones, and videoconferencing.
Once a range of available options is identified and discussed, the Instructor considers the strengths and weaknesses of these options in terms of specific course content, and selects the most appropriate technology option(s) for the course. Specific attention is given to making the courses interactive instead of merely passive information-gathering sessions. Based on the available technology options, the Gender Issues course used asynchronous techniques as the primary delivery mechanism for the course. Course communication occurred primarily through e-mail and listserv communications. Institutional support was critical. Software for the e-mail listserv was set up and maintained on a university server by the Department of Administrative Computing. One caution should be noted at this point. Experience dictates that students often cannot access web sites with excessive "bells and whistles." The web pages require too much time to load and too much computer memory. As the students and technology become more sophisticated, a mixed multimedia framework may be incorporated.
Course content material should be thoroughly thought out and developed well in advance of the delivery time for the Internet-based course. For example, the instructor must clearly identify all major topic areas to be covered in the course, the major areas of emphasis, and the natural breakdown of subject matter into logical areas of presentation. Instructors should anticipate increased course preparation time that frequently far exceeds that for on-campus courses.
Working with technical support
Familiarizing yourself with available technical support at your institution is very important. For example, the technical assistant can help the instructor match the course assignments with the most appropriate Internet-based tools available for course delivery. It is critical to develop an on-going relationship with the technical support personnel available at your institution.
Developing a technical tutorial designed specifically for the class to be taught as an Internet-based course can help identify student familiarity with technology. The tutorial could consist of a web page containing detailed technical information and specific tasks students are required to complete during the first week of the semester. Students must successfully complete all tutorial activities in order to obtain the user name and password allowing them access to the cyber classroom. Specific activities can include:
Instructors teaching Internet-based courses should be flexible and willing to make adaptations when necessary. Having a contingency plan in the event of technology failures or glitches is a good idea. The contingency plan allows the course instructor to have other communication mechanisms in place to fall back on.
Keep up with technology options
It is important the Internet course instructors stay current with every changing technology options. As technology continues to expand and provide more and more user friendly options, Instructors may choose to alter their course delivery mechanisms to reflect the latest available technology options. The opportunities for Internet-based course instruction are endless.
Innovative Uses of the Web
There is nothing wrong with using the Internet to provide student's access to text-based materials. Copies of lecture notes, sample assignments, copies of articles placed on reserve in the library, can all be made readily accessible from virtually any computer. Increasing ease of access may increase the actual act of access by students. However, limiting oneself to this level of material keeps the instructor and the student from realizing the full potential of the Intent. This section of the paper will provide several specific strategies that can easily be implemented to provide students with new learning opportunities.
One way to get students more involved in work is to add some element of surprise, competition , or fun into the task. Settling upon the popularity of the TV quiz show Jeopardy 11 the resourceful instructor will find that a translation to Biology Jeopardy or Poet Jeopardy is an easy task. While adding the high-end trappings of the actual game show may be time consuming, creating a simple Web Page with links between answers and questions can be done in many word processors. As a source of review, this advanced flash card set may have enough novelty to get even reluctant students to increase their study time. An alternative approach is to have students create their own jeopardy simulations, or to provide the instructor with answers and questions that can then be used in the future.
Communicating with others
The original intent of the Internet was to create a network of computers that would allow scientists and researchers the opportunity to share data. This is still one of the strongest potentials of the Internet. Fortunately, sharing this information has become easier than ever before. A variety of products such as ICQ and PowWow are available as freeware or shareware that allow real-time communication across the Internet. This makes it possible to have students interact directly with experts, the author of texts, or other students without ever paying a long-distance phone charge. Drawing upon colleagues at other institutions, most instructors will find they have access to a wide range of experts who will willingly share 30 minutes of their time to respond to student questions.
