A Pennsylvania State journalism professor's experience illustrates how a classroom lecture course can be transformed into an effective online course 'on-the-fly'.
How this practice supports access:
During Spring 2003, Pennsylvania State University Journalism Professor R. Thomas Berner had a problem: three weeks into the semester, he was asked to take over two sections of a lecture course (one section with 30 students, the other with 60 students) for an ill colleague. Professor Berner had taught the course only as a small-class (< 25 students), and skills-based graduate seminar. Therefore, it was not possible for him to instantly convert the course materials to an undergraduate twice-a-week lecture course.
His solution: Turn the lecture courses into one "virtual course" of 90 students. Access to computers was not an issue because of Penn State's computer access policies. Using his past experience in designing and teaching several distance education courses, Berner was able to convert the course within 48 hours by relying heavily on assigned readings and bulletin board discussions. PSU's course management system's tracking features enabled him to create a very workable grading system. However, there was not enough time to create credible online examinations. Students met twice in-person during the remainder of the semester - once for an explanation of how the remainder of the course would run, the other for a slide show.
Anecdotal evidence and end-of-course student evaluation comments indicated outstanding student participation, particularly from many students who would normally be silent in classrooms. Berner noted that it was actually easier to get discussions going online than it was during the face-to-face slide show session.
Evaluation questions intended to measure students' feelings about participation scored 5.9 or higher on a 7-point scale.
Survey results also indicated that students not only value the increased flexibility the course provided, but in many cases also value how much more they were able to learn from the course and/or from each other. As Berner notes, one student "even admitted to relying on specific classmates": "There were some students, however, whose names I began to recognize because I respected the answers they made in their posts, so sometimes I would specifically look for their posts because I knew they usually had something interesting to say." I've never heard that admission from a student before, even in my skills courses in which I do peer mentoring."
Berner, R. T. (2003), "When Overwhelmed By Students, Go Virtual." Academic Exchange Quarterly, July 2003. See link below.
Although the student satisfaction rate (80%) is rather lower than what is often found in online courses, it is remarkably high under the circumstances. What makes this practice effective is that students had an effective and satisfying learning experience even under these relatively extreme conditions. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that effective online courses require a long (1-3 semesters) development lead time. Although Berner notes that he could have created a much better course if he had had the time to do so, his experience and the course evaluation data seem to show that even 'on-the-fly' conversions can be highly effective. [-- js, 10/24/03]