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Conferencing Strategies for Teaching at a Distance Discussion Questions

Question 17

In the Virtual Classroom,  lectures are short and few. With this being the case, where are the students going to get the information they need in obtaining the learning objective?

The curriculum of an online course should be designed to cause dialogue among the students. During online discussions, the participants collect information and send it to the virtual classroom for comments, critiques and more discussion. In order to generate this type of information, students must actively seek out the required material. The synergy of the discussion is itself a learning tool. With that in mind, much of the information presented to the class can come from the participants themselves.

Methods of information dissemination that can be used in an online environment are listed below. Ways that each method can be used have been listed, as well as the benefits and possible drawbacks associated with each one. Facilitators need to be aware of problems that can arise as they use these technologies. For example, while the "lecturette" can be an effective online tool, long lectures are not recommended as well as exercises that don't require students to comment on each other's work.


Textbooks:
They are used for the following purposes

  1. Assign a segment of a chapter to an individual.
  2. Assign a segment of a chapter to a team.
  3. Provide discussion questions that require students to summarize the reading, or ask students to come up with their own discussion questions.
  4. Provide discussion questions that require students to synthesize the material.
  5. Provide an activity that requires students to apply the information from the reading.

Benefits:

  • They are relatively inexpensive.
  • Students do not need any additional equipment to use the material.
  • Students can go back and retrieve information when they need it.
  • Some learners need the hardcopy for reading and studying.

Drawbacks:

  • They can only be distributed by mail or retailing network.
  • They can convey information only by written language and figures.
  • It is impossible to give direct feedback to or ask questions of the author.

Video tapes / TV Programs:
Basic concept of the course content subject or resources for the virtual classroom discussion can be provided through video. Whole films can be used in online courses in ESL, literature, any foreign language, creative writing, etc. Students can watch the film outside of "class" and then discuss/critique it in the virtual classroom. During online discussions, students can compare the film to the book, discuss character profiles, plot, theme, symbolism, historical context, etc.

Benefits:

  • Facilitator can distribute information such as visual or procedural concepts that are hard to express in textbooks. For example: in a class of manufacturing management, a short film showing a real factory is effective for understanding certain concepts and for making discussion questions.
  • Supplemental video may help learners whose basic learning style is not text-based.
  • If all the students view the same material, discussion questions or projects can be assigned to generate discussion on the topic and the information will be presented equally as well as using a textbook or related articles.
  • If broadcasting through web, wave or satellite is available, the information can be distributed asynchronously, and each student can view the material at his or her convenience.
  • TV broadcasts can be recorded for later study or review.

Drawbacks:

  • Students are required to have a TV set and/or a VCR.
  • Some programs are only available at certain designated times.
  • VCR tapes can only be distributed by mail or retailing network.
  • When distributed via the WWW, video files are extremely large, require long download times, and use substantial memory.

Audio Tapes / Radio Programs:
Basic concept of the course content subject or resources for virtual classroom discussion can be provided.

Benefits:

  • The cost and technical requirements are less than for video and/or TV.
  • Audio files can be downloaded from the Internet.
  • If all the students listen to the same material, then discussion questions or projects can be assigned to generate discussion on the topic, the information will be presented equally as well as using a textbook or related articles.
  • Radio broadcasts can be recorded for later study.

Drawbacks:

  • Audio files lack a visual component.
  • Although much smaller than video files, audio files are quite large and slow to download.

Guest Speakers:
Guest speakers can be invited to hold either a synchronous chat session with the class, or post a lecture and be available for 2-3 days to answer questions from the group.

Benefits:

  • Students can learn about what is happening today in the real world pertaining to the course content subject.
  • The guest speaker is able to bring outside resources to the course.

Drawbacks:

  • It may be difficult to find an appropriate person to invite as a guest speaker because he/she must know the basic system and flow of online learning.
  • For synchronous chat sessions: (see drawbacks below)

Interactive CD-ROM’s /
Interactive PC software

Benefits:

  • The material can be used in a self-paced manner.
  • As with video, material which is not easily adapted to text format can still be covered in the course.
  • Programs can contain short tutorials for specific skills/information that students need to know, then require them to apply that knowledge in exercises.
  • Software can be distributed through the Internet.

