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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Colleges embrace the question "How can we do that online?"

Photo: Amy Lane
"Colleges and universities are fully plugged in to digital education. See what steps they are taking to improve the experience for students." summarizes Amy Lane, Special to Crain's Detroit Business.
Off- and on-campus students in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology Ph.D. program this spring at Michigan State University interacted through iPads affixed to robots that allowed them to swivel or move about the room. 

In the graduate study of architecture, producing drawings, models, full-scale constructions and documents to be critiqued by an instructor is all part of a student's path to a degree.

It's hands-on interaction that brings together students and instructor in "design studios."

While traditionally held on campus, at Lawrence Technological University, the design studios are also online.

The studios occur virtually, via video chat, with a small group of students and instructors joining at prescribed times to present and discuss work, viewing it on computer screens, posting documents, drawing concepts, using models exchanged by email, and registering thoughts through texting, typing and speaking.

It's an approach that Lawrence Tech saw as signature in launching its online master's of architecture degree in 2009.

"If we were going to offer an online master's program, it needed to be online ... including the studios," said Richard Bush, executive director of eLearning Services. "We knew no other institution was offering at that time as complete an online master's as we planned to deliver."

As schools like LTU look to appeal to students interested in accessing education from anywhere, anytime, they are working to be more interactive and innovative — think robots, even — to improve the experience and usefulness of online learning. From faster-paced coursework and new teaching formats and technologies, to faculty training and classes that orient online students, schools are plugging in to enhance student achievement.

Keeping pace
"The challenge is keeping up with the pace of advances, and technology, and try not to follow the fads, and just stick to what is good for our students, and their success ultimately," said Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs at Wayne State University.

One approach to improved online learning is to present course information in smaller segments, Ezzeddine said.

"When someone is online, the attention span is a lot shorter. You need to maintain the interest of students, so having them watch a three-hour lecture is not going to be effective," he said.

Students want "more action-oriented learning, in smaller doses," and clear relevance, said Ed Borbely, director of the University of Michigan's Integrative Systems and Design graduate degree-granting division housed in the College of Engineering. "There's less tolerance for 'Just sit back, someday you might use this.' "

He said the division in the past four years has added instructional designers who work with faculty to enhance online delivery and help them "think about how they could more creatively deliver the course content" — like "chunking their courses in smaller bites," using animation and interactive models, and employing "flipped classrooms." That's a model, used by many schools, in which students prior to class go through content — like short video lectures posted online — leaving the scheduled class time to discuss and apply material individually or in small groups.

Such approaches are designed to be more engaging and aid learning, Borbely said. And "while intended primarily to enhance the course for remote learners, they are also benefiting students who are on campus and taking the same course content in the same semester."
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Source: Crain's Detroit Business