The landscape of teaching and learning in higher education continues to transform as online technologies become increasingly robust and easier to use. The impact of mobile devices, social networks and online applications has brought a new set of expectations to online learning that cannot be denied. Students expect information to be instantaneous, navigation to be simple and the experience to be social.
This session will emphasize the importance of compelling synchronous moments as a crucial component of online pedagogy. Leveraging web conferencing tools, group video chats, and mobile technology, faculty are now equipped with a suite of options for staying connected to the students in the online classroom. Real-time interaction via online technologies creates a stronger, more meaningful bond between students and faculty, while simultaneously deepening the potential for knowledge sharing.
The School of Continuing Education at Columbia University offers a variety of online courses to attract a broader demographic of working professionals, move beyond geographical limitations and reduce costs. The schools rigorous and innovate programs integrate knowledge across disciplinary boundaries, combine theory with practice, leverage the expertise of our students and faculty, and connect global constituencies. Online courses are a pivotal part of The School of Continuing Education's mission to transform knowledge and understanding in service of the greater good.
One of the main goals of our online learning team is to create a highly interactive, social, and rigorous online learning experience. Our team has a 16 week development cycle for each new online course in production. The framing period of each new course focuses on a few key questions relating to the "live strategy":
1. What is the role of the live moment in the learning path for students?
2. What is the visual, interactive experience and instructional aim of the live moment?
3. What will students do or learn in the live moment?
4. How does the live integrate with other moments of the course: content, social, media strategy
Through the design process of our online courses we create opportunities for knowledge networking and student-to-student interaction. The live strategy dictates how, when and where students will have potential for collaboration, connection and community. This design process is shaped by several core values relating to online classes. We strive to have compelling and rigorous content, create a dynamic visual experience, create a space which is interactive/social by design, integrate social media, and enact evidence-based practice.
During the execution of a course the Webinar Specialist and Instructional Designer on our team will meet with instructors for weekly "preflight" meetings to discuss the design and execution of their live sessions. The instructor creates storyboards and outlines for the session. The Webinar Specialist guides the instructor in best-practices for the virtual space and together they develop a live strategy that is best suited and unique to each live session. The goal of the preflight meetings is to generate a strategy to make each live session engaging, visually dynamic, and highly interactive.
One of the biggest challenges for online webinars is to create a real experience in that virtual space. Too many webinars are boring, passive and neglect their audience. From our research and experience we have created some guidelines for making sure that the live webinar session experience is positive and we like to share it with our new faculty:
1. Compelling content and dynamic visuals
2. Moments of interaction every 5 minutes (polling questions, status changes, breakout rooms, etc.)
3. Initiation of reflective dialogue in the chat
4. Quality technical support
5. Creative use of available tools
Our tool set for live virtual moments currently includes Adobe Connect and Google Hangouts. Adobe Connect is a robust, powerful webinar tool that is ideal for education and collaboration. A Google hangout is a beta group video chat and collaboration tool on the Google+ social network. We use Adobe Connect for all of our weekly live class sessions with a webinar support and dedicated teaching assistant facilitators to aid the faculty in the delivery of their session. We currently use Google Hangouts for stand-alone smaller group study circles that can be initiated by the instructor or students. We also have a partnership with Pearson to help in the development of a powerful Learning Management System that will be social by design (based off of the free LMS that they recently released called OpenClass).
We see a great deal of potential in live strategies for teaching online and have received positive feedback from students and faculty alike. One student from our Business Analytics course has said: "As a student you can contribute to the course dialogue much more than you can in a face to face class. You learn a lot more during class because there is a whole separate world happening in the chat that is generally adding to the learning experience, although sometimes it is just fun!" As technologies change and as our course offerings expand we are always looking for ways to improve. Using tools like Adobe Connect or more social Learning Management Systems we can enhance the student learning experience. The combination of these technologies helps us to build dynamic courses that set a new standard for online learning in Higher Education.