LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations,
and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals
of the World: Enhancing Learning Experiences with Online
and Streaming Media
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.
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
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.
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
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 &
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.
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
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,