Practice Problem Solving
A variety of research has indicated that in tutor-tutee relationships, the tutor often shows the greatest gains in academic achievement. Field experiences are difficult to arrange, are time consuming, and for many students are impractical because of heavy demands outside of the classroom. One way to provide an opportunity for students to experience the tutor role is to create a homework help site on the Internet. Using a bulletin board package, an instructor can set up a "conference" for each student in a class. Each conference can focus on a different area of the course content. For instance, in a biology class, conferences may be set up which correspond to each of the major topics being covered in the course. If the site is registered through search engines on the Internet, K-12 (and maybe post-secondary students) will find the site as they are seeking information for homework. These younger students may then post specific questions to the conference that most closely resembles their need, and the tutor can then reply (usually within 24 or 48 hours). To ensure that students are exposed to a variety of information, they may be responsible for a different conference each week of the semester. To ensure use of this service, the post-secondary instructor may distribute information through local k-12 schools advertising the service and its operation.
To quickly capture the attention and imagination of students, audio and video clips are a wonderful method to move beyond text-based materials. Windows 95 provides everything that is necessary to create small sound files. The addition of an $80 Quickcam provides everything necessary to create simple "talking head" lectures. One problem with multimedia of this kind is the length of time necessary for most students to access the material over standard phone lines. Even when the clips are kept to 2 minutes, the download time can be quite long. Fortunately, streaming technology has become quite good in the past 2 years, and with a minimum of support from computer services, mini-lectures of 5-8 minutes can be easily created. Streamed to students, the download time can be reduced to seconds, and the student response quite strong.
Sharing Student Work
Sharing information between students can be a powerful way to expose students to a wide range of materials. Often, student presentations are very accessible to other students because they are written at a level that the student can easily comprehend. Further, experience suggests that student presentations often contain a level of creativity and application that is missing in the work of some classroom instructors. The advent of the Internet provides a very easy way to share information among all students. Instead of (or in addition to) creating a typical term paper, students may be asked to create a PowerPoint presentation. A minimum number of slides may be required, and specific details concerning title slides, content areas, and bibliographies may be developed. Students can submit their finished product to the instructor via e-mail or on disk. PowerPoint will automatically create html files to be placed on the university server, and every student then has access to every other student's materials. Requiring students to review the work of others, and discuss their reviews in class on via an on-line bulletin board can enhance this project.
In many settings, an important component of the educational experience is preparation for specific job tasks related to a student's career path. The World Wide Web is a very powerful tool to introduce students to a variety of careers. This may be done by having students participate in professional listservs or participate in on-line conferences. Other uses for professional development include visiting the web site of common professional associations (or competing associations when they exist) or tracking down specific career information including on-line databanks of job openings.
For years, computers have been marketed as a substitute for hands on activities. One such simulation that is often talked about, is replacing the dissection of animals with simulations in the biology classroom. This particular opportunity is now available on line through virtual frog dissection sites (Kinzie, 1994). This allows students to repeat the experiment on their own time, as often as necessary to gain mastery. Those with a high level of technology skills may choose to create their own simulations.
Resources for Beginners
As an instructor begins to consider the benefits of using the Internet to enhance and deliver courses, it is important to explore the technical support and computer resources available at each institution. Does the university have a media development center that provides support in converting classroom material for use on the web? Does the university provide faculty e-mail accounts and server space for web pages? Does the university utilize and support Internet collaboration software, such as WebBoard by O'Reilly Software?
Although technical support and institutional resources are wonderful benefits, an individual with limited skills and resources can still create functional web sites by using tools that are free to download from the Internet. Netscape Communicator includes an HTML editor that allows the novice to create web pages without ever learning the actual HTML code. WYSIWYG editors ("what you see is what you get") such as Netscape's Composer are almost as easy to use as a word processing program. In addition, some of the most popular word processing and presentation software (i.e. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint) now include the ability to convert files to HTML. To enhance web pages with graphics, Clipart.com provides links to hundreds of web sites that offer free images for use on the web.
Now that all the tools are available to create a web site, server space is needed to house the web site. If an institution does not provide server space for faculty web pages, there are web sites available that offer free server space. GeoCities (http://www.geocities.com) and Tripod (http://www.tripod.com) offer 11 megabytes of server space, subdirectories, and other web tools to create and manage free web pages. A link to other free web page providers can be found on our companion web site at http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/jtyler/technology.html.
