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March 15, 2001 Value-added learning through high tech







by Jane Shulman

Concordia is making the most of advancements in academic technology by integrating the Internet in courses and offering professors interactive tools that will help them reach more students.

By the end of next year, Andrew McAusland, Director of Academic Technology in the Faculty of Arts and Science and new Executive Director of IITS, says that 40 to 45 per cent of courses in the Faculty will have an online presence.

Some will have the course syllabus posted, opening up the possibility for professors to add other material in future. Others will have additional course material, links and resources, and several (35-40) course Web sites will have video feeds available for students to view lectures online.

“The idea is to have a presence and then build on it,” McAusland explained. Professors will have access to the Web regardless of the computer platform they use to paste and upload information to the Web sites for students to use. Professors can add to or change the information whenever they like.

McAusland explained that students now expect more from their courses, and Concordia’s answer is to create an “added-value marketplace,” offering students video lectures or extra material to enhance their learning.

Making class time more productive

This kind of value-added course is different from distance learning, which has no class time, and relies solely on video and online resources. The value-added philosophy centres on making class time more productive for students and making it easier for them to find information beyond the course itself.

“In the added-value market, students pay attention, take fewer notes and are perhaps more engaged in the lecture because they know they can have another crack at it,” McAusland observed.When students are better acquainted with the course material, “it creates a context for more questions the following week, and it’s in fact more interactive in a live sense.”

Video lectures enhance learning

There are nearly 900 hours of video online at this point, mostly from history, political science, pyschology and statistics courses. Academic Technology is filming 10 courses this term, and lectures are posted within 12 hours of being recorded.

The lectures are indexed, so that students can find specific parts of lectures that they would like to hear, or they can listen to lectures from beginning to end.

McAusland said that this technology even benefits people who don’t have their own computers. There are 65 terminals for students to use at Loyola, as well as an Arts and Science Learning Centre at SGW. When the Learning Centre opens in May 2001, both labs will have extended hours for students with full schedules.

Reeta Tremblay, chair of Political Science, said that students in her department are responding well to the integration of the Internet in several of the department’s courses.

She said that Political Science, a department with an open-door policy and 1,100 students of different backgrounds, is an ideal place to use this technology.

“Our objective is to bring students up to speed, and give them an opportunity to learn at a slower pace if they want to,” Tremblay said.

Her department offers both Web-assisted and distance learning courses. The Web-assisted courses are divided in half. Each week, there is a videotaped lecture that students watch online, and a conference class, where students meet to discuss the readings. Distance learning classes are held entirely online, except for exams, which are written at the university.

Tremblay said that students tend to perform better and earn higher grades in Web-assisted classes than in traditional classroom-based courses, probably because they are able to move at their own pace and access the material whenever they need to. She said students’ readings are at more advanced levels, and their discussions on online message boards, another component of the courses, tend to be more sophisticated.

While some professors might be concerned that being filmed will cramp their style, McAusland said it’s important that professors teach as they would normally, and try to forget that the camera is there.

“The professor does nothing different. We just videotape the lectures and let them use their expertise,” McAusland said.

“Too often professors sacrifice their expertise by changing their pedagogical approach to suit a particular technology. They can think about developing the site afterwards, but the video serves as the core — it represents the teaching itself.”