LSU Expands Distance Learning Program Through Online Learning Solution
Louisiana State University (LSU) and its Ourso College of Business, like many leading universities, had the challenge of providing the highest quality of education to as many students as possible with limited physical space and resources. The implementation of an online learning program is alleviating the need for more classrooms by providing instructors, like myself, with the means to publish lecture material online, as well as giving students an alternative for accessing the information from a lab or residence instead of physically coming to a lecture hall. Students had been accessing online resources through two campuswide learning management systems - CourseInfo by Blackboard and SemesterBook, developed by LSU's division of computing services - which provided a navigational framework for content and communication with instructors.
I was eager to add streaming audio and video to make online offerings more engaging than sitting in a lecture hall, but the experts at LSU told me my desires were problematic and unachievable due to technical problems. Realizing I had no multimedia production experience, limited Internet bandwidth connections and minimal university support staff, there appeared to be no way to employ streaming video to my PowerPoint slides.
Integrating Streaming Media
In spring 2000, Tegrity Inc. was invited to demonstrate their WebLearner platform to the technical systems administrators at LSU. The technical problem was trying to integrate streaming video with the PowerPoint slides so students could see a lecture that referred directly to slides on their computer, with the added challenge that most of the students have 28.8K modems. The Tegrity platform solved this problem in two ways. First, it dramatically reduced the time and effort required to record audio and video in sync with the classroom PowerPoint presentations. Second, it delivered high-quality, indexed modules at connection speeds as low as 28.8K, which is essential for practical, inexpensive viewing by all students.
Frankly, the demonstration im-pressed me because I could use the portable WebLearner Studio by simply rolling it into any free classroom with a standard whiteboard and record my lecture using my PowerPoint slides. And since I had already used the standard Microsoft PowerPoint, the learning curve was minimal. Tegrity software is integrated into Microsoft Office and uses Windows Media as its audio/video delivery format.
LSU was impressed enough to buy the WebLearner system. Immediately after the system arrived, I placed all of my lectures on CourseInfo using streaming video for my courses. To do so, I produced more than 100 online modules in less than half a semester without any production assistance or technical support from the university, except for their assistance in placing the files on a special server. My "recording studio" became any available classroom with a whiteboard, PowerPoint and the Tegrity mobile WebLearner Studio I brought in.
Replacing the Traditional Classroom
With Tegrity and CourseInfo I realized the traditional classroom was no longer needed, but was unsure as to how my students and the university administrators would react to it. I offered my students three options:
1. I could continue lecturing the class as I had always done, and the students could use the recordings optionally for review purposes.
2. I could stop lecturing, and students could rely solely on the Tegrity files.
3. I also gave each student the option of either staying for a live lecture, or leaving after the first 15 minutes and viewing the recording at their leisure.
In order to encourage participation and ownership in the decision to use WebLearner, I used CorseInfo to create a forum where students could share their opinions regarding which use of the Tegrity files they preferred. I discovered the students had a rather heated debate over the use of Tegrity, but within two weeks a consensus emerged on the third option.
As the semester progressed, I told the students they were required to come to scheduled class time, which was three hours once a week. I lectured for about 15 minutes, then excused those students who wished to go and learn the material exclusively via Tegrity. I then lectured the material in the traditional method to the students who remained in the classroom.
An Effective Means of Teaching
At first, a few students left after the first 15 minutes; but by midsemester, every member of the class left. Some had technical challenges getting started, and others were not immediately comfortable with the new approach. But eventually all of the students were very positive about their Tegrity experiences. They thought it was much better than the traditional method of lecturing and discussion.
Basically, the students mastered the material during self-paced study. This approach allowed them to review my lectures as many times as they wished, because they found the Tegrity files available to them for repeated viewing and reviewing at their convenience. Surprisingly, almost every student reviewed my lectures several times, which reinforced my ego and helped make up for the exodus after the first 15 minutes of class. By the end of the semester, I found that the grades for the first semester when we used Tegrity were slightly better than when we took the traditional approach. Clearly, the new approach is an effective means of teaching lessons, reinforcing material that has already been taught, and maximizing the existing physical space and technological resources within a university.
Thomas Lynch, Ph.D.
Professor of Public Administration
Louisiana State University
San Jose, CA
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.