eLearning in action

From left, Karen Slovak, associate professor of social work; Dev Poling, assistant professor of psychology; and Sheida Shirvani, professor of communication studies, discuss online assignments. The three are part of Zanesville’s Online Learning Community.

Photographer: Christine Shaw

eLearning in action

Ohio University Zanesville students, Kylie Feldner, left, and Megan Ault, right, work on their online assignments.

Photographer: Christine Shaw

eLearning in action with Debra Smith

Even when teaching online and blended courses, Debra Smith, associate professor of health technology at the Ohio University Lancaster campus, schedules open times when students may stop by for face-to-face discussions of course topics.

Photographer: Jennifer LaRue

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eLearning at OHIO: The changing nature of education

Across OHIO's six campuses, blended courses employ technology to meet the needs of all learners

This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University faculty are living out the University’s vision in their day-to-day lives.

Across Ohio University’s main and regional campuses, internet connectivity is changing the nature of education.

Daily use of technology, for everything from banking to communicating with family, drives expectations for interactive solutions in educational delivery. Interactions between students, faculty and college administration are also affected by communication trends and advancements.

Nationwide, more than 25 percent of higher education students take at least one online course. But nearly all students are gaining experience with blogs, video and wikis, just to name a few, as educators embrace technology in even the most traditional of classrooms.

Mixing face-to-face interaction with web applications makes students more involved, accountable and in sync with the real world, said Debra Smith, associate professor of health technology at the Ohio University Lancaster campus. This type of blended format also enables faculty to meet the needs of all learners, regardless of age and circumstance, and take seriously the responsibility of education, she added.

How are teachers using eLearning?

Many OHIO courses now employ the course and content management system Blackboard 9. Through it, students and teachers hold discussions, post messages, submit assignments, and access literature.

"The new features in Blackboard such as blogs, wikis and podcasts work well to engage students in meaningful interaction," said Jan Schmittauer, associate professor of English at the Chillicothe campus. "Our world today is networked and open-source content. Web 2.0 tools, applications and innovations will only expand exponentially in the future."

Schmittauer challenged the idea that online learning is less personal and effective than the physical classroom.

"An instructor can be just as present as in the face-to-face classroom with webcam meetings, the virtual chat room for office hours, audio commenting on student work, and the use of Adobe Connect," she said.

Many instructors now employ video conference applications such as Skype and Google video-talk to connect with remote students. This includes David Castle, assistant professor of history and academic division coordinator at the Eastern campus, who uses Skype to have individualized conferences with students.

"We used the conference as an oral exam over one of the assigned readings," he explained. "This not only created individual accountability on the part of the student (there is no way to fake having read the book in such a setting), but created a personal connection between instructor and student."

Not only does eLearning connect teachers to students, it promotes dialogue between students, according to Dev Poling, assistant professor of psychology at Zanesville. Poling frequently uses web discussion groups to make her online classes more interactive. Whereas students who take online courses normally work alone, Poling's students "meet" at set times to discuss academic articles, "a type of interaction that is limited in the classroom."

In the case of Athens campus' sports administration graduate programs, eLearning also serves to integrate on-campus and remote student populations. Throughout the year, eLearning provides opportunities to bring the two groups together, offering on-campus students insights into the professional world and networking opportunities.

As an example, Program Director Heather Lawrence points to a recent virtual interview with the Vice President of the Chicago White Sox – an event attended by both on-campus and remote student populations. In the future, Lawrence said she hopes to extend invitations to Sports Administration alumni as well.

In addition to Blackboard, Athens' sports administration graduate programs use live virtual class sessions, extensive discussion boards, and narrated video PowerPoint lectures, which are formatted for streaming, downloading and syncing to smart phones, according to Lawrence.

Who's enrolling?

eLearning is useful for engaging students and teachers across multiple platforms. By separating learning from mere classroom attendance, many nontraditional and special needs students recognize its advantage.

"For many of our 'new traditional' students, eLearning frees them from the encumbrances of life's frequent challenges not normally encountered by residential college students, enhancing both access and affordability," said Jim McKean, assistant professor and program director of law enforcement technology at Chillicothe.

"Quality eLearning can create a learning environment rich with diversity that transcends the time and spatial limitations of a traditional classroom, deepening the learning experience for both student and instructor. elearning is the educational paradigm of tomorrow," McKean continued.

Online coursework can be completed at the students' convenience, which is especially helpful for students with full-time jobs or students who live across time zones, said Sheida Shirvani, professor of communication studies at Zanesville. Shirvani also praises eLearning's ability to reach shy students who might not otherwise speak up in class.
According to Smith, eLearning technology especially benefits students with disabilities. Smith said she was recently thanked by three students for designing a course that accommodates their special needs.

"One is hearing impaired and can adjust the volume at home to listen comfortably to the lectures; one has ADHD and needs to review the lectures multiple times to get the information due to attention problems; and one has poorer reading skills and loves the lectures as well," she recalled.

Though she has been quick to embrace new methods of transmitting information, Smith is realistic about the use of technological accoutrements.

"It isn't really the videos and the bells and whistles that I use, but I hope it is the design of the course that supports learning that is important," she said.

What are students saying?

Megan Weidig, a specialized studies student at the Zanesville campus, recently took an online class for the first time with Karen Slovak, an associate professor of social work.

"The course opened my eyes not only through required discussion board assignments, but also through interactive videos and assignments ... If I ever had any issues, questions or feedback, Dr. Slovak always replied via email within a timely and appropriate manner. She made my first online course enjoyable and a pleasure to learn from her experiences and teaching format," said Weidig.

Jennifer Seifert, a nontraditional student at the Lancaster campus, found the blended format of face-to-face and online teaching more conducive to her learning style, which centers upon independent research.

"This mirrors more of what one might experience in the workplace. The answers are out there; we discover our own path," Seifert said.

The applied business programs at the Proctorville Center at the Southern campus are a blend of online and face-to-face classes, which are geared toward busy working professionals seeking an associate degree. Angie Adams, an employee of South Point Local School District, took advantage of the blended Executive Series Business Management courses.

"I am so thankful for this program. It has allowed me to obtain an associate degree while working full time, which otherwise I would not have been able to complete," Adams said. "This program is very challenging, but flexible for people who are in the workforce and who are not the typical college age student. Upon completion of my associate degree, I plan on following through with my bachelor's degree."