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Lessons Learned

University of Dayton

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Online interactive course content. Course content included numerous interactive activities ranging from self-paced assessments to demonstrations of core concepts that allowed students to manipulate and work with the concept and learn by experience. The course also included streaming videos normally shown in class as well as streaming audio lectures synchronized with lecture slides. Unlike in a traditional course, students could control the pacing of this content.

Online collaborative learning activities. Students participated in three online small group activities during the course of the semester. Groups of 10-12 students each read and commented on a relevant article in a moderated threaded discussion format, responding to two questions posed by the instructor. A subset of the group then reviewed the discussion and generated two group responses to the questions. These responses were then reviewed by the whole group and sent to the instructor for evaluation. An upper-level undergraduate mentor facilitated the entire process.

Improved communication. The redesigned course offered students more opportunities for student-student and student-instructor contact than the traditional course. This included the extensive use of e-mail, electronic chat, and threaded discussion.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Capital-for-labor substitution. The significant capital investment in developing the course resulted in major reductions in labor. The team reduced the number of faculty members teaching the course as specified in the Course Planning Tool.

Expanded role of teaching assistants. The expanded use of teaching assistants, particularly undergraduate assistants, allowed the team to reduce faculty workload and ultimately the number of faculty members responsible for teaching the course. Undergraduate assistants were responsible for managing the collaborative learning activities.

Reduced course preparation and maintenance costs. Once completed, only a minimum amount of additional labor has been necessary to improve the course content and keep it current. The existence of the redesigned course not only saved the originating instructor course preparation and maintenance time, but also enabled its current use by another junior faculty member who would have had to prepare the course during her first semester at the university.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Collaborative content development. Unlike in most traditional courses, five members of the department, each with a different specialty area, developed the virtual content collaboratively. Developing the course online allowed the university to test a model of team-teaching that focuses on content development and instructional design versus course delivery. Although there are outstanding issues related to the maintenance and revision of this content, this collaborative development process worked very well.

Attitudes toward online learning. Student surveys revealed that a major contributor to students’ pre-course attitudes toward distance learning was the belief that the course would be impersonal and would lack opportunities for student-student and faculty-student interaction, even though they had never participated in a distance-learning course. The development team addressed this attitude through the use of regular e-mail communication with students (including a weekly newsletter), the use of electronic chat for exam reviews and office hours, and the incorporation of online collaborative activities. Post-course student evaluations revealed moderate to high levels of satisfaction with the communicative and collaborative aspects of the course. In addition, the course needed to be promoted among students, faculty, and staff. A Web site that included a demonstration version of the course was an effective promotional tool. This requirement will change as everyone on campus becomes more familiar with distance learning.

Technical support. Although providing technical support was an initial challenge, developing online documentation and including the Help Desk in the project substantially reduced the amount of time that instructors spent on technical support. This issue should have been addressed by involving local IT support staff earlier in the redesign process.

Providing structure for students. One unforeseen implementation issue was the degree to which procrastination affected students in the redesigned course. There was no difference observed between the level of procrastination in the redesigned versus traditional course. However, students prone to procrastination tended to perform worse in the online course compared to the traditional course. Also, post-course evaluations revealed that some students in the online course found the course to be less structured than a traditional course. Steps were taken to introduce more structure in the redesigned course (e.g., a detailed daily study schedule).

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