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April 25, 2002 An old dog learns new tricks of technology



by Barbara Black

After 30 years of teaching, Accountancy Professor George Lowenfeld can stand in front of a classroom of 50 students and tell “within 10 minutes” who is caught up in the lesson and who has already fallen by the wayside. “I can see it in their eyes.”

Not any more — at least, not in the executive course in investment management he’s teaching to a class split between Toronto and Montreal. Lowenfeld, who is also director of executive programs in the John Molson School of Business, has had to learn some new teaching techniques.

Lowenfeld is one of five faculty members teaching the first class of mid-career executives in this elite course, the flagship offering by the Goodman Institute of Investment Management, which leads to the Master’s of Business Administration (Investment Management option) or Master’s in Investment Management, and is designed for CFA (certified financial analyst) candidates.

Seven students take the course from a teleconferencing room in Toronto’s Eaton Centre office complex, and 16 students from the Arts and Science Learning Centre media lab on the fourth floor of Concordia’s Hall Building.

The two classes “met” by video link weekly, Tuesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but never met in the flesh until last Monday, when the Toronto participants came to Montreal for an intensive week of wind-up activities.

“It’s a fascinating little exercise,” Lowenfeld admitted. For starters, the teacher can’t look into the students’ eyes, because he can’t see them. He (or she) sometimes can’t tell when he is being seen by the students, either, since the camera may be showing the teacher or the smart board or both at any one time. That means the teacher has to stay put, not roam at will around the classroom.

Despite not seeing members of his audience, Lowenfeld had to develop new ways of deciding when to stop talking and start trying to elicit questions. Both teacher and students had to get used to using the microphone, because their voices had to be clearly heard in the other city.

A conventional Powerpoint presentation makes their heads spin, Lowenfeld said, because they are watching the presenter as well as his smart board on a TV monitor.
“You have to bring up the whole page, the lettering has to be bigger, and you have to be aware of the speed at which elements come up on the screen. We’re also using new technology to set and mark exams.”

Another requirement is that the teaching material has to be prepared well in advance — no winging it as the course progresses.

Although he calls himself “a big idiot” for volunteering for such an experiment at this stage of his career, Lowenfeld is proud of the JMSB’s achievement in e-learning, and feels “we can do even better.” The next stage is to enrich the live segments with prepared courseware, much in the manner of the successful Global Aviation MBA.

Education Professor Dennis Dicks, who is also an e-learning consultant for the business school, put together a team, including a video-training consultant, who guided Lowenfeld, his colleagues and the students through this exercise.

Dicks said, “Experience again demonstrates that using teaching technologies to change classroom dynamics involves a lot of preparation, ideally with skilled collaborators. Faculty in the innovative Investment Management program responded responded admirably to this challenge.”