E-learning and its various technologically advanced bells and whistles are part and parcel of today’s academic and corporate learning environments. Traditionally, the teacher-learner relationship is measurably enhanced by interactive face time and just-in-time access, and the teacher-teacher relationship is no different.
The Illinois Online Network at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with other faculty development programs at four-year learning institutions around Illinois, has deployed e-learning with the help of Elluminate to add depth to its distance learning initiatives. “We’re providing faculty development mostly to community college instructors,” said Michael W. Lindeman, program director, Illinois Online Network at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We’re preparing them to teach online. We’re offering six courses in the spring that will integrate Elluminate into the online course format. That will be the main rollout.”
The eight-week long courses are geared to community college or higher education faculty and ION instructors, and focus on various topics relating to instructional design. Most of the courses have scheduled a one-week Elluminate Live meeting session, similar to a live lecture online, as part of the curriculum. The lectures or meetings will be archived and available for later use. “We’re also starting to develop the recorded presentations,” Lindeman said. “Those won’t be as interactive. They’ll just be the instructor or the course developer creating some learning content, a little module, and that will be available to the students sort of as a playback.” Instructors also will use the solution for office hours, generally held once a week, to enable more one-on-one interaction between teachers and faculty or students.
Faculty feedback has been positive, said Lindeman. “With this solution, the students reacted positively to the voice. They always like to hear audio in the course. Most of our courses are text-based, so it’s refreshing to hear the instructors’ voice,” he said. “The technology seems very easy for them to use. There were few problems in terms of downloading the Java and getting started. The instructors liked it also, being able to create better community within the course. It seems pretty easy to manage the course with the tools that Elluminate provides like the raising of the hand and breaking out into small groups. That was used quite a bit, (as was) importing the PowerPoint slides and giving control of the mike. Those are some of the features that we really seem to focus on.”
The implementation was motivated by a need to replace existing, poor-performing technology, as well as a desire to take advantage of technological advancements to promote online teaching. “In some of the courses, we did try to do something similar to Elluminate, just with independent pieces,” Lindeman said. “We used a real audio server, a chat server, Web pages and we tried to put those all together ourselves. It didn’t work that well, and the real audio server that we were using was free, but they no longer provide that server for free as of six months ago. We were sort of forced, if we wanted to continue doing the live audio type sessions in our courses, to look for another solution.”
The solution has eliminated much of the inconvenience associated with several hours of travel time needed for face-to-face learner-teacher interaction. By combining resources, the Illinois Online Network was able to form partnerships with other academic institutions like the Illinois Virtual Campus and Academic Outreach, both of which are under the University of Outreach and Public Service umbrella at University of Illinois along with ION. The three departments jointly purchased the server.
“We really feel that adding this live or synchronous component to our online courses is very important,” Lindeman said. “Students in our online courses are faculty throughout the state of Illinois and what we try to do in all of our courses, whether it be teaching techniques or different technologies, the way the courses are designed, we try to model best practices and we try to demonstrate techniques and solutions for teaching online.”