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On-Demand Lectures Create an Effective Distributed Education Experience

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Tablet PCs Help Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Focus More Time on Students' Needs and Less Time on 'Chalking and Talking'

I began teaching senior-level structural engineering courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program two years ago. The program is a unique partnership of four universities - Georgia Tech, Savannah State University, Armstrong Atlantic State University and Georgia Southern University - with classes taught live at one of the partner universities. Currently, students in remote classrooms at the other universities receive the live class through various room-to-room audio and video network setups; thus, most classes are of the distributed education (DE) type.

When I began teaching, I tried to make sure that students would receive the best possible educational experience in my classes by trying various standard DE teaching techniques. I noticed the typical student profile and expectations had changed over the years, with today's students demanding a great deal of quality and convenience in their educational offerings. Naturally, the institution will benefit if its students, who are located in and around Atlanta, can get a Georgia Tech degree without always having to travel to the Atlanta campus. However, I felt that the standard DE techniques were not fully reaching all of the students. This is especially true with the methods currently available, because they lacked a way to efficiently record live teaching sessions and make them available for on-demand access.

I quickly found the standard production-based methods for creating and delivering engaging e-learning content were not sufficient, and surmised there must be a better way to do it. I needed something that would not overburden me or my support staff; would not consume tremendous monetary resources; could adapt to my personal teaching style; and could provide anytime, anywhere convenience for the instructor as well as a valid learning experience for the student.

I spent the better part of six months doing intense research into the tools and software for developing DE courses with one of my graduate students. We evaluated partial solutions such as electronic whiteboards, desktop authoring and video-editing software, but nothing provided a complete, integrated solution that would meet our needs. We even looked at experimental open source software, but it could not deliver the quality and ease of use that we required.

Creating Lecture 'Shells'

In our research, we discovered the Tegrity WebLearner solution (www.tegrity.com) for on-demand and live e-learning, which seemed to provide everything that was needed to achieve our goals. We purchased the Tegrity solution using a major portion of my start-up funds. This solution offered a unique approach that combined do-it-yourself e-learning software with a tablet PC, which enabled me to create effective Web lectures that went far beyond typical slide-show presentations with "talking head" video or audio. The key difference was in its ability to interact with my content - writing and drawing in multiple colors, pointing and highlighting on diagrams - all while explaining concepts at my natural speed. The resulting video modules were actually more powerful than what I could have taught with a blackboard in a traditional classroom.

Content can be created anywhere with the portable, pen-based Toshiba Portégé 3500 tablet PC (www.tabletpc.toshiba.com) and Tegrity, because we have a floating license for the Tegrity software that I can use at work or check out for use at home. I create freehand text, sketches and/or calculations using the tablet; then, simply paste them into Microsoft PowerPoint to make lecture "shells." There's even a document camera that can be used to import images into Tegrity from books or freehand-drawn graphs on grid paper, which I can annotate later as I am recording the lectures. I have found that the tablet PC shortens my preparation time, as I no longer have to design elaborate slides or graphics in PowerPoint; now, they can be done quickly in freehand on the tablet. There is also no need for administrative support or assistance in preparing these PowerPoint shells for my lectures. Thus, lectures can be recorded and uploaded anyplace I have Internet access - even wirelessly.

Creating these video modules and making them available online for repeated viewing has helped transform the way I teach in the classroom. The lectures are recorded in advance and are required viewing before students come to class. After we have spent self-paced time understanding the key concepts in class, I spend time offering personal assistance to those who need it most. With the Tegrity modules available online, I no longer have to invest the entire class time lecturing to the whole group during each class period. Now, class time is used more effectively for discussions, working directly with students, solving homework problems and discussing real-world, practical applications of the content from the streamed video lectures that are designated for the scheduled class.

Course Management Software

Another aspect of my approach to DE is the use of course management software. The logistics of collecting and distributing homework with students in three different cities can be quite a task, so using course management software allows me - without any administrative staff assistance - to post and access all course materials, information, tests and homework in a single place on the Web. I create units in the course management software for Tegrity lectures, online quizzes, homework and homework solutions, schedules, document sharing, drop boxes, announcements, and threaded discussions.

