Utilizing Emerging Videoconferencing Technology for

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  • 1. 1 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/ Utilizing Emerging Videoconferencing Technology for Synchronous Instruction to Local and Individual Remote Learners Susan Dun, Ph.D. Assistant Dean for Advising and Student Affairs Northwestern University Dennis Glenn, M.F.A, Assistant Dean for Distributed Education Northwestern University Until recently, synchronous distance education has been largely confined to two-way television technology, hampered by prohibitive costs and the logistical inconvenience of congregating distance students at satellite facilities. The vast majority of current synchronous distance education limits student interaction with instructors and classmates, forces students to congregate in a specialized facility, and prohibits universities with limited resources from investing in such technologies due to the high cost of equipment. Only recently has it become possible to videoconference via the Internet, using video transmission equipment with a personal computer. This new technology has the potential to revolutionize distance education; it unites the greatest advantages of face-to-face instruction, real-time interaction with the instructor and with fellow students, with the greatest advantage of distance education, the freedom to “attend” class from anywhere in the world. It allows geographically removed students to be as present as their traditional classroom colleagues. In this paper, we will describe how Northwestern University’s Communication Systems Strategy and Management Program is implementing the new videoconferencing technology, how it fits with the program’s organizational goals and constraints, and how we will collect student feedback to longitudinally assess the program. We hope that other professionals in the field will be inspired by this work in progress and will appreciate its innovative union of new video conferencing technology with students’ educational objectives and the educational objectives of a long-standing brick-and-mortar university. Distance Education at Northwestern University Due to the difficulty of replicating the rich communication and the trusted pedagogical tradition of face- to-face instruction, some institutions of higher learning have been reluctant to invest in distance education ventures of their own. This was the case at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern University was founded in 1851, and today it is the only private university in the Big Ten. Several years ago, when its board of trustees investigated what the field of distance education had to offer a highly- reputed brick-and-mortar university like Northwestern, they determined that no model nor medium yet existed that could provide instruction on par with Northwestern’s sesquicentennial tradition of face-to- face instruction delivered by world-class faculty. Recently, however, advances in delivery technology persuaded the School of Communication to develop the pilot program that represents the first fully committed distance education course in the University’s history. Beginning in the fall of 2004, the School of Communication will offer its Communication Systems Strategy and Management Program in a blended learning synchronous environment to off- campus students. The Communication Systems Strategy and Management Program is a two-year masters program designed for the working professional seeking the advanced skills and expertise needed to Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/
  • 2. 2 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/ effectively bridge the “strategy gap” that separates corporate technical experts and non-technical executive decision makers. The program is interdisciplinary and draws on the faculty from Northwestern’s renowned School of Communication, Kellogg School of Management, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Medill School of Journalism, and Northwestern’s Information Technology Department. Upon completion of the program, students earn a Master of Science in Communication. The distributed learning component of the program will provide students outside of the Chicago metropolitan area with a real-time classroom experience via videoconferencing over the Internet. In an environment of collaborative learning unparalleled in other remote classroom programs, they will have the opportunity to participate in and learn from group projects with local and remote learners. Students enrolled in the program will interact with Evanston-based instructors and students using technology that allows videoconferencing over Internet Protocol (IP) via individualized videoconferencing units. The distributed program will have the following attributes: On-campus instructional meetings during the year. In the first year, all students, local and remote, attend a new student orientation in the fall and a weekend meeting at the beginning of the winter term and the spring term. Synchronous learning via videoconferencing. The program will provide each student with equipment and software. The School of Communication is configuring a special video classroom for the on-site instructors and students. Asynchronous web-delivered learning modules: recorded web cast of all lectures for student review. Multi-location team projects enabled by videoconference. The program will create a 24/7 conference bridge for all participants. This unique feature will permit all learners, no matter where they reside, to create virtual working groups. While not uncommon in the corporate world now, such virtual teams are certain to be a ubiquitous feature of work life