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ONLINE COURSES ALLOW STUDENTS TO "ATTEND" CLASS FROM THEIR HOME OR OFFICE

Waking up on Saturday morning got easier for five students in William Hart's "International Media Systems" class this semester.

Instead of getting up early and driving to campus or a TELETECHNET site, they took the Communication 448/548 course via video streaming, sitting in front of their home computer. It was one of 22 such online courses, representing six degree programs, that Old Dominion introduced at the start of the spring 2000 semester.

An extension of TELETECHNET, whereby students drive to satellite sites to attend a live lecture broadcast on a television screen, video streaming offers even more convenience to those away from the main campus, allowing them to take classes from the comfort of their home or at work.

For all Hart knew, five of his "International Media Systems" students could well have been listening to his lectures still clad in pajamas with a hot cup of coffee nearby and a bagel warming in the toaster oven.

Of the 40 students in Hart's class, five were physically in his classroom on the Norfolk campus, 30 were located at TELETECHNET sites throughout the state and the remaining five were seated in front of their home computers, including three who live in Northern Virginia.

Video-streamed courses are live and synchronous, just like the courses offered via TELETECHNET, meaning that students are able to see and hear their professor, as well as the entire class. From their home or office, students can participate in class by typing questions on their computer keyboard, which are then read aloud by the instructor for the benefit of all of his students, whether they are in a classroom on the main campus, at TELETECHNET sites throughout Virginia and other states, or at their own homes or offices.

Students also have the option of engaging in an interactive, collaborative discussion using a chat application while the class is in session. While Hart, an assistant professor of communication, believes it takes a special motivation on the part of a student to take a course online, he says the new Internet technology has not forced him to change the way he normally teaches, which includes using video clips and Powerpoint presentations to supplement his lectures.

"Every student should have a mediated classroom. Technology can add a lot more to the classroom experience," Hart said.

Theresa Flaherty, assistant professor of marketing, also taught her first online, video-streamed course this semester. Her Marketing 410 class, "Consumer Behavior," had one student taking it from home and one from work, in addition to those who took it on campus and at TELETECHNET sites.

Flaherty, however, said she found that her visual aids didn't work as well on the computer screen, and had to create new ones. But she's not complaining. In fact, she'll be teaching Marketing 311, "Marketing Principles and Problems," via video streaming this summer.

Students who take a video-streamed course don't have to "attend" their class in real time. All of the lectures are stored on the professor's home page for easy access at a later time, which also benefits traditional students as well as those at TELETECHNET sites.

The 22 courses Old Dominion introduced this semester represent a commitment by the university to offer complete degree programs online, said Margaret Byrne, director of the university's Center for Learning Technologies.

"We are doing this programmatically," she added. "Other schools have done pilot projects or offer only individual or noncredit courses."

Byrne also explained that at many universities, distance learning faculty are a different cadre from the core faculty on campus. Old Dominion's distance learning program distinguishes itself by using core faculty to teach courses simultaneously to students on and off campus, thereby ensuring that everyone gets the same quality of instructor, she noted.

"Our faculty are amazingly willing to experiment with technology as long as it is better for the students," Byrne said. "Nowhere else have I worked where the faculty were better proponents for the students."

While Hart has embraced the new technology, he admits there were some drawbacks to not being able to see all of his students. In a traditional classroom setting, instructors can gauge facial expressions to see if the students understand the material, he said. Because that was not an option for him with those students taking his courses via video streaming or TELETECHNET, Hart required that they participate in classroom discussion at least five times throughout the semester.

He also encouraged them to communicate with him by e-mail or give him a call if they had a particular concern or need to talk one-on-one to better understand a concept that was discussed in class.

This article was posted on: April 27, 2000

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