Rutgers–Camden Hosts Inaugural eLearning Conference

Seminar showcases faculty’s utilization of online- and hybrid-teaching formats

Participants in the inaugural eLearning conference at Rutgers–Camden received a first-hand, in-depth look into current and evolving innovations in teaching.

The three-day conference, highlighted by a face-to-face, interactive seminar on April 29, was a showcase of the extraordinary contributions that Rutgers–Camden faculty are making to provide instruction using online- and hybrid-delivery formats.

“The modes for delivering learning experiences are changing continuously,” says Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Wendell E. Pritchett. “Many members of our faculty are employing best practices in this area. The conference is an opportunity for us to share our experiences and ideas as we work together to serve our students.”

Practicing what it preaches, the conference was presented in a hybrid format, featuring online sessions held before and after the face-to-face seminar. More than 70 educators, equipped with an array of mobile devices, participated in the signature event, which featured presentations, demonstrations, and technology breakout sessions. Karen Swan, the James J. Stukel Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Illinois–Springfield, delivered the keynote address on the topic of improving student learning in online education.

Throughout the seminar, guests discovered that eLearning is truly a hands-on experience, as they tested out applications, participated in real-time surveys, and engaged in interactive chat rooms. The presentations were also streamed live for participants off campus as well as recorded for later viewing.

Among the faculty members to present, Dan Hart, a distinguished professor of psychology and childhood studies and director of the Institute for Effective Education at Rutgers–Camden, and Richard Harris, a professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, shared their experiences and lessons learned teaching hybrid courses.

According to Hart, his interest in teaching a hybrid “Introduction to Psychology” course was due in part to research linking frequent testing on memory and comprehension. He also wanted to keep students engaged and to limit distractions posed by their use of personal devices, both increasing challenges for educators in a traditional classroom setting. However, simply trying to avoid these distractions wasn’t an option, says Hart. “That feels so retrograde, and not in the direction of where we want to go,” he says.

Hart explains that his class met during the first two weeks of the semester, but since then, most of the activity has occurred online. He maintains that a fundamental principal of a hybrid course is “moving away from telling students facts” to a knowledge transfer occurring primarily outside the classroom. He uses the application Sakai to post easily accessible readings, and Camtasia to record, edit, and share short lectures – 5 to 15 minutes in length – which students can watch in advance of classes.

According to the distinguished professor, he also relies on the principal of frequent, low-stakes assessments with feedback. To that end, he posts weekly exams online and give students an immediate evaluation. “This enables the students to be engaged in a way that often doesn’t happen in the traditional lecture classroom,” he says, noting that, by “low stakes,” he means that students are expected to earn perfect scores. “The idea is not to assess how much knowledge the students have, but instead to get them thinking actively about the material and talking with one another.”

Hart then uses class time for knowledge elaboration, exploration, peer teaching, and instructor feedback. During these periods, he utilizes the application Poll Everywhere, which enables his students to participate in real-time surveys via their mobile devices. He also employs the tool Adobe Connect to lead synchronous, online discussions about the research material and its applications for everyday life.

“I think that we’ve had much better discussions than those taking place in the lecture hall,” says Hart, noting that students seem less self-conscious and more willing to participate.

In addition, Hart encourages his students to use the application Pecha Kucha, a style format that enables presenters to display 20 images for 20 seconds apiece.  He says that students have benefited from organizing their presentations in this highly-structured format, which employs an appropriate use of images. Furthermore, he uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking software to dictate and archive lectures.

Hart does, however, warn of several, unforeseen consequences of teaching hybrid courses. For instance, he notes that there is considerably more e-mail and material to grade. In addition, contact with students via e-mail can lend itself to brusque, inarticulate exchanges.

Via a PowerPoint presentation and recorded interview, Harris acknowledged that a combination of curiosity, skepticism, and his responsibilities as department chair led to his decision to teach a hybrid course. He scheduled a large course – held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – to meet two days a week, and replaced Friday class meetings with computer-graded reading quizzes and online, small-group discussions.

According to Harris, online quizzes were meticulous to set up and students were initially hesitant to take them. However, like Hart, he believes that his students benefited considerably from quick feedback and, overall, were better prepared for class. Meanwhile, the online discussions were easy to set up, but more time-consuming to read and respond to.

In terms of students’ participation, Harris acknowledges experiencing what he calls “a revelation.” While he initially believed that students would be more reticent to share their insights and opinions online, they were actually more likely to participate. Some students who previously had made minimal or no contributions during class were suddenly writing multiple paragraphs on the subject matter. The experience also enabled him to feel more comfortable assigning class-participation grades. “You get to see true class participation in a much more thoughtful way,” he says.

Other Rutgers–Camden faculty and staff members presenting at the conference, and their respective lectures, are as follows:

  • Christie DeCarolis, an instructional design and technical specialist in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Success, provided an overview of PowerPoint versus the cloud-based presentation software Prezi.
  • Emily Corse, director of the Office of Instructional Design and Technology (IDT), presented a lecture on copyright issues in online and hybrid courses.
  • Cindy Ayres, an associate professor of nursing; Janice Beitz, a professor of nursing and director of the wound, ostomy, and continence nursing certificate program; and Kevin Emmons, a clinical assistant professor of nursing, spoke on transitioning from traditional to hybrid courses.
  • Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, a professor of marketing; Maureen Donaghy, an assistant professor of political science, and Charlene Mires, an associate professor of history, presented a lecture on engaging students online in the traditional course.
  • Carol Singley, a professor of English; Bob Atkins, an associate professor and director of the School Nurse Certification Program, and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Nursing, and Lauren Grodstein, an associate professor of English, spoke on the faculty perspective of moving courses fully online.
  • Stuart Charmé, a professor of religion and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and Greg Salyer, an instructor in the graduate liberal studies program, presented a lecture on Rutgers–Camden’s first fully online program, the master of arts in liberal studies program, which is facilitated by the Pearson eCollege platform.

The conference was coordinated by Corse and Bill FitzGerald, an associate professor of English and director of the Teaching Matters and Assessment Center (TMAC), with assistance from IDT and TMAC, and a faculty advisory committee comprised of Hart, Beitz, Charmé, Kaufman-Scarborough, and Tyler Hoffman, a professor and chair of the Department of English.

For more information on the conference or eLearning tools used to teach online or hybrid courses, contact Corse at 856-225-6474 or corse@rutgers.edu.
 

Tom McLaughlin
Rutgers University–Camden
Editorial/Media Specialist
(856) 225-6545
thomas.mclaughlin@camden.rutgers.edu

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