in the near future. Additional instructional resources to facilitate communities of practice for both interactive synchronous and asynchronous communication. Classes meet one full day a week on alternating Fridays and Saturdays for thirty weeks per year. Students take two courses at a time. Class times are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., CST. Assessing Student Learning and Satisfaction The videoconference MA courses in the School of Communication at Northwestern University afford a unique and rare setting. Blended classrooms are unusual in the distance education arena. We plan to assess many aspects of the courses as outlined here. There are four main assessment modules planned. Student Characteristics Prior to beginning the course students will be asked to provide basic demographic information, indicate their level of technological expertise in pertinent areas, and rate their expertise in the class content area. Distance learners are typically thought to be older, often time working professionals who need the flexibility of asynchronous learning to complete their degrees. Because the distance class will be meeting at the same time, synchronously with the local learners, and the courses are at the masters level where most of the students are working professionals, the typical differences between local and distance learners are not expected to materialize. We expect the primary demographic difference between the distance and local learners to be the geographic region in which they reside. Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/
  • 3. 3 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/ Prior technology experience may influence students’ experiences in the distance learning classroom, although at least one study has found no effect for knowledge of electronic communication or perceptions of computer skills on satisfaction (Thurmond, Wambach, Connors & Frey, 2002). Thurmond et al. assessed an asynchronous Internet course hence their findings may not generalize to a blended video conferenced classroom. Both learning and satisfaction may be affected by students’ abilities to navigate the technology as they seek to participate actively in the courses. Unlike asynchronous course delivery, distance students will be live. If they are unable to manage the technology successfully, they won’t, for example, be able to ask questions of the professors or their classmates during the class. Students will receive technology training prior to the start of courses. Their confidence with and familiarity with the technology will be assessed before and after the training, as well as at the end of the first quarter of courses. It is expected that any effects of the technology will dissipate over time as students learn to use the technology. Technology Effects on Learning and Satisfaction The blended classroom and video conferenced aspects of our setting provide for the ability to measure the effects of the technology in a number of ways not typically possible. Because the distance and local learners are attending the same class together, many possible confounding variables are removed. The students experience the same teacher, the same lecture, the same comments from other students, the same assignments, the same opportunities to ask questions during class, etc. While this may be obvious, it should not be overlooked. The same lecture material delivered by two different professors, or read in one case (asynchronous course delivery) while listened to in another (face-to-face delivery) can be understood quite differently by the listeners. In our setting, the students are in the same classroom so many sources of difference are removed. The primary difference between the two groups of students will be solely the fact that one set is watching the class via video conferencing technology while the other is physically present. There are other differences as will be discussed, but a huge source of natural variation between typical distance and local classes is removed. To determine if there are differences in the learning achievements of the local and distance learners, the two groups of learners will be compared on their performance on class assignments and projects. We plan to use the instructors’ ratings of the quality of the assignments as our primary source of assessment. In addition, students will self rate their perceived learning in the course, both at the midterm and after the conclusion of each course. Because the “no significant difference” finding has been typically reported in comparisons between different classes, it is an open question whether these distance and local learners will also have no significant differences in their learning. An interesting question that arises in our setting concerns the effects of the distance education component of the classroom on the local learners. The two cohorts of students are typically kept apart, hence the local learners are not influenced by the distance version of the classroom. In our setting, distance learners will be able to ask questions and actively participate in the classroom, requiring the local learners to also adapt to the technology. It is conceivable that the local learners may be negatively affected by the distance component. We will be able to compare learning outcomes with current students to the local and distance learners next year to ascertain such possible effects. Student satisfaction with the course will also be measured at the midterm and after the conclusion of each course. Following the reasoning explained in the student learning assessment section, it will be interesting to determine the effects, if any, of the distance learning technology on both local and distance learners’ satisfaction with the courses. We will pay particular attention to the effects of the technology on students’ abilities to take notes, ask questions during lectures, remain mindful and attentive during class, and feel they are able to be an active member of the classroom community. Anecdotal evidence from the first author’s experiences teaching a video conferenced undergraduate class suggests that distance learners Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/
