Our course is taught in a building which is over a century old. Traditionally, each student worked independently with prepared slides and preserved materials. We now have converted images from those specimens into electronic format and have the students use their lab time making preparations-- mostly from fresh specimens. This gives them the opportunity to develop new technical skills as well as a much better feel for plant anatomy. Sometimes students may work in pairs, but in order for the entire class to participate they can capture images of their preparations with the video camera and microscope coupled with a networked computer. The results are then posted on the web each week at the course website.
We wanted to meet the laboratory objectives while at the same time develop material that would normally be covered in lecture for a regular face-to-face class. So we took additional text materials, we took a variety of illustrations, and added descriptive content to them. We came up with animated gifs. We came up also with a series of four to six-minute videos that express particular points of interest, and we rolled all this material together into a CD. We did this in cooperation with several other individuals at both the University as well as other sites, the most notably our main collaborator has been Dr. Andrey Vassilyev from the Komarov Botanical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In addition to the CD-Rom where we have all our course content, we also have an instructional web site that contains interactive quizzes that provide immediate feedback for students. These grades are kept in an online grade book that is password protected. It also features conferencing where the students can communicate with each other as well as with the professor. There is an announcements page where the professor can post messages for the students.
Before we got to this point, we decided to start by using a website that would show merely illustrations useful in the laboratory as well as in the lecture, and we decided that perhaps that wasn't sufficient and we needed to do more than that.
So we progressed to a second level in which we added additional content, and larger and larger amounts of illustrations and the video content as well.
Eventually we got to the point where we had difficulty downloading many of the illustrations by delivery on the Web, particularly for people who have slow modems at home. So we decided to go the route of the CD.
My responsibility for the website is to design the web pages and over see the general website maintenance. This requires knowledge of programs such as PhotoShop to create the digital images, Premier, which is a video editing program, and the use of some type of HTML editor such as Dreamweaver or FrontPage. I am a student worker and I generally work about 10 to 12 hours per week The initial creation of the CD did require and extra amount of time that you need to be aware of, but once everything is set up, general course maintenance really only requires an hour per day, and sometimes less.
All this has taken us about three years to develop the course materials for plant anatomy to the point where we are currently. We've been fortunate having the cooperation of other colleagues both in Illinois and New York as well as the international assistance of Dr. Vassilyev from Russia.
You can't expect a course like this to be created in one semester or one year, but you need to systematically break it down into parts that can be accomplished each semester. Perhaps the first semester, just focus on text and images like we did, the second semester incorporate some video and so on and so forth.
We hope that you'll consider this "step-wise" approach to the development of your online course, and if you have questions, if you wish to discuss further materials with us, we'd be delighted to hear from you in WebBoard.
MVCR Instructors | Virtual Guest Lecture Series