STUDENT EXPERIENCE TRANSFORMATION IN THE ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT SUPPORTED BY LIVE LECTURES AND OFFICE HOURS
University of Illinois at Chicago (UNITED STATES)
University of Illinois at Chicago offers established and recognized online graduate and undergraduate programs in health and biomedical information sciences. As part of the effort to maintain currency and relevancy of the curriculum, a major redesign effort for several of the courses transformed asynchronous discussion based content delivery structure to a hybrid format that takes advantage of a larger assignment variety, combination of individual and collaborative group work, and greater technology support to introduce live online lectures, office hours, and student presentations. For experienced students who have taken prior courses in the earlier format in the program, the radical change represented challenge and opportunity for new learning. For new students, the challenge was becoming comfortable with technology, which still has room for improvement in terms of usability and reliability, yet offers exciting opportunity for greater interaction.
In the niche networking and telecommunications course oriented at teaching healthcare technology subjects to students with clinical background, a number of participants were taken outside their comfort zone to present technology concepts in front of a live online audience for the first time – as outcomes of their capstone projects. While students identified their experience presenting new topics in front of the audience as challenging, the vast majority of them found the process a worthwhile leaning experience. Such experience can only be supported by live collaboration technologies and eliminate a major past weakness of the online learning environment that effectively delivered content but failed to encourage two-way interaction. Post-presentation Q&As were often lively experience exchange sessions that resembled physical classroom, with an added benefit of bringing diverse students representing many professional backgrounds together.
In the healthcare project management course, students had similar project presentation experience, but also participated in the online “office hours” sessions offered throughout the academic term. These sessions eliminated much of the asynchronous Q&A discussion activity, as students were able to bring their questions into highly interactive live sessions, as well as listen to live lectures discussing application of materials presented in the course. In the new decision support systems course, students attended combination of live lectures, office hours, and project presentations, taking advantage of all of the above components, and reported effective and productive learning experience in a highly interactive classroom environment.
Despite the relative newness of the above initiatives, extensive use of interactive technologies is changing curriculum design and content delivery cultures of the department, with elements employed in the recently redesigned courses. Improving performance and reliability of live instructional technologies, as well as positive outcomes reported by students, help build the cause for expanded efforts to employ these technologies departmentally. This paper will detail new content delivery methods supported by synchronous collaboration technologies, explore differences between asynchronous and synchronous content delivery methods, analyze student feedback regarding their learning process, identify strengths and weaknesses of the synchronous methods, and assess opportunities for curriculum enhancements with technology support.