  • 4. 4 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/ felt they were disconnected from the class at times, that they were “watching class like you [the teacher] was on T.V.”. Perhaps the older population of students will overcome the challenges of the distance and participate actively in the class. Communication Contacts Journal Interaction with peers has been reported to be an important aspect of the classroom experience that is missed by distance education students (Thurmond et al., Frey, 2002). Interaction with fellow students and also the instructor are aspects traditional education that are difficult to create for distance learners. The video conferencing technology we are using will allow us to overcome many of these difficulties. For example, the instructors will hold video conferenced office hours for distance learners. Distance learners also will be able to videoconference with each other at any time, “24/7” as they say. Standard means of electronic communication such as email will be available to all students. On the other hand, there are aspects of the local setting that the distance learners will not be able to experience. The local learners take meal and coffee breaks together between classes. Such “water cooler” time is important for building a sense of community and networking. Distance learners may not create the same resources because they will be missing out on these network building times. We will ask students to keep a journal of their contacts with peers and instructors each week. Students will indicate with whom they have interacted the previous week, the number of contacts, the medium (e.g. face to face, via email, video conferenced) and the importance of the contact). We will correlate the interaction data with the students’ learning, satisfaction, and sense of community with the other students. Classroom Contribution Ratings The unique nature of our classroom includes yet another aspect. The video stream will be captured and archived. We will have a complete record of all contributions by students to each class session. We plan to code these responses for various features including number of contributions and type of contribution. We will develop the coding categories inductively from the data. Coding the verbal contributions of distance and local learners will allow us to determine if there are differences in participation rates between these two groups as well as if there are qualitative differences in their contributions. For example, do distance learners ask more clarification questions, e.g. “can you repeat that definition?” while local learners ask more application questions “can you provide an example of that concept in a real setting?” which could indicate differences in classroom experiences. We are not aware of prior research that codes the content of student contributions. Conclusion Beginning fall quarter 2004 Northwestern University’s School of Communication will begin offering distance education courses via video conferencing technology for the first time in its history. In this paper we have outlined the technology we will be using as well at the four assessment modules that are planned. The unique blended nature of our setting provides for a number of interesting and unusual assessment opportunities including analyzing students’ verbal contributions to the class sessions, interaction patterns between students and students with faculty, and the effects of the video conferencing technology on both local and distance learners. We hope to be able to contribute to the growing body of literature on the effectiveness of distance education by assessing the effects of a newer method of instructional delivery. Reference Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/
  • 5. 5 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/ Thurmond, V. A., Wambach, K., Connors, H. R., & Frey, B. B. (2002). Evaluation of student satisfaction: Determining the impact of a Web-based environment by controlling for student characteristics. The American Journal of Distance Education, 16(3): 169-189. Biographical Sketches Susan Dun, Ph.D. is Assistant Dean of Advising and Student Affairs at Northwestern University. Her research interests include assessment of performance and the delivery of feedback. She has presented papers at numerous conferences, including the National Communication Association, International Communication Association, Western States Communication Association and the Instructional Technology Conference. Address: 1-101 Frances Searle 2240 Campus Drive Evanston, IL 60802 E-mail: s-dun@northwestern.edu Phone: 847.491.7214 Fax: 847.467.1464 Dennis Glenn, M.F.A., is Assistant Dean for Distributed Education at Northwestern University. He has been involved with distance education projects at NU for numerous years and has been the lead developer of the first ever NU distance education program. Dennis has extensive experience in the film and media industry, where he was a director before coming to NU. Address: 1-169 Frances Searle 2240 Campus Drive Evanston, IL 60802 E-mail: dglenn@northwestern.edu Phone: 847.467.4653 Fax: 847.467.1464 Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/