A preview of my winter break

Although I’m on the Distance Learning committee at my institution, I’m one of only a few faculty on the committee that doesn’t teach an online course. I joined the committee because I have an interest in a) making high-quality online courses available and b) making sure the learning management system (LMS) that we use is suitable for both online and on-ground courses. Myself, I love and crave the classroom experience, but I’m increasingly intrigued by the idea of offering an online course.

The opportunity has come up to take my Introduction to SQL course online. I’ve been hesitant to do so for one primary reason: it’s a lot of work. I would be embarrassed to put up a bunch of links to readings, assignments, tests, and call it good. That is, frankly, a waste of students’ time and money. Unfortunately, it’s what qualifies as an “online course” at many institutions–even my own. If I’m going to make an online class, I’m going to do it right, by golly. That means lots of instructional videos, Socratic-style quizzing, and peer reviewing (when appropriate).

Luckily, there are lots of role models for best practices. I sign up for  Coursera and Udacity courses simply to take a look at how the content is presented. My current favorite course is Programming Languages from Coursera, taught by Dr. Dan Grossman of the University of Washington. I can’t link to an actual video, but here is a screenshot.

Screenshot of Coursera Lecture

Highlights of his presentations:

  • In addition to Powerpoint presentations with a few key points he does lots of live coding on screen. The main window you see there is him typing in programs and running them during the lecture.
  • His face appears in the video. You can see him talking the entire time. This is huge. It’s like he’s talking to me. When there’s nothing else going on in the terminal window or on the slides, I can watch him. When students can see or hear the instructor, they are more engaged successful. I’m not camera shy.
  • The videos are relatively short (5-15 minutes each) with small quizzes scattered throughout. (Udacity rules the roost when it comes to Socratic quizzing, though.) Each week there are about 1.5 hours of videos to watch.
  • Production value is pretty low, to be honest. It’s just a screen, a talking head, and a low-quality microphone. But that’s the state of the art in online education in 2013.

Here’s one of my videos in an attempt to emulate what Grossman does. I think it came out pretty well.

I have also done some videos in the Khan Academy style: disembodied voice with a pen tablet.

My work is cut out for me this winter break. To qualify to teach the course online in the fall, I need to have 25% of the content prepared by March. (We are one of the only institutions that peer-reviews course content before it goes live. The ACCJC accrediting institutions gave us high marks for that.)

I have “new computer” lust. I’ll need a new machine to handle all this video editing, right? Right?

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2 thoughts on “A preview of my winter break

  1. “When students can see or hear the instructor, they are more successful.” Do you know of any studies which look at this effect? Particularly any differences between video and audio-only?

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