May 2, 2006
By Dru Riley Evarts
Getting undergraduates excited about learning is one of the major goals of Vision OHIO. In the age of video games and instant messaging, employment of electronic technology to advance educational excitement can be very rewarding, both for student and teacher.
Tom Carpenter, Charles J. Ping professor of humanities and professor of classics, has arrived at what seems to be a very successful use of technology to engage students in his CLAS 234 course, Classic Mythology. With the help of the Center for Innovations in Technology for Learning (CITL), Carpenter has changed his course dramatically over the last two years and has received high praise from students for it.
What was the major element of this change?
The hybrid model!
No, this isn't the hybrid model car that gets better mileage.
But Carpenter does get better mileage out of his students. They are more willing to spend time on the course, engage in self-testing, and generally involve themselves in active learning as opposed to expecting the professor to just "pour it in" somehow.
A hybrid course is one in which part of the learning activities are moved online, and time traditionally spent in the classroom is reduced, but not eliminated.
The goal of a hybrid course is to join the best features of in-class teaching with the best features of online to improve learning while controlling costs. In hybrid models, instructors use computer-based technologies to redesign some lecture or lab content into new online learning activities, such as case studies, tutorials, self-testing exercises, simulations and online group collaborations.
Carpenter first got the idea of doing something besides straight lecture for his Classic Mythology class because of his frustration over the feeling that mythology courses are often treated as "cash cows," to build up weighted student credit hours for a department.
"Mythology is popular, so no matter how many seats are available in a myth course, they will be filled," he said. He pointed out that the traditional approach at many universities is to lecture to large groups of students with little or no opportunity for discussion.
"I wanted to find a way in which large numbers of students could be taught without losing the important opportunity to discuss the material with the instructor and one another," he said. "To my mind, there are two parts to a myth course, the transmission and the synthesis. A large lecture course focuses on the transmission and hopes for synthesis. Lecture is one of the least effective ways to transmit information, and the opportunity for discussion is necessary for synthesis."
Carpenter worked with Mike Roy, CITL's assistant director and Web and multimedia developer, to determine how to use learning modules in pedagogically sound learning strategies. With Roy's instructional design experience and Carpenter's knowledge of the class, as well as the help of Roy's graduate assistants, Tre Whitlow and Jody Sugrue, they were able to develop and test components of the redesigned course.
In the case of CLAS 234, the redesign included four main components: weekly reading assignments, interactive multimedia learning modules (IMLMs), weekly online quizzes over the readings and modules, and class discussion.
This class of 60 had one 100-minute lecture a week rather than the customary two, and they spent their other 100 minutes each week working on IMLMs and doing quizzes delivered by Blackboard. This enabled Carpenter to split his class so that he had two lecture sections with only 30 in each, thereby leading to better discussion.
The IMLMs developed by Carpenter and the CITL staff include narration accompanied by diagrams and illustrations from ancient art. At several points during the each module, the narration pauses and students are requested to write responses to questions. After having viewed a module as many times as they want, students are asked to take an online quiz based on the material in the module.
Students showed their enthusiasm for the hybrid system of learning in focus groups at the ends of both the 2005 and 2006 winter quarters. Some comments from the most recent of these focus groups were:
"Learning modules make the sources clear."
"I'm a visual learner -- so the modules further elaborate the lecture."
"It's much more interesting. . . . If you just go in and listen to him [Carpenter] talk, that'd be completely different . . . if you had to listen to him talk for two whole hours. This way you're informed and learn a lot better.
"Hard to absorb the discussion and get your questions ready while still in the class; the modules give you time on your own."
"It's good to participate in discussion because you get others' opinions and you can see ways your have missed something."
"You can prepare before you go to class."
"His [Carpenter's] questions refer to the online module, so you can write them down."
"Even though we don't meet as long as a normal class would, we're more productive in the hour we're in class. You're more prepared to ask questions. If you don't get something, you can go to the module and find the answer."
"Sometimes in a large lecture hall course, you may not be listening or taking notes very well and get distracted. But with the modules you can deal with them when you're ready and fresh and get the information."
"It helps that the images are moving. That's great transmission. They're well put together."
"You have time to digest information."
"Makes us enjoy the class more because we have the modules. We have the information that makes it interesting and can go and talk about it and understand it."
"It's much better than watching a PowerPoint presentation, especially if they [the PowerPoint presentations] can be printed out. You sit in class and think, "Why am I here?" Modules are so much better. Dr. C. doesn't read us stuff. If other classes would do this, they would be so much more interesting. You'd retain so much more info."
"Keeps you from scrambling to write things down in class. You can actually listen and think about stuff."
Was every student ecstatic about the IMLMs? Well, no, but complaints were very few and quite mild. Not one student suggested he or she preferred the straight-lecture method.
Interactive multimedia learning modules can be adapted to many different kinds of classes. Preparing the modules does take time, but Carpenter says it is time well spent to make future classes more interesting to the students and more productive in learning outcomes.
Anyone wishing to learn how to do this and get help in planning and executing such a change in his or her courses may contact the CITL director, Marjorie DeWert at (740) 597-2703 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dru Riley Evarts was recently appointed University Editor.