EFFECTIVENESS OF ACADEMIC ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: ENHANCED EXPERIENCE THROUGH LIVE INTERACTION

J. Krive

University of Illinois at Chicago, Nova Southeastern University (UNITED STATES)
University of Illinois at Chicago and Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale offer progressive and exciting biomedical informatics programs in a rapidly emerging field attracting professionals from multiple disciplines. Online format serves both programs well: it is an opportunity to attract the brightest working professionals from different fields to study courses that stand at the bridge of computer and medical sciences. The challenge is bringing these professionals in various geographical zones and working conflicting schedules together for live lectures, discussions, and office hours. The process requires effort and flexibility on the parts of faculty and students, and the obvious question is whether these live interactions are effective and truly enhance learning experience.

Despite the overall desire to enhance communications, reasons behind this enhancement vary by subject and course content. Some courses are in need of enhanced communication components due to leadership content that requires interaction and practicing public speaking skills, while other courses focus on technical or clinical challenges, some of which are best to be highlighted using a white board, lecture format, and plenty of opportunities for students to ask questions. Whatever the reasons, the most typical response on the part of busy working adults is inconvenience. But despite initial negative reaction, many of the more effective lectures that focus on challenging subjects perceived as cutting edge developments in the field end up on positive notes, with students feeling their time was well spent on productive learning that helps them with the most immediate application (class assignments) and professional application in their careers. Additional challenges are technology support to construct a virtual classroom that resembles physical classroom environment, selecting among the most interesting and pressing topics for presentation, and keeping focus and maintaining interest in a format that requires watching computer screen for extended periods of time and taking initiative to participate remotely.

The paper covers reasons for initially negative perception of synchronized online meetings, why such meetings can be successful and well accepted by students, and what methods work best for selection of the “popular” content, effective delivery of this content to students, and engaging remote participants in lengthy sessions to achieve perception of value and a sense of collaboration.