E-learning: The future is here

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by Kelly Sullivan

Horizon Reporter

As Whatcom continues to grow, so do the needs of its students. To suit the ever-transforming demographic, new ways of teaching that use developing electronic technologies are being implemented to improve the way students learn both on and off campus.

Sherri Winans, who is a teacher and director of Whatcom’s writing center, along with Signee Lynch, Lori Martindale, and Danielle Gray, recently won the “Leadership and Innovation in E-Learning Award” for their work in using eLearning technologies, including  the introduction of the “Jing” technology into the writing center response process.

Jing is a program that anyone can download for free, and is available to the public. At Whatcom, it allows teachers to record themselves speaking about a document such as a student’s paper, for five minutes. Winans uses this to respond to most of the papers she receives electronically.

Winans has also used it in class, and posts course documents on her Moodle site, her online classroom environment, for students to go back and read later. Jing allows students more time to process the discussion, she said.

There’s also something that happens when you can see and hear a discussion, Winans said. “People have time to stop and process the information.”

For the most part, students respond positively to the new technology, although Winans has had a few students who didn’t like the Jing method. The process of downloading the technology can sometimes take too long for some student’s tastes.

Jing is a versatile product because of its accessibility. Anyone with a recording device on their computer can put it to use. If you have pictures you want to send your mother in Texas, you can send her a Jing message and go through them verbally for her, explaining the meaning or moment behind each photograph.

“It saved me time in student feedback and I was able to provide a higher level of feedback that they appreciated,” said Michael Shepard, Whatcom’s Electronic Learning Coordinator.

Moodle is another form of electronic learning at Whatcom students are becoming familiar with. Teachers use Moodle as a private online community for their classes to post information about assignments and for online discussions among students and their teachers.

New technology you might have seen in the classroom are the “clickers.” They are currently being utilized in the medical assistant, nursing, early child education, physics and adult basic education programs. Their function is to input polls from class homework or opinion questions, with answers then displayed for the entire group.

“It’s nice for students who don’t like raising their hands,” said Shepard. “It creates a different kind of dialogue in the classroom.” It’s also good for professors to gauge student comprehension of a subject.

By polling the class on the covered material, teachers can see in class what they should cover.

Leo Hopcroft has done some online pod-casting. He first creates a recording of a lecture and then makes it available for students to download onto iTunes to put on their iPods or Mp3 players. He holds on-campus training sessions for teachers to learn about pod-casting once a year.

Signee Lynch, who teaches English at Whatcom, uses a program called Elluminate Live, which is now available statewide. It consists of video and voice recordings to speak over the Internet with students. If a student has a web-camera they can have office hours together even if they are not in the same room. It allows for online collaboration for responses when writing a paper or an online lecture or project.

Online courses at Whatcom are created on a platform called “Angel.” One option Shepard is excited about is the option of receiving a full degree online in physical therapy assisting. Whatcom is one of a handful of schools across the U.S. using the program. All of the class is online, except an intensive weekend-long lab held once a month. Students travel from as far as Alaska and Idaho to attend the class.

“Whenever we’re able to utilize multimedia and resources we are really providing students with a better learning environment,” said Shepard.

In the past year, 20 new online courses have been made available at Whatcom, in math, English, and economics. Shepard said the next big project is the nursing program. They want to model it to reflect the physical therapy assisting program and hope it will be as greatly successful.

“I’m excited about reaching different students and discovering how to teach in different ways,” said Winans.

“More students with full-time jobs who can’t get here can still learn,” she said. “We can reach more people.”

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