Friday, August 19, 2011

Adding Your Voice (Literally) to Online Courses

For the past five years I have taught for the Alamo Community College District in---you guessed it---San Antonio, Texas. I used to teach there as a human being, but after I returned to Iowa, I couldn't quite swing a 1000-mile commute. Fortunately, my avatar beams across the inter-tubes almost instantly (it slows down a tad through Oklahoma). I have been teaching online courses for them since 2006, and exclusively from Iowa since 2008.

The video above is an example of a screencast I created to introduce students to the Blackboard site for British Literature 2. I used CamStudio 2.0 (which is available to download for free) to record my screen and a plug-in microphone to record my voice. The course also includes audio lectures I have recorded as mp3 files. For that I use free software called MyPodcast Recorder. Mp3 files convert to QuickTime on Blackboard, or can be downloaded and played on an iPod, etc. My dream is to be included in some student's playlist alongside Jay-Z.

My main goal is to bridge the digital divide, so to speak, and to make online courses feel a bit more like live courses. But also to take advantage of new technology and create something that traditional courses lack: a sense of connectivity to a world beyond the classroom walls.

The possibilities for this have existed for awhile. UC Berkeley has been steadily uploading video lectures to their YouTube channel since 2006. Academic Earth might be the best collection of video lectures around, featuring courses from Yale, Harvard, and M.I.T. All of this is free, of course. I'm currently "taking" a course on by Paul Bloom, Yale Professor and author of the wonderful Descartes' Baby.

Perhaps online courses are not as intimate as live ones, but the internet has facilitated unprecedented access to information like nothing else. A random person in Iowa can listen in on a course at Harvard for free. This suggests a new model for collaboration and course delivery that hasn't fully emerged yet. We could also mention Skype, wikis, blogs, social networking, and Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOC. (Yes, that exists, see below.)

All I know is that in order to match the effectiveness of traditional courses, online courses must adapt and become their own entities. I'm not sure anyone knows what that will look like.

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