Home Search Site Map LeagueTLC League Store
League TLC Home
Innovation Express 2002
Innovation Express 2000 Archives
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001

iStream Logo
What's this?

LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

Religions of the World: Enhancing Learning Experiences with Online and Streaming Media

distance education

The opportunity to take credit and continuing education courses any time, any place, and, virtually, at any pace has become a reality. In spite of the convenience these courses afford, students often report that they "offer less than what I expected" and are many times "dull" and "tedious." And many students confess that they don't have the necessary computer skills to function as active online learners. These responses reveal the reasons many students who register for online classes at U.S. colleges and universities either drop or fail them. Some institutions report that their online course retention rates are 10 to 20 percent below face-to-face classes.

Online course developers, therefore, are presented with a formidable challenge: to engage a wide variety of subscribers and hold them to successful course completion. They also face a second, more daunting challenge: to move learners past information acquisition and to understanding and application. The intellectual assumptions and conceptual architecture of a subject are often left behind as faculty attempt to transfer their class notes and demonstrations to distance learning formats; lecture turns into text and demonstrations to graphs and pictures.

Significantly, the occasional faculty-student interaction is rarely continuous with the primary online learning experience. It is provided via phone calls at predetermined times or, in the best of cases, through threaded or chatroom discussions among the professor and class participants. As a result, electronically delivered courses are often teacher (more than learner) centered and information gathering (more than inductive/deductive reasoning) based. Further, the richness of spontaneous and planned give-and-take of a professor's intonations and gestures is lost or muted.

When, after twenty-five years of teaching, I decided to build an online course-Religions of the World-I set out to create learning experiences that overcome these deficits by using pedagogy that recognizes the distinct opportunities of asynchronous learning and the assets of digital technology. Here's my story, from partnership, to development, to evaluation.

New Developments in Online Courses
Access is a key determinant of online learning. Fortunately, through the use of evolving technologies and streaming media in the world religions course, each connecting student can access highly enriched learning experiences online. I used the Internet TV capability of st3, Inc., a leader in encoding and transmitting-via the Internet and through its private, nationwide, high-speed, fiber-based network-near broadcast-quality video, animation, and sound. Since the st3 network removes bandwith as a limiting factor, the course instructor doesn't have to restrict the amount of content or the number of multimedia additions. 

The benefits of this technology are enhancing learning in this new course. Units in this course begin with an overview of unit objectives as a subset of course goals. An on-screen running outline and set of instructions offer suggestions for optimizing learning strategies, including how to use the computer, for the connecting student. The course has as its foundation a series of edited video interviews with leading religious scholars; these interviews with authoritative and expressive theologians, historians, and clerics were videotaped at cathedrals, universities, sacred sites, and ceremonial lands. Students can interrupt the interviews to provide video commentary, and constant vertical tool bar allows students the option of calling up referenced texts (e.g., scriptures, expositories, and creeds) as well as such religious objects as symbols, pictures, and icons. The variety of student video commentaries supports interpretative analysis by providing each student with access to multiple perspectives.

The streaming video engages students in active learning and reflection and provides three distinctive resources for students: 

1. Insights into subtleties of the religions not readily gained by reading texts

2. The virtual experience of religious music, rituals, ceremonies, services, and festivals 

3. An appreciation of the passion of each religion's adherents and the persuasiveness of its messengers

With this set of resources, the course is multidimensional, allowing for movement from a relatively simple recognition of a particular concept to increasingly complex encounters requiring comparisons, contrasts, analysis, correlations, and other elements of abstract reasoning.

Multiple Learning Dimensions
Through the use of new technologies, progress indicators called gates are embedded throughout the course curriculum. Students interact and clarify critical points through chatroom or threaded discussion segments, and they reveal comprehension of critical points via journaling and objective examination. Students in the course demonstrate readiness to access sequential units through test performance, quality of contributions to discussions, or both.

It is universally understood that learning is greatly enhanced through peer activities and collaborative student efforts. Since traditional learning activities often do not translate to online delivery, new developments in the creation of learning relationships through personal reflective expression, virtual group projects, and local site visits are built into the course objectives. In one instance, students are asked to select and write about an experience of a particular religion and practice. Teams of four or five members are created to include a cross-section of religious affiliations, and each team submits a report of each religion represented in its group. The work includes student experiences, discussion notes, and comparative analysis of four to five different religions. These expanded learning dimensions have four primary goals:

1. Students have experiences in places of worship beyond the confines of locale or borders.

2. The actual practice of other religions (e.g. traditions, holidays, and customs) becomes a part of each student's realm of experience.

3. Students build a community of diverse learners who expand their insights and experiences through team efforts.

4. The course becomes the vehicle for further exploration and connection beyond the curriculum. 

Evaluation Plan & Lessons Learned
The technology needed to deliver and support the course is simplified through the st3 partnership. In addition to providing high-order technical service, hosting the course elements on its server, and delivering these elements on call, st3 enables the instructor to make continuous updates. Course elements and streaming media can be adapted quickly and easily by faculty for inclusion in online classes. This instructional system also adapts readily to various texts and audiences.

The course evaluation plan includes formative evaluation and two stages of summative analysis. Formative evaluation plans include monitoring faculty perspectives relative to updates and changes to both traditional and online courses. The first summative evaluation stage will measure the learning outcomes, persistence, and student satisfaction of the online version of the course with the traditional on-campus class taught by the same instructors. The second stage is a broader cross section, comparing the online and traditional versions of the course taught throughout the Tennessee Board of Regents System (six universities and thirteen community colleges). The factors of analysis include course grades, persistence levels, and student satisfaction indicators.

Lessons Learned
As with all new endeavors, lessons emerged in the development and implementation phases of the course. First, the creation of online courses should not be weighted by hardware, software, and application learning curves. The partnership with st3 and its technology services prevented the development of this course from buckling under technology training issues and kept the focus on creative activities and learning outcomes. A subsequent but fundamental lesson learned is the need to start and continue with students in mind and throw out traditional and limiting classroom teaching assumptions. The exercise of querying a representative sample of students? (by such factors as age, educational goal, and background) became the foundation for developing cogent exercises and activities. It caused the course development team to recognize a diversity of learning objectives and styles and to build from new ground. This recognition resulted in a multidimensional course structure, making the course preparation effort challenging and time consuming. However, the results included wide-open efforts to view and address student learning in a conscientious and systematic way. 

The technology and partnership efforts required to produce and sustain innovative online courses are significant. There is great skepticism about cost, outcome, and value of online learning. If we acknowledge that cognitive learning differs among individuals, then the tradition of passive instruction-one mode delivery with one conveyor of knowledge-does not map with multiple modalities. The investment of creating Religions of the World in an online format is not to meet the mean, but to optimize learning through a variety of engaging media, emerging practice, and instructional strategies.

For additional information, please contact: 
James L. Catanzaro
President and Professor of Philosophy
Chattanooga State Technical Community College
Note: A version of this article will appear in Syllabus Magazine, December 2001.



League for Innovation in the Community College
4505 East Chandler Boulevard, Suite 250 · Phoenix, Arizona 85048 · Voice: (480) 705-8200 · Fax: (480) 705-8201

Copyright © 2002 League for Innovation in the Community College. All rights reserved.