Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

First-Hand Observations on Tele-Course Teaching

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

First-Hand Observations on Tele-Course Teaching

Article excerpt

A college course offered as distance education via the media of communication technologies can not only be comparable to an onsite classroom course of traditional pedagogy but can broaden and enrich the teaching/learning experience. The following observations intend to show how this conclusion was reached. They come from the developer and instructor of the course, an experienced classroom teacher but first-time distance education practitioner.

* Background

In November 1994, Florence-Darlington Technical College contracted to offer English 101 to a class of 11 employees of a regional industrial firm who were pursuing their bachelors, of science degrees via an out-of-state university. The class consisted of 16 weekly, three-hour sessions, conducted in a videoconferencing center at a local plant site and transmitted by fiber-optics to two other plant sites in North Carolina. I was the instructor for this class.

Four students were present in the class-room with me. Class sessions were taped to be viewed by students who were absent, since they missed from two to four class sessions due to shift scheduling. Students submitted writing assignments (essays) prior to the next week's class session by faxing them to my office. Graded assignments were faxed back, either directly to the students, work sites or to a site administrator who forwarded them to students by the overnight courier service used by the employing firm. Students corresponded with me primarily via e-mail or telephone; one-on-one discussion and revision of essays was frequent.

* Teaching Observations. Room Design

As a teleconference center, the room at the local plant site is good inasmuch as it is designed for a group of people sitting at a table; teleconferencing simply extends the size of the table.

The room contains three cameras: a wall camera ("table") placed face-on to the conference table that can zoom to the speaker or pan to all participants, including those in a raised gallery behind the table; an overhead camera ("graphics") that focuses on a 9"x12" horizontal display area on the table; and a ceiling-mounted camera ("presentation") behind and to the left of the table focused on a whiteboard at the front of the room. On the wall in front of the table are two monitors that display the remote conference sites. A smaller 8" monitor displays the host site's output. Each site can see all the other sites. Teleconferencing is achieved by voice-activated switching with ceiling-mounted microphones. (See Diagram.)

However, the conference room was designed neither as a classroom nor a broadcast studio. Students are placed behind the instructor at the table, who must then choose between facing either the on-site or the remote students. (This is not a problem if the onsite class is small enough, six students maximum, to sit beside the teacher at the table.)

Placing monitors on the same wall as the whiteboard is also a problem. When the teacher lectures in a traditional in front of the board, situation, he must look into the presentation camera to establish eye contact with his remote students. If he looks at his remote students on the monitor, then he is presenting a camera profile to them and also turning away from the onsite students. Putting additional monitors beneath the presentation camera would solve this.

During class discussion, to allow remote sites to see a host-site student speaking requires selection and focus of the table camera, necessitating an onsite operator to reduce disruption. The set-up of the local site also did not allow me to see both remote sites simultaneously; as a teacher who likes to observe the facial language,, of his students in order to direct questions to them, I found managing classroom discussions more difficult.

* Teaching Observations: Video-switching

Voice-activated video switching requires a deliberate approach to management of class discussion. …

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