Authoring tool aids online course development
Engineering undergraduate students who take the required course, "Problem-Solving Using Computers," don't attend lectures.
But their absence isn't due to lack of interest or motivation. Rather, a unique presentation-authoring tool called eTEACH now enables them to view the lectures online.
Instead of driving distance between students and instructors, online lectures free valuable time for both groups to interact more closely in hands-on lab sessions, says Engineering Physics Professor Greg Moses, who co-teaches the course with Computer Sciences and Mathematics Professor John Strikwerda. "You get to see how people are learning and not learning based on what you see going on in the lab, where in these large lectures we used to do in the past, we just never had a chance to really observe what students were doing," he says.
eTEACH is the brainchild of Moses, Strikwerda and researcher Mike Litzkow. With it, they can integrate video, animated PowerPoint slides, web links and closed-captioning into multimedia-style lectures students view via Internet Explorer with Windows Media Player.
The elements appear in quadrants in a single window on the computer screen. Students use navigation buttons to pause a lecture or jump back or skip forward in the video 10 or 30 seconds; clicking a topic in the table of contents begins the lecture at that point. Readouts show each segment's running time, as well as the lecture's total length. When viewers click a web link, the video automatically pauses and the link opens in a new browser window.
Creating a lecture with eTEACH isn't difficult, says Moses. With a simple black backdrop, some lights, a tripod and video camera, his office doubles as a filming studio. His student assistants download video to the computer via fire wire and edit it with Sonic Foundry's Vegas Video. Then they time each segment, use eTEACH to add PowerPoint slides, Internet links and titles, and synchronize everything with the video. "Our goal was to see if you could do this using resources that were not all that expensive," he says.
While he and Strikwerda use eTEACH to enhance teaching in their on-campus courses, others in the UW System are beginning to use it to deliver distance education.
In its first two semesters, six students have taken an online course in advanced pediatric health assessment through the School of Nursing, says Clinical Associate Professor Pamela Scheibel. For the course, she used eTEACH to couple PowerPoint slides with videos that demonstrate how to examine children. "Then the PowerPoint presentation talks about some of the normals and abnormals that you would see," she says.
Students from around the UW System also may be able to take the course without leaving their home campuses. "We are negotiating with other campuses that have nurse-practitioner programs that don't have pediatric content to be able to take the course from our campus," Scheibel says.
Both Schramm and Scheibel save their courses to CD-ROM so that students with slow Internet connections can view them easily.
A function of the UW System Office of Learning and Information Technology and located on the UW-Milwaukee campus, dot.edu offers e-learning resources to all of UW System and 40-plus educational institutions around the country. dot.edu will support eTEACH, provide faculty and campus support professionals with instructional support and software training, and maintain the software and hardware associated with it, says Jane Kircher, dot.edu assistant director of instructional systems/marketing.
She thinks the potential of eTEACH extends beyond influencing education delivery. "It would be great to put this technology in the hands of students so they can show what they're learning," she says. In addition, event organizers could use it to distill conferences or symposia and then distribute presentations to those who couldn't attend.
Kircher and her colleagues are promoting the tool at several UW System conferences and to many of dot.edu's educational clients nationwide. "Hopefully it will accomplish the goals of getting more and more people to know about the capabilities of eTEACH and the value it can provide to them in instructional situations and web delivery," she says.
Funding for eTEACH comes from the National Science Foundation through the Educational Outreach and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure.
Moses' group offers a royalty-free license for not-for-profit institutions that download eTEACH from the web; service agreements with for-profit organizations are available to support their use of the tool. Visit eteach.engr.wisc.edu/newEteach/home.html or contact Moses at 608/265-6567 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.