Lights! Cameras! Action!: Achieving Widescreen Learning in Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Environments

Lights! Cameras! Action!: Achieving Widescreen Learning in Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Environments

Mark P. Vitale, Kent M. Blumberg
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6762-3.ch005
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This chapter develops a model to optimize teaching efforts in both synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning environments to engineer a higher level of enrichment, engagement, satisfaction, and learning for students. The authors begin with a literature review identifying existing knowledge in the areas of engagement, authentic assessment, active learning, and student satisfaction. Then, based on this review and the authors' combined teaching experience of over 30 years, the widescreen learning model is defined, and success metrics are identified. The model is utilized in two different courses: one a synchronous virtual environment and one an asynchronous virtual environment. Success metrics from each of the two iterations are then reviewed prior to the authors interpreting the results and providing opportunities for future research.
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How well are college students learning online? This is a question that is contemplated by faculty teaching a class online as well as those institutions that offer classes online. As online learning has become more and more prevalent, core issues surrounding quality of student engagement and achievement continue to be issues of concern. A student that wishes to engage in online learning at a community college or university can easily locate multiple institutions that offer opportunities within their desired field of study. Enrollment is not restricted by physical geography within the online learning environment. As has been the case for most industries and social interactions, the internet and its associated technologies continue to disrupt traditional paradigms associated with higher education while continuing to offer new opportunities in terms of students’ access, engagement, and personal achievement within academic environments. As such, the issue of how engaged a student will be in an online program, and what will be achieved while that student is enrolled in an online class, are still areas of concern. For this chapter's purposes, we are focusing on online learning as defined by Kyofuna (2014), which is any learning in which students use the internet to interact with the content. This can occur synchronously, with students attending from anywhere convenient for them, but at specific times, or asynchronously, with students attending both where and when it is convenient for them.

Farrell (2020) has determined that successful online student engagement is a complex mixture of stimuli and dimensions that impact the outcome. These include the influences of a student’s peer community, the degree of engaging behavior provided by an online teacher, and dimensions of confidence or self-efficacy demonstrated by the student. Additional issues included course design, competing factors within a student’s life and a student’s skillset associated with key skills such as time management or organization.

Kahu, Picton and Nelson (2019) identified that students who enroll in higher education programs where more than 50% of their courses are delivered in a synchronous or asynchronous online modality are less likely to be as persistent with their studies than those who are in more traditional environments. However, it was also determined that it isn’t the modality per se that creates this distinction, but three interwoven pathways leading to greater student engagement: These are 1) behavior of the instructing faculty, 2) elements of course design, and 3) a student’s intrinsic dimensions including self-efficacy, belonging, emotions and wellbeing.

To that end, a proactive faculty member seeking to enhance student engagement in an online class can directly impact pathway #1 and pathway #2. Those will be the focus of this chapter: How can a faculty actively utilize course design and instructional technique to enhance student engagement and achievement? To achieve this, the authors will look both inside and outside of higher education to identify best practices in student engagement. One such industry that higher education can learn from is the entertainment industry, where significant levels of engagement are demonstrated regularly. While very different in many ways from higher education, the entertainment industry has demonstrated repeatedly that it can generate excitement and engagement from its constituents.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Active Learning: A style of learning where students of all differentiated learning styles are actively involved in the process of discovering and acquiring new knowledge.

Synchronous Virtual Learning: An online modality of learning where students and faculty interact simultaneously by using online meeting software (audio and video) or teleconference technology (audio only). Depending on whether students and faculty have access to visual materials, the modality can consist of static and dynamic instructional elements such as multimedia, interactive simulations, discussion boards, assigned readings and course assignments.

Edutainment: A type of instructional technique that seeks to entertain as well as educate. While it is commonly thought of as multimedia based knowledge delivery (such as a documentary film), Edutainment can be widened to incorporate more modern instructional strategies such as gamification.

Student Satisfaction: For the purposes of this study, Student Satisfaction is defined by a quantitative metric entitled “Likelihood to Recommend Faculty.” This data is collected from students completing end of course surveys anonymous at the end of their classes.

Instructional Strategies: Tools, techniques, and processes that educators employ in a classroom setting (virtual or otherwise) that help students achieve the desired learning outcomes defined by the objectives of the curriculum.

Collaborative Learning: A type of learning that requires students complete assigned work in a team environment. In addition to acquiring knowledge associated with the learning unit, a collaborative effort will also help students develop leadership, communication and networking skills.

Widescreen Learning Model: Proposed this study to optimize learning in synchronous and asynchronous virtual environments, the Model integrates characteristics of effective cinematic storytelling into this three-phase structure. Phase One focuses on inspiring curiosity, Phase Two engineers active learning and discovery and Phase Three facilitates authentic assessment that helps stimulate additional learning in the subject matter after the course has ended.

Authentic Assessment: A style of assessment that allows students to engage in activities that are typically experienced by those working in professions related to the course discipline. The assessment also often incorporates collaborate learning elements structured rubrics outlining areas of achievement and metrics of success and the opportunity for students to engage in reflective self and peer evaluation.

Student Engagement: For the purposes of this study, Student Engagement is defined by a quantitative metric entitled “Withdrawal Rate.” This metric measures the number of students (expressed as a percentage of total) that elect to withdraw from a course after it has begun. As described in the Results section of this study, the Withdrawal Rate is captured for both individual courses and as an average for all sections of an offered course.

Asynchronous Virtual Learning: A modality of online learning where students and faculty do not interact simultaneously. Instructional techniques in this modality often consist of static and dynamic elements such as multimedia, interactive simulations, discussion boards, assigned readings and course assignments.

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