Convenience and Connection

Posted by cservaes on July 19, 2013 in "Academic Programs", Faculty/Staff, Online Robert Middleton had completed almost half of his “Recruitment, Selection and Placement” course on the Overland Park campus this past spring when he began having crippling seizures. Because his doctor advised that he stay home until his condition could be controlled with medication, Middleton assumed he would have to drop the course and re-take it at a later date. “I had planned some major events around completing my Master of Arts in Human Resources by the end of August,” said Middleton, “so it was upsetting that I was going to have to push back my grad date.” When Middleton’s professor, Dr. Tom Edwards, learned about the situation, he had something else in mind. “I explored the ZOOM video conferencing software as an option for him to attend and participate in class remotely,” said Edwards. “It worked perfectly for him.” Using the ZOOM technology, which allows full scale HD video conferencing on any MAC, PC, iOS or Android device, Middleton was able to complete the course on time. “When an organization has a high desire to make something work, an innovation like ZOOM is not a surprise,” said Middleton. “ZOOM embodied the convenience that online classes seem to miss but did not lack the classroom interaction that students like myself need.” OU’s IT department had previously assisted Edwards with Polycom conferencing software, which live captured his class in Overland Park and streamed it to a classroom in Ottawa where three graduate students tuned in each week. Following the success with Middleton, however, Edwards facilitated the use of ZOOM in two other courses in the spring. Prior to experimenting with these video options for course delivery, Ottawa University rolled out its first formal iteration of Project Virtuoso in five pilot courses in the spring. The pilots were appropriately named MyChoice courses and utilized a delivery model that combines on-ground and online instruction in one course. Students can move seamlessly between attending class on campus one week to “attending” class virtually the next. With one curriculum, one syllabus, one instructor, and one educational support platform (Blackboard), students don’t have to choose one delivery format over the other. If they prefer face-to-face instruction but have to be home with a sick child or on the road for work one week, they can access course content and assignments online so they don’t fall behind. Conversely, if they prefer the convenience of online but want the occasional personal interaction, they can meet their instructor and classmates in person by attending a class on-ground. MyChoice also helps online students who need face-to-face assistance with content mastery. Having the option to attend class to better grasp a concept is a big bonus for many. The MyChoice courses were well received by students during spring and early summer. The attrition rate of those enrolled in the courses across all three schools was lower than average, and student/instructor interaction was higher. The University is gathering additional data to determine the overall effectiveness of the courses. These first MyChoice courses were geographic specific, being offered in Overland Park, Phoenix and Ottawa, and did not utilize video conferencing. However, the next push will be to offer and enhance these courses university-wide, focusing on more effective and pervasive live lecture capture and video conferencing capabilities. Beyond that, the University will move to recording more and more face-to-face classes and utilizing them for synchronous instruction across the University, as well as for delayed viewing by students. Economics Professor Dr. Russ McCullough has already been experimenting with this, using a SWIVL camera to record lectures that he places on his own YouTube channel for students to access at their convenience if they miss a class. The lecture captures are also being incorporated into an online course offering, thus providing synchronous and asynchronous delivery options to students university-wide. Impacting more than instruction, virtual advising, tutoring and study sessions are also beginning to take place with OU’s adult and online students using some of the same capabilities, such as screen sharing, instant messaging within the Blackboard platform and video conferencing. “Though the technology being used right now isn’t new, Ottawa University is leveraging it to create stronger connections between students and faculty, and to provide a greater level of convenience and satisfaction for our students,” said Vice President for APOS Shane Smeed. “It is fantastic to see our faculty get excited about these new delivery options and experiment with their usage. We are only scratching the surface of what is to come.” “Project Virtuoso is a concept, not a thing,” explained Chief Information Officer Dr. Jack Maxwell. “It speaks to re-inventing a delivery model for education that leverages technology to provide a higher level of student satisfaction with lower cost. It will constantly be evolving, growing and improving.”