In 1999, Professor Jacques Maurice at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa was managing the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Accelerated Program and, wanting to make it more widely available, decided to offer it using distance delivery. In the first iteration of this, the students received two videotapes for each module; next, the content was sent on DVDs; and finally, it was delivered through online streaming.
To prepare the videotape/DVD versions, a camera person filmed Professor Maurice presenting in a studio for three days. This took enormous preparation and stamina. After two years of studio production, Professor Maurice wanted something better.
Working at home, he used the screen recording and video editing software, Camtasia, and this, combined with good lighting, allowed him to produce his own lectures with good quality and more flexibility. CMA leased extensive bandwidth and students were provided with six hours a week of viewing.
From this background, Professor Maurice was already well along the learning curve when the Dean of the Sprott School of Business asked him about converting his courses for online delivery.
Both Professor Maurice’s courses, Introduction to Financial Management and Introduction to Managerial Accounting, are available online for full-time students at Carleton in Faculties other than Business, so the students might be from Arts, Social Work, Computer Science, or other areas of study.
The courses are available on cuLearn, the Carleton version of the learning management system, Moodle, with consistent formats featuring:
Announcements: The announcements tell the students what they should be doing in the current week of the course, as a motivator and reminder. Each Friday night, they get a reminder about the assignment due Sunday night (This timing is for the compressed six-week course). As well, they get an e-mail on Monday, with a report of the average grade in the weekly assignment, addressing any issues or problems students had, and presenting a bar graph of results. Professor Maurice tries to send two or three messages a week to the group.
General Discussion Forum: Students use the general discussion forum to highlight concerns and areas of uncertainty; the professor moderates it, visiting two or three times a day to be sure to respond quickly.
Weekly Office Hours: Weekly office hours are available by phone, online through GoToWebinars software, or sometimes, face-to-face meetings.
Introduction: Two introductory videos provide an overview of the course and an orientation to cuLearn.
Chapter by Chapter Content: Each module begins with slides and instructions on what students have to do and all necessary documentation. The lecture video features narrated PowerPoint slides, with Professor Maurice visible in a small window at the top of the screen for a personal touch. They have a maximum length of 30 minutes. All the lecture videos are sent to a company called NoNotes for closed captioning; they also have tables of contents so students have access to particular points quickly. Both these features have proven to be very popular with students, especially those who do not have English as a first language.
Each module also includes practice problems, with selected questions accompanied by videos showing him solving problems using a document reader, replicating the classroom experience of using a blackboard. Professor Maurice wrote a textbook, which also includes the practice problems featured in each online module and their solutions. The practice problems are organized in lists labelled primary and secondary; completion of the primary list problems is often sufficient for most students.
A chapter-specific discussion forum is available, with questions answered by Teaching Assistants. A final section of each module offers 10 multiple choice questions, which students may choose to complete for additional practice.
Tutorials: Tutorials were added to the Spring 2014 six-week course, with the students responding to an online poll on their preferred timing for a live tutorial. Professor Maurice posts the problems to be addressed in each weekly tutorial on Monday and then goes online for 90 minutes on Friday to work through solutions. Both attendance at the live online sessions and subsequent viewing of the recorded versions have been high, so the tutorials will stay as part of the courses.
Assessment: Banks of multiple-choice questions were created for five online tests. The system picks the questions for each student and, using a formula, randomizes the numbers so that each question is different each time it is presented. The student is given 90 minutes for the 10 questions and then submits the first attempt. An instant report provides the grade earned and answers to the questions. The student can chose to re-do the exercise twice more and the system will chose the best grade as part of the final mark. This strategy enables students to earn better grades, as well as gain a better understanding of the content. The five tests are worth ten marks each. The other 50% of the grade is from invigilated exams; sample exams are made available online
Outcomes and Benefits
Professor Maurice wanted online delivery to enhance access to, and student interaction with, the content and practice questions, with the key objective of reducing the number of students earning a D or an F grade, or Withdrawn from the course. Given his experience with the new format, he “is sold on online learning as the courses run well, providing interaction and engagement, and the D, F and W rates have been significantly reduced.”
In the Winter 2014 term, he did a comparison of the results of a face-to-face class with an exceptional instructor and his online students, with each group having about 100 registrants. The grades of the online students were 7% higher.
Challenges and Enhancements
Students need to have considerable discipline to succeed in online learning, especially when there is no set schedule. However, students who do not stay on top of their online responsibilities may also be the students who would not have attended face-to-face classes on a regular basis.
The status of online courses has not been resolved in the collective agreement, leaving open questions about recognition, course weight, and ownership.
Delivering online courses means that with a good Internet connection, Professor Maurice can teach and support his students from anywhere. Even with his face-to-face classes, he now uses the flipped format so students get the major content online and come to class for practical, applied learning.
By Summer 2015, he plans to have converted the two intermediate level courses he teaches to online delivery as well. Given the enhanced learning for the students and increased flexibility for him from online learning, he states that he “will never teach to PowerPoints in class again.”
For Further Information
Teaching Area Coordinator
Sprott School of Business