Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Improving my Online Course

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 20, 1998

Posted to WWWDEV 20 October 98

I hardly think Andrew Doherty's comments were useful...

From: Andrew Doherty <9319646@GEOCITIES.COM The title of your course is ironic. I think "Intro to Developing Print Based Courses And Slapping Them Up On The Internet And Calling It An Internet Course" would be more appropriate. The majority of your course is text based and does not utilise any of the dynamic features of the web. Why not hand out or snailmail this to your students? There is no justification for using the Internet for the course you have developed (other than your discussion board). That is why its ironic that it teaches about developing courses for the web.

Despite Doherty's faint praise, I ventured into the site to see for myself. The course is what one would expect from a standard course authoring package such as CourseInfo. It provides links to three readings, links to a couple of assignments, a discussion board, and a Java based chat area.

I believe that Doherty is basing his criticism on the lack of two factors in this course:

1. The instruction is not paced. There is no clear indication of what the student should do first. If it were me, I would probably read the readings, then do the assignments and/or join the discussion. But it is not clear that this is what is intended.

2. The instruction is not interactive. There are no self-test quizzes, visual interactive displays, etc., as, for example, could be provided using Flash.

Now in my mind these would both be useful additions to the course. However, I do think some things need to be kept in mind before levelling such harsh criticism.

1. The target audience of this course appears to be graduate students. In a typical graduate seminar, education consists of assigned readings, discussion, and eventually, an assignment. It would be inappropriate in most cases to design elaborate multimedia displays for such an audience because (a) the content does not lend itself to that, and (b) the audience does not need such animation.

2. CourseInfo strikes me more as a package which is designed to offer online course *support* for existing courses. Thus, we would assume an environment in which these students met on a regular basis, discussed the course content, and exchanged ideas. A site such as David Hite's would be a useful addition to such a class (Indeed, in 1987 I had my first experience with online courses in just such a fashion. It was John A. Baker's Philosophy of Mind course, and the 'online' component consisted of readings and discussion. It proved to be one of the best courses I ever took.).

3. The course provided is a sample course. It consists really in material and information sufficient for only one of a very few classes. It should not be viewed in the same way a full course should be viewed. Presumably, a full course would have more clearly defined pacing and a more impressive list of readings and resources.

More comments below...

Anyhow, I'm just procrasting, its time to get back to work. At present, work happens to be building an Authorware package that will be used to teach students about C programming. It will be "shocked" so that it can be put online. It explains dynamic programming concepts using animation (to help students visualise the program's flow of control and other things besides). To me this is a worthy use of the internet's bandwidth. You would struggle to help students visualise this on paper.

Personally, I would use Director, but that is just preference. And probably, for an intro course like C , it would be wise to include animation. Though again, animation is not strictly necessary; I learned to code with a book and a compliant computer. Again, your methodology depends on your audience.

And it also depends on your audience's bandwidth. It would be nice and even a little exciting to produce nice Flash animations for our online students here in rural Manitoba, however, since we are delivering online instruction to networks of computers connected as a unit via a single 28,800 modem, the use of Flash would be irresponsible.

In my opinion, any effort which improves educational opportunities is worthy of the internet's bandwidth. It isn't about creating the most vivid and dynamic app. It isn't about building apps at all. It is about delivering educational content in the manner best suited to the audience and the medium.

In my opinion, David Hite's course meets its objectives. For him to do more, given the course's purpose and its audience, would be a poor use of bandwidth.

To see more of my opinion on the proper use of the web for education, see my article in the Septemeber/October 1998 edition of "Educational Technology" (v38, n5). Strangely, it developed from a draft article I posted to WWWDEV back in April entitled "The Internet Is An Educational Medium (But Where Is The Proof?)".

Yes, we all recall that discussion. It would be more useful to have a link to the finished product, assuming it is online, to facilitate discussion and reasoned criticism. The internet, after all, is the premier medium for (a) posting an article, and (b) centering a discussion around an article.

David Hite's original post is cited below. My comments end here.

At 11:09 17/10/98 -0400, you wrote: Greetings to all!! I am a graduate research assistant at The University of Tennessee and I am working with a group that will be offering online courses in the area of Human Resource Development. I have created an on-going pilot course that I call "Intro to Internet Course Development." It is being designed as an introduction to online courses and their development.Since the my inception of the list about 8 months, I have been following all the wonderful experiences, problems, and processes and would like to get feedback from some "professionals" within the group on my course. I am using CourseInfo which is the package that the university will probably select as a Course Management System (CMS). I also work at a leading U.S. corporate university in the area of design and development. There, we are also considering the use of a CMS in the training arena. So, any information, suggestions, ideas, and feedback will be well appreciated. Also, If you are new to the online course scene, this intro class has a lot of good info in it. The site is:
username: tva
password: tva

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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