Two obstacles to the increased uptake of online delivery of learning material in universities are:

  1. the heavy investment by academic staff in their existing lecture material and an understandable reluctance to redevelop this from the ground up for online delivery,
  2. a lack of understanding by academic staff about how to actually migrate their content online easily and in an engaging way.

Over the last two years, whilst working at La Trobe University’s Division of Nursing and Midwifery, we developed a strategy that would enable academic staff to leverage their existing lecture materials in such a way as to allow them to move into flexible, online delivery relatively easily. I have called it a strategy; it is actually such a simple approach that it barely deserves the term strategy.

The aim of the approach was to migrate existing lecture content into flexible delivery mode in as simple a way as possible and yet create engaging and interactive content for students.

Essentially, we encouraged academic staff to re-examine their existing lecture presentations and their lesson plan in general. Normally these were designed for a traditional fifty minute face to face lecture and, more often than not, were developed using Microsoft PowerPoint. Lectures normally form part of a series of maybe thirteen or twenty six depending on how the course is structured, the number of credit points the course is worth, the length of the semester, the way in which other learning methods are used and various other criteria. Each lecture is normally structured to deliver a related set of concepts and facts that will contribute the student’s understanding of one or more areas of the course curriculum. In so doing they contribute to the development of the learning objectives of the course.

We encouraged the staff to try and identify smaller sections of reasonably self contained ideas or themes within their existing presentations. Ideally we would try and get five or six of these logical items of sub-content out of their existing presentation. We then used web casting software (Camtasia Studio from Techsmith) to record the lecturer presenting each of these sub-sections individually. We did not want to simply recreate the whole fifty minute lecture as a single recording.

Recordings of lecture presentations are often criticized as being very passive for the student. I always find this criticism interesting having sat as a student and observer in large lecture theatres and seen how passive the vast majority of students are in a face to face situation.

Regardless, we wanted to avoid this criticism by separating each section of the presentation with some activity on the part of the student; either online or offline. These might be a reading, a tutorial, some reflective journaling, some formative assessment or maybe some interaction with a rich multimedia object. I will discuss these in another posting.

We ‘wrapped up’ the presentations and activities up in a logical container in the learning management system and providing suitable linkages to help the student work their way through the material.

The videos were provided in multiple formats including downloadable formats. This was done to allow students on narrow band home connections to use a high bandwidth connection at a library or local campus to download the presentations onto a USB for viewing later. Incidentally all first year students in the Division were given a 1GB USB drive when they enrolled for this purpose. It also contained orientation, study guides and useful software.

Unexpected Outcomes

The fifty minute lecture is an arbitrary period of time for which to design a presentation. It is simply a product of timetabling and accounting within universities. Interestingly when staff reviewed their existing learning material they found that the flexibility of breaking their content into smaller sections allowed them to free themselves of the restrictions of a one hour lecture slot. They refocused their content so that some concepts that may have taken a full lecture hour were given more or less time as needed. The important thing was delivering the necessary content to convey the concept or knowledge required for that section of the curriculum. This is much more flexible for the academic as well as for the student.

Challenges

One of the challenges with segmenting a longer presentation into smaller sections is in situations when a lecturer may have to develop a complex argument or thesis over period of time. I think that, whatever the nature of the content, it is crucial that all of the small sub-sections are wrapped and joined using a narrative that will guide the student through the material and the ideas being developed. Normally this would be done using the framework of the learning management system. Having said this, I agree that there are some situations in which this segmental approach won’t work.

Other challenges lie in staff development. Whilst the technological staff development required is not great there are some smaller issues such as getting some staff to maintain eye contact with the camera and to structure their presentations appropriately. Interestingly the staff development required is mostly in how to use PowerPoint and present effectively. Skills that will benefit them for both live and recorded presentations.

Unfortunately the technology doesn’t make a bad presentation, or presenter, good and a bad PowerPoint presentation is a bad PowerPoint  presentation in whatever way it is delivered.

How can this approach be used?

This strategy could be used for courses delivered using a blended learning or a wholly online approach. Using a blended learning model the online lecture content may be supported by face to face tutorials, seminars or other face to face activity.Or you may seeit as being vice versa.

Summary

This strategy requires some support and staff development but we found it can be an effective way of migrating large amounts of existing content created for face to face delivery into a flexible delivery format. It is not a substitute for building courseware for online delivery from the ground up but that approach is expensive and time consuming. This approach does have a number of benefits listed below:

  1. Students can view and review the material whenever they like.
  2. The segmented approach fits in more easily with attention spans.
  3. Useful for delivering learning material to post graduate students who may be time poor and cannot spare a whole hour at a time.
  4. Encourages and emphasizes interaction and formative assessment.
  5. Leverages existing content created in MS PowerPoint.
  6. Requires relatively little staff development and uses familiar technologies.
  7. Enables staff to repackage their material more appropriately than timetable restrictions may allow.
  8. The technology allows remote students to see their lecturer which gives them some sense of accessibility and humanizes the experience.
  9. Reuse of presentations – we found that good recordings could be reused many times allowing the academic staff member greater flexibility in the way that they worked.
  10. Gets academic staff involved in online delivery relatively easily.

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