The Online Graduate Research Forum: An Effective Practice for Extending Students’ Discourse to Global Audiences

Author Information
Author(s): 
Omar S. López, Ph.D.
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Texas State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Online Graduate Research Forum (OGRF) uses effective practices in online instructional design, learning, and teaching to create an online community of learners between global viewers and graduate students in discourse about their research studies. To prepare for the online forum, students use screen cast software to record an 8-10 minute video presentation for upload to our department’s Youtube Channel. Meanwhile, three individuals serve as judges to view, score, and select a student for our department’s Outstanding Interdisciplinary Research award. On a specified date, the online forum begins and runs for three weeks. Students follow rules for responding to online commentaries and inquiries, and protocols to distribute their Youtube video weblinks to interested parties to build online traffic to their video presentations. Judges have until the end of the forum to decide among themselves, the student to receive the department’s research award based on the scoring rubric. To what extent did the online forum extend students’ graduate research discourse beyond the traditional format to global audiences? Compared to the 25 participants typically attending the traditional forum, the OGRF resulted in 1,300 visitors across the eight online video presentations—a factor of 52.0 times more effective than the traditional forum. I provide other findings in the support document to validate the efficacy of the OGRF as an effective practice for online learning. I also discuss how the OGRF aligns with the Online Learning Consortium’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The Online Graduate Research Forum (OGRF) uses effective practices in online instructional design, learning, and teaching to create an online community of learners between global viewers and graduate students in discourse about their research studies. The effective practices inherent in the OGRF include (a) templates to guide students’ presentation design; (b) a scoring rubric to guide students’ presentation content, but also for scoring the videos by judges and students; and (c) rules for responding to online commentaries and inquiries. To address the students’ diverse learning styles, my instructional strategies included illustrated directions for using the screen cast software to produce their video for upload to the Youtube Channel. To prepare for the online forum, students use screen cast software to record an 8-10 minute video presentation for upload to our department’s Youtube Channel. Meanwhile, three individuals serve as judges to view, score, and select a student for our department’s Outstanding Interdisciplinary Research award. On a specified date, the online forum begins and runs for three weeks. Students follow rules for responding to online commentaries and inquiries, and protocols to distribute their Youtube video weblinks to interested parties to build online traffic to their video presentations. Judges have until the end of the forum to decide among themselves, the student to receive the department’s research award based on the scoring rubric. I have provided more details in the support document for each of the following steps required to implement successfully the OGRF practice.

Complete Steps 1 – 4 at the start of the semester.
Step 1: Set-up a YouTube Channel for your department or program if you do not have one already to post the students’ videos.
Step 2: Identify the video capture software for students to record their online presentation.
Step 3: Develop a Powerpoint template to guide students’ presentation design.
Step 4: Develop a scoring rubric to guide students’ presentation content.

Complete Steps 5 – 7 during the two weeks before the launch of the online forum.
Step 5: Students prepare their video for the Online Graduate Research Forum event.
Step 6: Select your panel of three judges.
Step 7: Design and order the department award.

Complete Steps 8 – 10 during the three-week Online Graduate Research Forum.
Step 8: Launch the Online Graduate Research Forum.
Step 9: Monitor the Online Graduate Research Forum.
Step 10: Evaluate the Youtube statistics to measure the efficacy of the online forum.

Complete Steps 11-15 in the three weeks following the Online Graduate Research Forum.
Step 11: Send the graduate students their individual judges’ score sheet copies and Youtube statistics organized by presentation.
Step 12: Announce the recipient of the department award to the graduate students.
Step 13: Issue letters or Certificates of Appreciation to the three judges.
Step 14: Present the department award to the graduate student.
Step 15: Lastly, post the OGRF abstracts and Youtube Channel weblinks on your department webpage.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

To what extent did the online forum extend students’ graduate research discourse beyond the traditional format to global audiences? Youtube provides a number of statistics for each video you can access through the channel interface. The following are the results from my analysis of this data.

Compared to the 25 participants typically attending the traditional forum, the OGRF resulted in 1,300 visitors across the eight online video presentations—a factor of 52.0 times more effective than the traditional forum.

Compared to the 120 minutes of presentations in the traditional forum (8 students x 15 minutes max per presentation), the OGRF resulted in 3,467 minutes of viewing from visitors watching the online video presentations—a factor of 28.9 times more effective than the traditional forum.

Still, viewers may not have watched the entire video. Therefore, I divided the total viewing minutes of each video by its recording length (minutes and seconds) to estimate the “completed views”. Compared to the 24 individuals viewing one (1) student presenting in the traditional forum, the OGRF resulted in 409.1 completed views across the eight online video presentations—a factor of 17.0 times more effective than the traditional forum.

Three judges presided over the students’ presentations and then selected a student to receive the department’s Outstanding Interdisciplinary Research award. Thus, the judges were the only ones who documented their approval for the student presentations. In comparison, the OGRF resulted in 117 viewers indicating their approval through the Youtube “Likes” feature—a factor of 39.0 times more effective than the traditional forum.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

The OGRF aligns with the OLC’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education in important ways. Learning effectiveness is one of the OLC Pillars. Here, the OGRF uses a combination of video and online technology to deliver a learning experience superior to the traditional format. This is due to the highly individualized nature of the OGRF where a student can interact exclusively with viewers in discourse through the Youtube commentary function. In the traditional format, students presenting interacted mostly with the three panel judges and, if time permitted, with the faculty in the audience.

Another OLC Pillar is scale. The OGRF provides students a quality research forum at no additional cost for participation, compared to the traditional format where students incurred costs for travel, child-care, parking, etc. More so, with the OGRF we are no longer limited to a maximum of eight students for the forum. In the traditional format, each participant had a maximum of 15 minutes to present. This was to keep the forum within a tolerable 2-3 hour session, which started at 6:30 pm. With the OGRF, we can scale up to accommodate many more students ready to proceed with their research study to complete the MSIS degree.

The OGRF also relates directly to the OLC Pillar of accessibility. The OGRF makes the MSIS-required forum accessible to our students in geographic places that make it difficult or cost-prohibitive to participate in a traditional forum at the Texas State University campus.

Faculty satisfaction is still another OLC Pillar where the OGRF aligns. The OGRF provided me with opportunities for professional growth and development in online instructional design, learning, and teaching. Since then, administrators in other departments have called me to share with their faculty how to launch their own online forum. Moreover, other faculty members in my department teaching the research study course are using the OGRF with their students. This too is rewarding for me because I experienced initial hesitation from my faculty to change the forum from the traditional to the online format.

Lastly, the OGRF contributed to the OLC Pillar of student satisfaction. Students found the OGRF-experience fulfilling because they received attention from viewers sincerely interested in their research study. This resulted in purposeful discourse for the student, as indicated in the Youtube commentaries. After the OGRF was over one student received a viewer’s offer to complete a doctoral program at a highly selective university and another student used the online video presentation in the final round interview for his first top-level administrative job. In addition, last spring—one year after the OGRF—a student included the Youtube video weblink to augment her application for a doctoral program related to her research project.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Faculty and students must have access to the internet and a computer with Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. In addition, faculty will need a Google account for creating a Youtube Channel, and a screen cast software product for students to record their video presentations.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

There are no costs for students assuming they have access to the internet and a computer with Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. There are also no costs for faculty, again assuming they have access to the internet and a computer with Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, and a screen cast software product students can use to create their video presentation. The Google account and Youtube Channel have no expense unless one wants to add advanced features or more storage.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Omar S. López, Ph.D.
Email this contact: 
OL14@txstate.edu