Education on Demand: Teaching with Technology in the Online Classroom
Abbie Brown: Distance learning is part of our mission at ECU. Really, for the entire UNC system we are the flagship for distance learning.
Narrator: This semester East Carolina University will enroll nearly 6,000 students who will attend some, if not all, of their classes from somewhere other than the university’s Greenville, North Carolina, campus. Over the past decade East Carolina has become a leader in distance education, currently offering the most online degree programs and the only accredited completely online MBA program in the UNC system.
Distance education has made great strides since the development of the Internet. E-mail, discussion boards, chat rooms, and digital audio are commonly used tools, but at East Carolina some innovative faculty members are exploring ways in which new technologies might improve online learning.
Elizabeth Hodge: I think it’s an exciting time to be a faculty member, not only in terms of learning the different technology, but also researching its effects on the value that it’s added to the students. Aside from the ability of them to develop a learning community with both myself and the other students, it’s also provided them with a richer resources, of technology resources to review the curriculum that I am teaching.
Narrator: The effort to increase interaction between students and instructors online has ECU professors experimenting with technologies not usually associated with education. The popular social networking application Second Life, in which participants create and control avatars of themselves within a virtual environment, is being used to demonstrate the capabilities of online virtual reality, something many educators believe to be the future of online education.
Abbie Brown: I think Second Life has tremendous potential for increasing social presence among rural or distance learners that people who are not able to be with each other face to face do have the opportunity to interact with each other. It’s an interesting phenomenon, especially keeping office hours, the students are able to meet with me in my office the same way they might send email or talk to me on the phone, but the advantage is that they may meet other students in this virtual area who are waiting to speak with me or are speaking with me at the same time. This allows the students to have a very similar experience to being on campus in one building talking with each other informally. Second life has tremendous potential to increase socialization among students.
Narrator: While online virtual reality is the most dynamic example of technology being used to advance distance education, it is by no means the only way in which technology is improving online courses. New variations of previously available technology have infused the virtual classroom with new energy.
Gregg Hecimovich: One of the ways I use technology in my classes are with things like YouTube and Podcasting, things that students have a surprising ability to use. The podcasts have been extremely successful for me. Students listen to it while they are doing the dishes, cleaning the house, a lot of the online students when they are commuting.
Narrator: Dr. Hecimovich has also begun to utilize online technology in the form of YouTube videos to introduce into his distance education courses something that was previously impossible to replicate outside of a classroom.
Gregg Hecimovich: I do these things called context reports. In that a student does research on a subject that’s background or context to the period of literature or work that we are currently studying. So, I used to hand these out to students and they’d put on plays and presentations in the classroom, but I also developed a way to produce YouTube videos of those. They produced these astonishingly impressive visual engagements with the subject and it brought that background material to life.
Narrator: Professor Hodge has adapted another existing technology to create tutorials for her online courses that may leave many students wondering if a passing grade is in the forecast.
Elizabeth Hodge: One of the ways in which I create my tutorials is by using green screen technology. And what the green screen technology allows me to do is, in the simplistic form, is to be the weathergirl. I put images behind me and I am able to talk through different programs. I get to point to where students need to save material, where they need to maybe click on a button to maybe add a layer to a web page. And so it provides for an interactive method where students can walk though the procedures as I’m going through them.
Narrator: Aside from improving interaction between students and faculty in the virtual classroom, technology is also improving communication outside of the course material.
Elizabeth Hodge: When you look at the surveys and the national statistics when students talk about what they want, they want communication and they want feedback on their assignments. They want to know that what they did is being read and is useful. I use a cell phone to text message students. Everyone is text messaging in our classes and we thought well, rather than shunning it why not embrace the change that we see taking place. So what I incorporated into my class is the ability to send my students text messages about their grades, upcoming assignments, I would send them hot links to sites that I felt were helpful to the course that they might want to go check out.
Narrator: Historically, distance education has been viewed as inferior to traditional on-campus courses. Now, thanks to technology, the gap between online and traditional face-to-face classes is narrowing, and educators are rethinking what it really means to interact.
Abbie Brown: I think learning online or learning at a distance has come a very, very long way and that it’s not just on a par, it has demonstrated itself to be a very high quality experience for most people.
Narrator: The efforts put forth by East Carolina’s faculty to increase the effectiveness of its distance education program continues on a path set forth by university administrators to be worldwide leaders in distance learning.
Abbie Brown: We’re going to become more and more involved in online education and we are going to find more and better ways to conduct distance learning. Right now we are doing a really good job with the tools that we have. I only see it expanding. Five, six years from now we’ll have better tools, better understanding of how these tools work and we’ll be able to deliver even higher quality educational programs.