Going the Distance
— By Kime Lawson, assistant editor
Teachers accustomed to the traditional classroom model of instruction may have doubts about the merits of distance learning, but recent innovations in pedagogy and technology have certainly made taking a second look worthwhile. The new addition of Blackboard Collaborate to the Blackboard Learn package this year facilitates a more streamlined and synchronous classroom experience for distance learners and instructors alike. To introduce instructors to these advancements in distance learning at Temple, Assistant Vice Provost of Distance and Summer Programs Dr. Dominique M. Kliger has spearheaded the Virtual Teaching Certificate Program. The Program is a twenty-hour online tutorial that will instruct teachers, at their own pace, to fashion a fully-functional virtual classroom experience with the new tools available through Blackboard Collaborate. The Program includes ten two-hour sessions that address important strategies with hands-on tutorials for online or hybrid course construction, from writing a syllabus to designing effective assignments and assessments. Twenty hours may sound like too sizable of a time commitment for busy instructors, but Dr. Kliger insisted that this tutorial is designed to train even the most novice users to learn Blackboard Collaborate. More experienced users would pick up the new software much more quickly.
Blackboard Collaborate (formerly known as Wimba Live Classroom) offers a number of new features that generate a more powerful online “social presence” between distance teachers and students than previously available. With Blackboard Collaborate instructors can use the Screen Share tool to post presentations or review assignments with students in a live setting. Instructors can also capture course sessions on video with the archive tool and create quizzes or polls for students on the spot. Students can also use voice or text tools to ask questions during sessions, and the “whispering” function allows students to ask questions of the instructor privately. Voice authoring and grading also presents new and unique opportunities for students and instructors to work together constructively. With voice tools students can practice their speaking skills while also having better assurance of the intention behind their instructor’s feedback on their assignments by hearing their teacher’s specific vocal intonation. For many teachers voice grading assignments that are video or voice authored by students could take less time than the traditional red pen hand-written style of commenting, and can also uniquely safeguard against dishonesty since the instructor will be able visually to judge the students’ voice and mannerisms. Teachers can also divide course materials, generate discussions, engage smaller groups by placing students into virtual breakout rooms or invite guest speakers to classes more easily through the new online format. Blackboard Collaborate is also accessible through a telephone, in case an instructor is unable to get access to a computer or has internet connectivity problems.
The Virtual Teaching Certificate Program could not have more capable direction. Dr. Dominique Kliger earned her Ph.D. in Communication at Temple University in 2002, but has been a part of the Temple community since she came to Philadelphia in the late 1980’s on a Fullbright Fellowship. She has been active in distance learning research since the early 1990’s. Dr. Kliger first became interested in distance learning after seeing video conferencing make a difference in teenage cancer patients’ lives at the First School of the Future in her native Brazil, where during the 1990’s a pilot program used online tools to help patients offer much needed emotional support and advice to each other remotely. Since then, Dr. Kliger has published extensively about distance learning and her work has earned nearly $400,000 in grants from the United States Department of Education for highlighting the various benefits that distance learning facilitates for students with disabilities.
Distance learning can make a difference for many students and teachers at Temple. Students with disabilities or professional scheduling conflicts that impede them from a brick-and-mortar classroom experience can overcome these difficulties through distance learning. Temple teachers have also earned national merits for innovative distance approaches. The National University Technology Network (NUTN) has honored two Temple faculty members for providing superior synchronous distance learning. Dr. Ruth Farber won the Shirley Davis Award for Excellence from NUTN in 2010 and Dr. Catherine Schifter received an honor-able mention in 2011.
Distance learning has come a long way very quickly at Temple due to generally decreasing hardware costs for students, energetic leadership and a capable nexus of technical support. Recent research on distance learning has also shown that hybrid courses utilizing both traditional classroom and distance methods result in increased student satisfaction. As demand for distance learning approaches is likely to increase in the future, now is the perfect time for teachers to expand their repertoires.
For more information on the Virtual Teaching Certificate Program,