The University of Windsor has been expanding its online and blended learning offerings over the past few years, now offering close to 100 online courses with about 10,000 registrations and 50-100 blended courses. The number of online registrations in the Faculty of Science alone has grown by almost 300% since 2006.
The online courses respond to a number of institutional priorities, such as providing greater access and flexibility for large enrolment courses where demand exceeding supply can create bottlenecks for students. As well, many potential students in the region served by the University of Windsor are unable to access the courses on campus. The provision of online learning to these under-served populations is consistent with the Strategic Plan goal of developing better ways of engaging with the community. Making full programs available online, especially the first- and second-years, expands access for all and, in particular, serves as outreach to international students by allowing them to complete part of their programs at home.
Within this context of advancement, the Office of Open Learning was established in early 2013 to coordinate the growth in blended and online learning, provide advocacy, and offer support. Through internal funding, they have supported 12 projects that impact 25 courses, as well as held a Blended Learning and Teaching Course Design Institute for faculty. In addition, a substantial grant was received from the Ontario Productivity and Innovation Fund to support blended and online learning.
Among the initiatives to be undertaken with the funding from the Productivity and Innovation Fund, two new platforms, Echo 360 for lecture capture and LectureTools for student engagement, are being assessed on how they can best be used to enhance student participation and learning. Echo 360 recently bought LectureTools and the two platforms have been combined. At the University of Windsor, Echo360 is being installed in the 15 largest classrooms used for large enrolment classes as part of a year-long pilot project, and faculty are being trained on their application and potential. Echo 360 allows for multiple feeds to be sent to student devices, including feeds from the lecture camera, a document camera, a microscope, or any other video feed.
Echo360 also provides lecture capture capacity from instructors’ computers, wherever they are in the world. Instructors are able to create lectures using a simple interface that allows them to record their desktop, audio and webcam. Recordings can also be edited online by the instructor.
Students can access all of the resources through the learning management system in the classroom or at a distance using laptops, tablets, or smart phones, and can take and save notes to accompany the slides, bookmark parts of the presentation, and search the content for key words.
LectureTools offers a set of student engagement tools, developed by the University of Michigan to replace and then expand on Clickers for classroom response. With the lecture, slides, and other resources made available on Echo 360, students and professor can access these materials in face-to-face and remote locations. With the inclusion of LectureTools, they can add interaction.
Faculty can integrate polls and quizzes to gauge and then graphically present student opinions and levels of understanding; students can post questions anonymously, and discussions can take place in real-time or asynchronously, depending on the format of the class.
Learning analytics tell the professor about student use of, and success, with the resources, highlighting, for instance, which parts of the lectures are accessed most often by students. This may indicate a need for clarification of particular points; in response, the instructors can create a new video or slide set at their computer and upload for student use.
Outcomes and Benefits
Echo 360 is very easy for faculty to use; one button starts classroom lecture recording and recorded lectures can be edited and re-posted for access in a variety of formats from streaming only, to downloadable podcasts and vodcasts.
When the course is organized using Echo360, lectures and materials can be used in-class, for blended or online learning – with each group of students in a course offered in these multiple formats able to receive the same content. It is also easy for students to use and access.
Nick Baker, Acting Director of The Office of Open Learning describes the project’s goals as “the provision of tools that allow faculty to teach flexibly and create high-quality classes for all students, on and off campus, full- and part-time. Technology and/or the lack of capacity to use it should not be roadblocks to people thinking about and adapting their pedagogy and we want to support instructors to make full use of the options available to them for teaching. Given its small size, the University of Windsor stresses its strength of engagement, with the students and professors knowing each other. The extension of this commitment, even when students are not learning on campus, is central to the use of these tools.”
Challenges and Enhancements
The equipment for Echo360 lecture capturing is currently being installed in the 15 classrooms to be included in the pilot phase – and each classroom has different existing technology that must be adapted to work with the system. In addition, the project includes many stakeholders from across the University and integrating their needs and interests is challenging.
The strategy for introducing the new tools is evolving, as the first uses will be in large enrolment classes, but others are already requesting access to the platforms. Publicizing the capacity and availability, encouraging wide buy-in, and training faculty will offer challenges in the future. The faculty who were recently exposed to Echo360 and LectureTools through the Training Institute were positive about the potential of these new tools to facilitate different pedagogies.
An additional pilot project is looking at two e-portfolio platforms being used with two different learning situations and student groups. In one application, first-year students in Visual Arts and the Built Environment are creating e-portfolios that will eventually highlight their work over the four years of the program, as a tool to track their learning that can be used with employers, other institutions, and program accreditation bodies. More information on the innovation is available in the Pocket of Innovation entitled Documenting Learning: Using E-Portfolios in Visual Arts and the Built Environment at the University of Windsor.
In the other application, students in a range of programs and disciplines programs will use e-portfolios to record what they are experiencing and learning during their time outside the classroom. The initial pilot of 200 students for two terms has been very successful with uses in Faculties of Business, Law, and Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The MBA program uses the e-portfolio in the leadership stream and Law Faculty integrates it with their students doing clinical placements in community settings.
A recently-launched international pilot project involves the Faculties of Law of three universities – Stanford in California, Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and the University of Windsor. Built around a course on International Comparative Class Action Law, the project will assess and compare the effectiveness of three methods of distance teaching and learning:
- Traditional videoconferencing, offering point-to-point connections in three classrooms;
- Flipped asynchronous classes, with asynchronous lectures and both synchronous and asynchronous discussions; and
- Web conferencing, offering multipoint access.
The University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business is putting a strong emphasis on online and blended development, with the goal of having all required Bachelor of Commerce courses available in online or blended format.
For Further Information
Office of Open Learning
University of Windsor