Frédéric Audet teaches two large first year courses in the Faculty of Sciences and Business (Sciences et Administration: FSA) at Laval University, a large public francophone university in Québec City.
MNG-1000 (L'entreprise et sa gestion : the company and its management) is a required course in the Bachelor of Business Administration program and is taught over three semesters, with enrolments per semester varying from 800 in the fall to 200 in the summer. In the fall of 2010, this class had 11 sections. One section was taught fully at a distance with 120 students, using webinar technology; the other 10 sections had sixty students in each section in class on campus. Frédéric Audet shares the teaching of this class with ten other instructors/colleagues.
MNG-1101 (Gestion de la PME et sa croissance: small business management and its growth) is an optional course for most students, taught over three semesters with between 100-200 students, and is available to all Laval students, irrespective of their academic department. In 2010 this class had one section of 100 students taught fully at a distance (lectures using webinar technology) by Frédéric Audet.
Frédéric Audet, after discussion with two other instructors, saw the opportunity through the use of webinar technology to reduce the number of sections by combining face-to-face teaching with live webinar technology, and to give students the option of travelling to campus for their lectures or viewing them at a distance. Laval University has a large number of full time students who commute to the university, often in very bad weather during the winter.
As a result, by 2016, the fall class of MNG-1000 offered five sections. Two still had wholly face-to-face sections of 60 students each, but there were also three sections of 200 students each who could:
- attend the live class or
- participate simultaneously online via a webinar or
- listen to the recording of the class when ever he (or she) wants.
Frédéric Audet teaches one section of this comodal class.
For MNG-1101, the class size had increased to 175, but was still taught in one section, but this time using synchronous dual mode delivery (comodal). Frédéric Audet also teaches this section, and now no longer teaches solely face-to-face in these courses.
Frédéric Audet uses the Adobe Connect system with a web camera set up in the front of the classroom with students in the classroom usually sitting behind the camera (many do not want to be on camera during the lecture) and with students watching at home or elsewhere on their computer or mobile devices at the same time. Students in the classroom can also log in to the live webinar. Students post their comments or questions into a chat box.
In Adobe Connect, there is a small window on the screen for the video (sound and vision) and a larger window for the slides, which are also projected on a screen in the lecture theatre. There is also a ‘chat’ window on the computer screen for the student comments or questions (see Figure 1). Students can enlarge or close any of these windows.
Figure 1: Screen shot from a comodal lecture (the black column left is not in Adobe Connect; it is an addition by Laval University.)
Each weekly two-hour lecture is recorded and available to download at any time. Students in the classroom can ask questions or comment orally with a microphone, and all students can ask questions through the chat facility.
Students have other online activities, as well as the lectures. In MNG-1000, students work in teams of 10-12 to do a case study and make an oral presentation, as well as mid-term online quizzes. There are online forums for all students in these classes. There is a conventional end of course exam, which can be taken at any one of 27 exam centres around the province.
Students often use their own devices and social media such as Facebook for communication both during and after the lectures.
Benefits and outcomes
There is a fairly well established pattern of a high proportion of students coming to the classroom in the early part of the course, with more students studying at a distance by the end of the semester.
A typical semester though will have about 25-30 per cent always coming to the classroom, about 25-30 per cent always studying online, and the rest oscillating between classroom and online. Generally there is active online participation, with students asking questions and making comments.
Giving students the choice of attending in person or studying online provides flexibility for students with long commutes or with part-time work who cannot easily attend campus classes. Some of the students are working full-time, so they can just follow the course online and do the activities. Having the lectures recorded also enables students who miss a lecture to catch up and facilitates revision. Students who have to move away from the region during a course can still complete the course while away. The format allows first year students to experience online study on a test basis, as much or as little as they want.
Frédéric Audet found no differences in learning outcomes or completion rates between the different modes of study on these courses, and found it takes no more lesson preparation time than a traditional lecture, once the system is set up. The lectures are different each year.
Challenges and enhancements
The two-hour lecture format requires a special effort to animate the lectures, with jokes, surprises and interaction with the students. Students now have all kinds of distractions in lectures such as real-time social media and they can in any case watch the class online at any time if they want, so the live lecture must be stimulating and engaging and add value to the recorded experience. However, this kind of animated lecturing does not appeal to all instructors; a certain type of personality is required.
Special attention needs to be paid to the ‘live’ comments coming in through the chat facility during the lecture. Some instructors may prefer to have an assistant help to moderate the online chat.
Frédéric Audet commented that although one gets to know more students at a superficial level through their online activities, there is not an ‘equal’ presence between the classroom and online students. It can lead to awkward situations when meeting an ‘unknown’ student in the corridor, who nevertheless knows the instructor through the video, which appears to the student as a one-on-one contact.
Oral questions and comments from students in the classroom can be technically challenging, resulting in poor quality sound for the online students. Better microphones are needed for classroom discussion.
Students are also using their own technology and software (such as Facebook) for discussion both during and after the lectures, which can be difficult for the instructor to track.
For the teamwork activities, some students who attend the classes do not like having other students in their group online at the same time, so Frédéric Audet is considering designing a class next year with 75 students attending just the classroom lectures, and another group of 150 who will have the choice of participating online in the lectures or watching the recordings later.
Providing students with the option to attend class or watch online not only offers more flexibility for students but also allows more consistency in the teaching by reducing the number of sections. Thus there are possible productivity gains as a result.
The webinar technology is commonly available and not expensive to use. The methodology does not require a great deal of adaptation from a traditional lecture and hence is easily replicable.
For those instructors who enjoy lively and stimulating interaction with their students, this method enables such teaching to be done while still meeting the demand for increased flexibility from students who have long or difficult commutes, full-time or part-time work, or who need to move away during a course.
Lecturer, School of Accounting
Department of Management Studies
Québec City, Québec