By Al Drushler
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Do you teach a Hybrid class and fret over how to deliver the information and foster lively communication among your students outside of class? I do too! Well, I’ve tried to do something about it, and I would like to share it with you. When I was given a MAT 255 Business Statistics Hybrid section, I was handed a textbook and 3 VHS cassette tapes (remember those?) of recorded lectures. What was I going to do with 3 VHS tapes? How was I going to provide quality instruction to the students in my class? Panic mode set in.
So I began to do some research on how to record my lectures and get them to students. Khan Academy was becoming very popular at the time, so I looked at some of those videos and decided that I could do that! If you don’t know, Khan Academy “offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empowers learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom.”
So why not just use Khan Academy video lectures? Well, I wanted to tailor my lectures so they were relevant to the objectives of the course, the textbook we used, and the assessments that the students were expected to complete. At the same time I began to investigate how to record my own lectures and I looked into various online screencasting tools. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives defines a screencast as “a screen capture of the user’s computer screen, typically with accompanying audio.” I decided to use Screencast-O-Matic. Screencast-O-Matic offers free screencasts up to 15 minutes in length. You can download your screencast in various file formats and/or upload them to YouTube. I recorded my screencasts while standing at a Smartboard and writing on the Smartboard as if I would do while lecturing in class. I used a wireless microphone to record the audio while I was writing on board.
Okay, so now I have these screencasts, but what am I going to do with them? I decided to upload my sceencasts to YouTube for a few reasons. First, I thought it would be cool to have my own YouTube page. Second, I didn’t want to use excessive storage space in my Blackboard site. I knew that I could just place the link to my videos in Blackboard without using storage space. Finally, I don’t know if you know this, but Delaware Tech has an institutional account with Google, and with that comes a Delaware Tech YouTube account. So, I decided to use this account rather than my personal YouTube account. I organize the videos into playlists according to chapter and direct students to the playlists. If you’d care to take a look, you can click here to see my YouTube account.
Well, that took care of presenting the information to my students. Now onto the task of fostering communication among the students in an online learning environment. Blackboard has a Discussion Board tool that, when used properly, can be very effective at creating collaborative learning environments for the online student. But you know me, I wanted to explore! I looked into Google+, which is the social network platform for Google, as a way to bring classmates together. Google+ is not as popular as Facebook or other social media platforms, but it is included in the Delaware Tech Google account, so students already have access to it within their Delaware Tech profile. Students are required to sign into Delaware Tech’s Central Authentication Service when signing into Google+, and activity in this community can be restricted to Delaware Tech users.
Within Google+ is an application called Google Community. If want to know more about Google Community, check out the video below:
I created a Google Community for my class and organized it by chapter. I require the students (as part of their grade) to create two original posts per chapter. I provide the students with a rubric for the posts so they know how they will be graded, and I have strict deadlines for the posts. This way, the students know that I expect them to stick with the course schedule and not wait until the night before a test to look at the course material.
Students post questions about homework, comment on how they could apply the course material in their lives, and reply to questions posed by their classmates. I have seen students upload photos of their work and ask questions about it, and in response other students upload photos with the solution. The possibilities are endless. But, as the instructor, it is important that I am also highly active in the community as well, so I reply to students often and also create my own posts with questions related to the course objectives. It has been a rich and lively experience interacting with the students.
It’s a lot of work, but it has paid off. Students have identified the video lectures as having the most impact on their understanding in the course. The Google Community has really helped me see who is engaged with the course and who is not. All instructors who teach a Web Enhanced, Hybrid, or Online course must make an effort to be as engaging as possible with their students in an online learning environment. This process has worked well for me, but it is not the only one out there. The key is to make your course engaging, provide multiple modes of assessment, provide timely feedback, and provide multiple methods of communication, both synchronous and asynchronous.
If you have any questions I would love to help you explore the possibilities. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (302) 434-5546.