Drawbacks:

  • Students must have the software in hand to use it (download or purchase on CD)
  • Learners must know HOW to use the software.

Articles from Web Sites:
Each participant finds outside, related articles on the Internet; reads, summarizes, and critiques the article. Other participants can choose to access the article themselves, and/or comment on their classmate's critique. Students can then comment on other people's comments. A lot of valid information can come from this activity.

Benefits:

  • It allows students to choose what to focus on and take control of their own learning experience.
  • The number of articles and amount of information which students can access is unlimited.
  • It brings outside resources into the course.
  • It provides participants with an extensive list of summaries of related resources that they can choose to read, or archive for later use.
  • Students are learning and practicing research skills--searching, summarizing, demonstrating what has been learned, integrating new information into already-learned material.

Drawbacks:

  • The information at some Web sites may not be reliable.

Newsgroups:
This includes subscribing to or even just browsing newsgroups on topics related to course content.

Benefits:

  • There is a large quantity of material generated every day.
  • Most newsgroups have excellent archives of previously posted material.

Drawbacks:

  • There is often a high percentage of "noise" (garbage) to sift through.

Listservs:
These are focused email discussions on topics supplemental to course work.

Benefits:

  • Discussion lists exists on virtually every academic subject and/or related field.
  • Discussion provide an exchange of ideas with people not enrolled in the class who are, nevertheless, good resources on a given topic.

Drawbacks:

  • Extra reading time is required due to the large number of messages generated by a busy discussion list.

Interactive Web Sites:
These include web sites where users can read information updates, view stills and video, and listen to audio related to their course work. For example, the ESL Cafe <http://www.eslcafe.com> puts ESL students in touch with other language learners around the world as well as offers expert help in grammar and vocabulary and a chance for students to publish their writing online.

Interactive, Online Writing Labs (OWLs) , such as the one offered by Purdue University http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owls/introduction.html, can be resources for students in online ESL classes or undergraduate English and writing courses. Also, http://www.arcana.com/shannon/reference/writing.html is a list of Writer's Resources, including online workshops.

Benefits:

  • Students have direct contact with other learners
  • Students have direct contact with a variety of teachers and are exposed to different teaching styles.
  • Students have "real-life" communication through email and chat with other learners and teachers.

Drawbacks:

  • This activity may distract learners from other study tasks.

Chatting:
These are online discussions held by two or more participants synchronously.

Benefits:

  • A weekly chat added to a course could provide a forum for lively interaction among participants.
  • Instructors can hold "office hours" online and students can get immediate feedback.

Drawbacks:

  • With more than two people chatting, it can become confusing for those who cannot follow several streams of thought at once.
  • It is difficult to coordinate a session where all students can participate (time differences, inflexible schedules, etc.).

Off-line Interview:
Students are assigned to interview a professional, expert, or some other individual who has a meaningful relationship to the material begin discussed, and then relate the information gained from the interview to the group.

Benefits:

  • Students can talk about people already involved in the field they are studying, and then broaden their knowledge-base about the subject even more.

Drawbacks:

  • Not all the students may have access to an appropriate interviewee.

Online Interview:
This is an interview via e-mail or chat. Students communicate with a person through e-mail to gather necessary information, and then report back to the VC.

Benefits:

  • Students can interview anyone on the globe.

Drawbacks:

  • Still it may be difficult to find an appropriate interviewee.

Case Analysis:
Case analysis used in conjunction with current real world situations allows for the material content to be transcribed into practical applications: from theory to concept to application.

Benefits:

  • This activity generates critical thinking and utilizes the student's problem solving skills.

Drawbacks:

  • Because higher level thinking skills are needed, this activity may not be appropriate for less mature students.

Team Projects:
Students may be assigned to go into their work place to conduct interviews, gather information, and map processes. Together the group can compare and contrast the data and develop a report or project plan.

Benefits:

  • Current information and application based learning can be brought into the online process.
  • This activity allows for collaborative learning.

Drawbacks:

  • Sometimes certain team members don't do their part which places an extra burden on the others.
 

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