Normalizing an Off-Campus Course with Video-Conferencing

Normalizing an Off-Campus Course with Video-Conferencing

Timothy Ward Pelton (University of Victoria, Canada)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch214
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Abstract

Off-campus credit courses requiring substantial travel on the part of the instructor are often presented as a series of intense workshops (e.g., 36 hours presented as four 2-day workshops). Although this traditional off-campus course presentation mechanism keeps both travel costs and time manageable, such an approach does not appear to be ideal for either the students or the instructional process. More specifically, instruction provided in such a lumpy context is not an ideal way to provide students with sufficient opportunities to process new information and procedures or assimilate or accommodate new concepts and ideas (Bruner, 1966), nor does it provide students with opportunities to attempt to apply the ideas presented or to reflect on their experiences before a new topic is presented or addressed. Additionally, such a course format limits the opportunities that the students have to interact individually with the instructor (i.e., office hours) and limits the opportunities that the instructor has to reflect and act upon formative assessments to better meet the needs of the students.
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Introduction And Background: Lumpy Off Campus Courses

Off-campus credit courses requiring substantial travel on the part of the instructor are often presented as a series of intense workshops (e.g., 36 hours presented as four 2-day workshops). Although this traditional off-campus course presentation mechanism keeps both travel costs and time manageable, such an approach does not appear to be ideal for either the students or the instructional process. More specifically, instruction provided in such a lumpy context is not an ideal way to provide students with sufficient opportunities to process new information and procedures or assimilate or accommodate new concepts and ideas (Bruner, 1966), nor does it provide students with opportunities to attempt to apply the ideas presented or to reflect on their experiences before a new topic is presented or addressed. Additionally, such a course format limits the opportunities that the students have to interact individually with the instructor (i.e., office hours) and limits the opportunities that the instructor has to reflect and act upon formative assessments to better meet the needs of the students.

Although well developed Web-based instruction (WBI) and classroom instruction (CI) appear to be equally effective when similar instructional methods are being used and students are selecting WBI (Sitzmann, Kraiger, Stewart & Wisher 2006, Wickersham & Tyler 2004), WBI may not be viable when the topic requires the collocation of instructors and students (i.e., CI) for specific activities. Still, some of these courses that require face-to-face interaction (F2F) and learner-centered instruction may also contain components that could be presented or undertaken in alternate formats - either as an asynchronous WBI component or as a synchronous component using inexpensive Internet-based video conferencing technology (IVC) (e.g., Chou 2001) or other online tools (e.g., Elluminate, Anderson et al 2006). Blended learning has recently become the standard term for describing the thoughtful integration of online and F2F learning activities and related pedagogies to enhance learning opportunities (Garrison & Kanuka 2004, Oliver & Trigwell 2005).

Earlier computer-based innovations such as e-mail and online discussion forums appear to have generally improved the efficiency and quality of teacher-student communication in both on-campus and online courses (Francis Pelton & Pelton, 1998; Davis 2001). Two factors that appear to support the effective implementation and ongoing use of technology in education are a) the technology must be manageable for both the teachers and the students - being both low threshold with respect to the initial costs and learning curve and low friction with respect to ongoing effort to use (Pelton & Francis Pelton 2008), and b) there must be advantages relative to the traditional instructional presentation and support mechanisms (e.g., Shih et al. 2003).

Although video conferencing services have been available for many years, the associated costs were initially relatively high and impractical for most educational applications. However in more recent years, broadband Internet service has become almost ubiquitous, sufficiently powerful computer systems have become commonplace, moderate-quality Webcams are now low-cost options and video “chat” software has become readily available and easy to use. These changes have lowered the threshold and friction associated with the adoption and use of IVC - increasing the potential for such to be used to support teaching and learning.

Note that the fidelity of the audio and video signals presented in current inexpensive IVC is somewhat limited and as such it may still require some level of tolerance and adaptation to be judged effective (Phillion, Johnston and Lehman, 2003). Still, even with extremely marginal video quality supporting the process the use of IVC has been found to be successful (e.g., a latency of 10 s, a frame rate 0.25-4 fps, and a minimal resolution of 160x120 pixels) (Latchman, Salzmann, Gillet & Kim, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internet-Based Video Conferencing (IVC): Communicating synchronously with other individuals or groups using a real-time audio/video streams transferred over the Internet.

Synchronous: An activity in which is undertaken in the context of time. Participants must be present in a shared time and space (online or F2F) to interact with each other. Examples include traditional classroom discussions, audio chat and video chat.

Online Office Hours: Office hours made available to students through video-chat software.

Blended Learning: A learning environment that incorporates a collection of F2F and online (synchronous and asynchronous) activities to provide learning opportunities.

Video-Chat Software: Software that supports a synchronous audio and video communication process.

Threshold: The threshold of a learning technology is the sum of obstacles slowing the adoption of a new technology. These may include a fear of the unknown, limited access to training on essential tools and follow-up support, the cost associated with the introduction of specialized technology, limited access to technological resources, the time needed to become confident and competent with the technology and its application in the classroom, and the classroom time required to introduce the technology to the students and train them to use the tools. When a technology has a low threshold the total of all of these obstacles is easily overcome.

Friction: Friction is the sum of the ongoing costs that make the continued use of a technology challenging or impractical. Friction components include the time and effort required to generate new lessons, prepare resources and consumables, and maintain the workspace (e.g., computer lab, blog, etc.). A low Friction technology requires little money or time to maintain or reuse.

Demonstration Lessons: Short practice lessons in which student-teachers demonstrate the teaching a topic to a class. Typically the participants are peers who may also be asked to provide some feedback.

Asynchronous: An activity that does not have a strong connection to time. Participants may choose to participate (review or generate artifacts) at a time that is convenient to them and then come back later to review and respond to subsequent participation artifacts. Examples include a discussion forum, a blog, a social networking site, or an email.

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