In addition to free e-mail accounts and server space, many service providers offer communication tools, such as message boards and chat rooms that can be used to make courses more interactive. For a more dynamic tool, WebBoard by O'Reilly Software should be considered. If an institution lacks the technical resources to support WebBoard, a list of WebBoard hosting services is available at http://webboard.oreilly.com/hostfinder/.
Whether an Instructor intends to use the Internet to enhance an on-campus course or to deliver an entire course via the web, keeping web sites simple is good practice. The technology should enhance, not hinder, the learning experience. A web site that contains frames, graphics, audio, and video is very impressive, but many students do not have the hardware or software that is required to utilize multimedia on the web. Unless a fully equipped computer lab is available on campus, students without access to high-end computers are at a disadvantage. If multimedia is a critical component of the course, then minimum computer requirements should be established up front. Setting guidelines can minimize technical problems and user frustration caused by hardware and software incompatibility. Web sites featuring multimedia will become the norm as the availability and affordability for high-speed Internet connections becomes more accessible to our students.
Another good practice to follow is to become familiar with the Internet communication tools, such as e-mail and message boards, that will be utilized in the course before the course is offered. The instructor should explore the software, learn how to use its features, discover its strengths and weaknesses, and consult with others who have experience using the applications. Students will often turn to the instructor for guidance and support as they learn to use the communication tools. Although Instructors are not expected to answer technical questions, they can offer suggestions related to the functionality of the applications.
In many respects, the World Wide Web is still in its infancy. Most post-secondary educators have no more experience, and in many cases less experience than our students. In order to provide our students with appropriate preparation for their futures, it is incumbent on all colleges and universities to incorporate technology into our classrooms. However, we must be careful that we are not simply using good technology to further bad teaching. Largely, the rules about how and when to use this technology in the classroom do not exist. Those educators who are struggling daily with these issues are the pioneers who are breaking ground for the next wave that will follow. This paper has provided a series of strategies, techniques, and tips about how to successfully compete in this changing environment.
Having challenged the reader to think beyond the unidimensionality of text on the Internet, the authors have challenged themselves to move beyond the flatness of a printed manuscript. Excellent teaching requires sight, sound, and hands-on opportunities to create, problem solve, and experience. Therefore, this paper is supported by a website, designed specifically to help the reader gain the skills necessary to enact the ideas mentioned here. This site can be found at http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/jtyler/teach-on-line.htm
Green, X (1998). Colleges struggle with IT planning [On-line]. Available: http://www.campuscomputing.net
Kinzie, M. (1994). The interactive frog dissection: An on-line tutorial [On-line]. Available: http://teach.virginia.edu/go/frog/.
Web66 (1998). Web66 School Web Site Statistics [On-line]. Available: http://web66.umn.edu/schools/stats/stats.html.
About the Authors
Sherri Smith, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Criminal Justice at Florida Gulf Coast University. She received her master's and doctorate in criminal justice and criminology from the Florida State University. Dr. Smith has been a leader in the development and implementation of Florida Gulf Coast Universities first complete degree program offered though distance education. Dr. Smith has developed and implemented Internet-based distance learning courses since the spring of 1995. She has published and presented numerous papers on Internet-based distance education. She can be reached at 10501 FGCU Boulevard South, Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565. Phone: (904) 590-7828; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
J. Michael Tyler, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and program leader for Counseling Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Tyler's career has shown a strong interest in technology as a tool for both teaching and counseling. He has published and presented numerous papers with a technology focus. Dr. Tyler has used the Internet as a means of support in his classes since 1995. He can be reached at 10501 FGCU Boulevard South, Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565. Phone: (904) 590-7792; e-mail: email@example.com
Andrea Benscoter is the Computer Support Specialist for the School of Public and Social Services at Florida Gulf Coast University. Her work has been instrumental in implementing the school's distance learning program. She works closely with faculty to design course web pages. Her responsibilities include: a) the on-going maintenance of the school's course web pages; b) responding to student questions regarding technology issues; and c) providing faculty and staff with on-going technology support. She has published and presented several papers on the technology aspects of distance learning. She can be reached at 10501 FGCU Boulevard South, Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565. Phone: (904) 590-7844; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org