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Technology can enhance learning, panelists say

Three instructors present ways they bring the online classroom closer to their students.

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 16:11

Three instructors of Internet classes stressed the need to use technology to create the best classroom experience for online students during a virtual distance learning panel discussion Nov. 7 as part of National Distance Learning Week.

The event was sponsored by the office of technology services and the Teaching With Technology Committee.

“I think that what we’re all trying to do is create the best classroom experience for the online student,” mortuary science Professor Francisco E. Solis said.

Psychology Professor Pamela Hill and Librarian Celita DeArmond also spoke. Theater Instructor Ronnie Watson moderated the panel.

Solis makes his face-to-face lectures and chapter notes available online for his students, allowing him to “bring my class to the student.”

Students may not completely comprehend a skill, but they can go online and review the skill over and over, Solis said.

“It makes a great tool for them to carry around, just to be able to access your lecture.”

Solis also uses online learning for the student who misses a face-to-face class. He imbeds clues into his online lectures.

The student can access the lecture online and bring these imbedded clues back to Solis and receive credit for having attended the lecture.

Rate My Professors is an online resource Solis uses as a faculty member to get feedback on his teaching. 

“It is a good thing to have independent views of us, and so I check them frequently,” Solis said.

He said faculty have to adapt to the student today.

Hill spoke on the Open Learning Initiative developed by Carnegie Mellon University and ways to engage students with course content.

The Open Learning Initiative is a grant-funded group at Carnegie Mellon University, offering innovative online courses for teaching.

The concept of OLI came from the idea of integrating the university’s expertise in cognitive tutoring into online courses that would stand on their own, according to the university’s website.

Carnegie Mellon has devised a model to develop course content with imbedded materials, Hill said.  “Everything is predicated on the student learning outcomes.”

Technology is transforming online education, and students now are able to be much more engaged in content, Hill said.

“We are all being forced to change,” Hill said.

With the OLI model, as students work through the online material, the instructor can see how long it takes the student to learn the material and to apply that concept. 

At the next classroom meeting, the students and instructor can discuss the material, and “the faculty member is teaching at a much deeper level than they have ever taught before,” Hill said.

DeArmond spoke on humanizing technology and the use of Elluminate software, “ … the closest thing we have in the district to fully replicate the in-classroom experience.”

“The fact is that we are human beings, teaching other human beings,” DeArmond said. "We need to have that human touch.”

Elluminate is a Web-conferencing system that allows groups to meet, present and collaborate, according to Elluminate’s website.

Students just simply go to the link on the assigned date and time. The class meets in there at the same time, DeArmond said.

DeArmond said that in the past, before each class, she started to worry if students were actually learning.

She said even though she was spending a lot of time preparing for class, students were not up to performing what she thought she was teaching.

It was after she read Parker Palmer’s book “The Courage to Teach,” that she realized why she was “so terrified before class.”

“I was leaving me out of the teaching and learning equation,” DeArmond said. “The fact of the matter is that I was hiding behind the technology.”

Learning is a natural process, and sometimes technology gets in the way of that natural process, DeArmond said.

Palmer’s book is based on a simple premise:  Good teachers share one trait. They are authentically present in the classroom and possess a “capacity for connectedness,” according to the Courage and Renewal website promoting the book.

DeArmond said Elluminate has some “really nice classroom management … human touch” features.

Students can use the webcam to deliver a speech to an audience, use the chat box or hand-raise feature.

“You can use Elluminate for as little or as much as you want,” DeArmond said.

She said that when she asks students to use the drawing tools, they usually draw smiley faces.

“That, more than anything, lets me know that this definitely is a technology that excites them,” DeArmond said.

What students really want is to learn from a real person. They really do want that engagement, DeArmond said.

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