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From: email@example.com (Rick Dove) Date: Fri , 22 May 1998
Olin -There is a lot of new thinking about "multiple intelligences" and the belief that people have a variety of different learning styles. I know that some formal education environments and some corporate continuing education programs are experimenting with different ways to reach different people in a learning activity. Everything I have heard so far makes heavy use of the face-to-face interaction to discern when a different learning style must be accommodated with a different delivery approach. Have any of the ALN programs you are aware of addressed this "custom delivery" concept?
The course that I taught using CourseInfo was an MBA capstone course. I teach this course on campus in a traditional classroom. The class meets once a week, on Tuesday evening, for three hours. There is no distance learning component. It is a traditional seminar, with about twenty students in the class. Students typically organize themselves into about five teams. I do not use a textbook. Instead, the reading consists primarily of journal articles and one or two supplementary books. I make extensive use of Harvard Business School cases, both for discussion and for written assignments.
For each class, all five of the student teams prepare to present the discussion case. Then, in class, I select one team at random to actually present the case, and a second team, also at random, to critique the presentation. There follows a general discussion of the case and the assigned reading material. The mid-term exam is a team take-home case. Also, each student writes a four-part paper, called an Individual Project, during the semester. In this paper, they analyze their current work situation and develop a plan for their company and for themselves.
CourseInfo is a class management set of webpages. It appears to work with any browser, including AOL's, although Netscape communicator and internet explorer 4.0 appeared to be the ones most commonly used by my students. The site consists of a number of different online modules, and I used it in a number of different ways to support the student learning experience. The announcement feature on the homepage was a good place for general information and for an information backup to general email. Of course there's the standard page to set up the syllabus and course description. I noticed practical advantages to being able to communicate with individual students, a group of students, or all of my students at any time, without having to wait for the next class meeting.
I had students upload all of the papers that they submit, and I graded them and sent them back. Because we were not tied to submitting paper, I offered students the option of turning in drafts of their papers early (via CourseInfo) so that I could give them preliminary feedback. For any given assignment, about half of the students took me up on my offer. It definitely improved the quality of their learning experience, judging from the improved quality of the papers. This early feedback also gave them more control over their grades. For me, grading a paper the second time was much faster than grading one from scratch, so I'm not sure that I put in much, if any, extra time doing this for my students.
A related benefit was my ability to
manage the students' workload. For example, this class
met once a week, on Tuesday nights. But because students
were submitting papers by uploading them rather than
turning in hardcopy, I wasn't limited to having Tuesday
night due dates. Students had the ability to submit
papers at any time. In practice, they frequently opted to
have papers due on Sunday evenings or first thing Monday
The discussion board was the most active single feature, so far as I could tell. Because there were twenty students in the class, classroom discussions generally left several people out the shy ones. Initially, I decided to remedy this by using the discussion board as an extension of the classroom discussion. Thus students who were not as extroverted as others were able to participate actively in 'classroom' discussions. To energize the discussion board, I would usually seed it with a few cryptic comments of my own about the next class's reading assignment and what that might have to do with the assigned case. This made the discussion very relevant for the upcoming case presentations. As you can imagine, the discussion board took off. It became the 'hot' spot on CourseInfo. In addition to accomplishing its intended purpose of including shy students in the discussion, it emerged as an ongoing daily dialogue centered around course topics. By the third week of the semester, the quality of the written and oral case presentations shot up, and it stayed higher than I've ever seen it for the next twelve weeks. This, in turn, energized the in-class discussions.
The grading module allowed students to use their password to access their grades at any time. This had a number of advantages over other approaches. First, it kept the students much more informed about where they stood with regard to their grades. This saved me time answering individual questions. Again, it further reduced the amount of paper with which I had to deal. Instead of walking into class carrying thick folders full of student papers and grading materials, I would just bring the night's discussion case nothing more.
Putting this all together, the total impact of using CourseInfo was greater than the sum of its parts. At least for this class, CourseInfo radically changed the nature of the learning experience. Students were used to having a one-night a week class 'meeting,' with maybe one outside team meeting every two weeks to prepare assignments. The addition of CourseInfo metamorphosed this more traditional experience into an ongoing, interactive community of learners literally active on a daily basis.
I personally had more fun teaching this course than I've had in a long time. Comments, thoughts?