Typically, a Tegrity lecture is recorded and then linked to a unit of the course management software. The student, using a browser with Microsoft Windows Media, clicks on the established link to view the lecture from the streaming server without any special software plug-ins required. Homework and quizzes are posted in the same manner, but with a drop box created for each assignment. In addition, dates are established for access to the box.

Students send an electronic file (PDF) of their assignment to the drop box where I mark and grade it on the tablet PC screen. The marked and graded file is then saved, and an electronic copy is placed in the student's drop box where he or she can electronically access it and print a copy. The ability to write directly on the file using the tablet PC saves me the time and hassle of having to print the assignment, grade it, scan it, save the scanned copy and then e-mail it back to the student.

Expanding the Teaching Horizon

The students who were taught using some or all of these approaches have given very favorable responses to my class. I have taught steel design three times - twice by conventional methods and once this last semester using Tegrity, the tablet PC and course management software. My last class covered more material than the previous two, and students performed better overall. Their performance this last semester has convinced me of the merits of my approach.

To gather student reactions to the problem-based class, an assessment form was devised. The following are some of the results and comments from the final student survey:

  • Five out of six students said that the online lectures' anytime availability was somewhat more or much more convenient than a scheduled lecture. The same number of students also agreed that the Tegrity lectures helped them be better prepared for class.
  • Half of the students agreed that using Tegrity lectures to prepare for class allowed time with the teacher to be used more effectively.
  • As far as the course management software g'es, on a scale of 1(not at all useful) to 5 (very useful), the drop box received an average rating of 4.83. The availability of the lectures' PowerPoint files for download also received a high rating of 4.5.
  • All of the students said that the amount and quality of interaction with other students increased. The amount of time the students spent preparing for class increased as well.

This is only the beginning of DE using this methodology. I am currently planning new courses that will take advantage of Tegrity's ability to deliver lectures live via the Internet. Students will log on to the lectures as they are being given and ask questions that will be heard by those using voice-over IP and chat functions. These live lectures will be automatically recorded and stored on the server for on-demand access by remote students located anywhere with an Internet connection. I also plan to deliver Tegrity live lectures to classrooms and place the automatic recordings in the course management software for the students to view again if they wish, which requires no additional work.

In conclusion, by using Tegrity and the tablet PC, I have been given the tools to develop on-demand lectures quickly and easily. This ability allows me to focus on the needs of individual students in class, rather than spending all my class time "chalking and talking." My experience to date indicates that we can do a better job educating and reaching our students with this methodology. It can only get better as new technical innovations become available and as more teachers are willing to expand the horizon of teaching using these innovations.

Click here to view a sample of a Tegrity-powered lecture created by Dr. Lindsey.


Preparing a Tegrity Lecture With a Tablet PC

To demonstrate how easy it is to create a Tegrity recording with a tablet PC, the following is how a typical lecture is prepared, recorded and posted onto the course management Web page. Initially, I determine the material to be covered in the lecture. Each lecture is designed not to exceed about 45 minutes, which seems to be about the longest effective attention span for a streamed lecture. Then, using the tablet's software, I handwrite basic information to be put on each PowerPoint shell background on the pressure-sensitive tablet screen. Again, using software on the tablet, the information is placed in PowerPoint where the basic lecture is named and saved.

I then set up my microphone and Web cam on a small tripod. I start the Tegrity software right from PowerPoint and begin recording the lecture. Using the navigation panel, I advance the PowerPoint shells one by one as I lecture, annotating them as the lecture is being recorded. The annotations are recorded in real time as I write on the tablet PC screen - dynamically appearing to the viewer just as they would on a chalkboard. When viewing, students see and hear me along with the annotations as I make them, just as they would in a live class. With another click at the end, the completed session is saved and uploaded to the Tegrity server. The recording also can be edited using the Tegrity editor if desired.

Finally, I open the course management software and insert a link to the Tegrity recording in the correct unit. The entire process, including the recording of the lecture, takes about an hour and a half for each 45 minute lecture. Thus, first-time lecture preparation to actual lecture time is about a 1-1 ratio. However, once they are recorded, the lectures can be reused in subsequent classes or stored as reference materials.The best part, of course, is that I now have 100% of my lectures ready for the next time I teach this class.

- S. Lindsey

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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