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In any setting where student engagement and learning are the primary goals, educators are faced with the challenge of identifying strategies and mechanisms to motivate students to take ownership in the educational process. With the increase in distance education (online) offerings, instructors are challenged with selecting and using a variety of technologies to enhance the learning process. The aim of quality instruction not only emphasizes student learning but the formation of a learning community. This article will provide information on the current status of online learning in the United States as well as providing a discussion of a few technology tools to assist educators in their quest to effectively implement technology into their teaching.

A survey of 2500 colleges and universities nationwide was conducted through a collaborative effort between Babson Survey Research Group, the College Board, and the Sloan Consortium (Allen & Seaman, 2010). The report provides information pertaining to the state of online education in higher education. From these data, we know the following:

  • Sixty- three percent of these institutions indicated that online learning was critical to their long term strategy.
  • In the fall 2009 term, over 5.6 million students were completing at least one online course.
  • The 21% growth rate for online enrollments exceeded the less than 2% growth of overall higher education student population.
  • Over 75% of academic leaders report that online is as good as or better than face to face instruction.
  • Recent growth in online enrollment has come from the growth of existing offerings, not from starting new online programs.

For the purposes of this article, online courses are defined as those courses where most or all of the content is delivered online. The course will either have limited face to face meetings or none at all. According to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science website, 43 medical laboratory technician and medical laboratory scientist programs offer online components for degree completion (www.ascls.org).

To support the online format, higher education institutions incorporate a learning management system (LMS). Some examples of LMSs include Blackboard, Desire2Learn, ANGEL, eCollege, and Moodle. A LMS allows for administration, tracking and reporting of training programs, traditional courses, and other online events that allow for elearning. Additional features for an online course include online testing, an active grade book spreadsheet, discussion threads, journaling, live chat, and document sharing as well as the ability to host traditional course material such as syllabi, schedules, assignments, and lecture/laboratory components, etc.

The medical laboratory technician program (MLT) that I am associated with has been NAACLS accredited since 1983. Until 2002, the courses were offered in the traditional face to face format. With higher education budget cuts and low enrollments, the MLT program was slated for closure. However, with the support of college administration, the board of trustees approved the conversion of the program to an online format. The program is currently is its ninth year using a distance learning delivery system.

Converting a traditional program to the online format is no small task so initially the courses were offered with routine PowerPoint lectures and pencil/paper exams that were proctored in the clinical settings. However, as the faculty became more comfortable with the online environment and course evaluations indicated students were requesting additional learning and engagement opportunities, program improvements were made. Two of the technology tools now routinely used in the MLT program are Camtasia and Respondus.

Camtasia, a TechSmith product, is a screen recorder and video editing software (www.techsmith.com/camtasia). Camtasia allows one to “create videos that train, teach, sell and more. It’s the easiest way to demonstrate a process, product or idea.” The three main steps to the process are record, edit, and share. To accommodate the request from students for an audio narrative to enhance their learning styles, all of the lecture PowerPoints now are also available in a screen capture format with audio narrative. Additional capabilities include adding music tracks, computer audios, or picture in picture with a video camera. The advantage to using Camtasia versus the audio recording feature of Microsoft PowerPoint add-ins is that Camtasia recordings can be edited. The editing process allows the developer to delete sections, add a graphic, link to external webpages, add Flash quizzes, and create a table of contents. Since the screen capture format cannot be printed, both formats (PowerPoint and Camtasia) are available to the students. Posting the file to the LMS is as easy as locating the desired file type and uploading it. Additional file formats include MP4/FLV/SWF that are Flash player compatible; M4V for iPad, iPod, iPhone and iTunes; AVI for CD/DVD; MOV for QuickTime; RM for RealMedia and MP3 for audio only podcasts.

Respondus is a product that allows “creating and managing exams that can be printed to paper or published directly to Blackboard, ANGEL, Desire2Learn, eCollege, Moodle, and other elearning systems.” (www.respondus.com/products/respondus.shtml). Features of Respondus include authoring exams; previewing, publishing, and printing; and retrieval, reports, and tools. The software allows for 15 question types as well as the ability to import questions from Microsoft Word. Tables, bulleted items, mathematical and scientific symbols as well as images, audio, and video can be added to an exam. By identifying the topic of each exam question, the software will create random sets of questions. This feature allows for multiple exams for students while consisting of the same number of questions per topic. Publishing the exam to the LMS is completed through a process within Respondus. Retrieval of reports allows for review of student scores, summary statistics, and answer distributions. The files can also be downloaded and saved in a Microsoft Excel format. One important security feature of Respondus is the browser lockdown. If the browser lockdown is utilized, students taking an online exam cannot browse out to other websites in search of answers.

One additional technology tool to be considered is a wiki (http://pbworks.com). A wiki is an online data warehouse with unlimited online workspace. The wiki allows for online collaboration and can be used for business, education, or personal purposes. For the education arena, a wiki allows for information and files to be hosted and shared between students, faculty, and staff. By using a wiki, distance learning becomes more interactive and collaborative. Student comments, feedback, and online question/answer are also features of a wiki. Workspace levels include reader, writer, editor, and administrator. Workspace in the wiki allows for pages to be created, files to be uploaded, and activity to be tracked. If a higher education institution does not have a LMS, a wiki can also serve as a “place” to host and share course material. Additional uses of a wiki include collaboration among committees, researchers, and faculty.

While it is understood there is a plethora of other technology tools available, these products are now important components of this online MLT program.

(Please note: The intent of the article was to offer examples of how technology can be incorporated into a distance education program format. NAACLS nor the author are endorsing these products.)

By Suzanne Campbell, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM

Member, Program Approval Review Committee

References:

Allen, IE, Seaman, J. Class differences: Online education in the United States, 2010. Babson Survey Research Group. 2010. http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/class_differences.pdf Accessed June 9, 2011.

ASCLS Online Program Directory http://www.ascls.org/resource/resmgr/value_-_career_center/ascls_online_directory_clt_j.pdf Accessed June 9, 2011.

Camtasia www.techsmith.com/camtasia. Accessed June 5, 2011.

Respondus www.respondus.com/products/respondus.shtml. Accessed June 5, 2011.

Wiki http://pbworks.com. Accessed June 5, 2011.

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