IMEJ main Wake Forest University Homepage Search articles Archived volumes Table of Content of this issue

1. Introduction
2. Project Description
2.1 Overview
2.2 Technologies
2.3 Implementation
3. Outcomes
3.1 Videoconferencing
3.2 Web Comments
4. Other Considerations
5. Conclusions
6. Acknowledgements
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Alternative Teaching and Learning Strategies: Lessons from an Introductory Psychology Course
John A. Boeglin, Faculté Saint-Jean, University of Alberta, Canada
Katy Campbell, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Canada

Janice Picard, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Canada

In this paper, we report on the development and outcomes of alternative teaching and learning strategies within the context of a first-year university-level introductory psychology course. The delivery model involved a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning strategies. The description of the development phase of this project will provide an overview of the technologies used, the rationale for using these technologies, as well as other considerations pertaining to course redevelopment initiatives. The outcomes are described from the perspectives of both the instructor/designer and the students enrolled in the course. The paper provides an overview of some of the problems that were encountered, their resolution, as well as perceived changes in teaching and learning styles.

1. Introduction
Traditionally, first-year introductory psychology courses have relied for the most part on a lecture-based teaching strategy. Typically, a formal presentation or lecture is provided by the instructor and augmented with audio-visual support. Due to the significant amount of material that is covered in these courses, as well as increasingly larger class sizes, there is little opportunity, either during or outside of normal class times, for any significant instructor to student or student to student interaction. As a result, students find themselves relegated to the role of passive learners.

With the recent introduction of so-called "Smart Classrooms" (i.e. classrooms equipped with the latest teaching technologies) and integrated suites of tools to assist in the development of Web-based course materials, instructors now have access to a broad range of teaching tools. These tools have the potential to enhance teaching effectiveness, promote the use of higher-order learning strategies, and create a more interactive teaching and learning environment.

In this paper, we report on the development and outcomes of an alternative teaching and learning approach within the context of a first-year university-level introductory psychology course. The technologies used to support this initiative were videoconferencing integrated with Web-based support, including computer-mediated communication (CMC).

About the authors...

2. Description of the Project
2.1 Overview
Over the past three years, Faculté Saint-Jean (FSJ), an entirely Francophone faculty within the University of Alberta, has become actively involved in the use of synchronous and asynchronous delivery strategies for its distance education program, as well as for its regular (i.e. on-campus) programs. The Faculté has recently designed and built a compressed videoconference classroom, which also contains audiographic tools such as a SmartBoard (i.e. an interactive whiteboard), a document camera, and other audiovisual and telecommunications media. This facility supports the Faculté’s Francophone students who are located in both rural and urban centres across Alberta and the other Western Provinces.

To date, six courses in the Faculté’s undergraduate programs, and five courses in its graduate program have been made available via synchronous videoconferencing. These courses still rely on the use of print materials and include collaborative project activities whenever possible. At the undergraduate level, the format of the videoconference involves a 3-hour evening class held once a week. At the graduate level, a four weekend per semester format (i.e. Friday evening and all day Saturday) was preferred to accommodate the needs of working adults located in different time zones as well as to minimize delivery costs.

A consortium of distance education deliverers, Alberta North, maintains a network of community centres with technical resources including desktop videoconferencing, audioconferencing, a small microcomputer laboratory, and an Internet connection. Many of the Faculté's off-campus students are able to access their course materials from these centres. The Faculté also has a 64 station multimedia computer lab designed for face-to-face instruction and/or drop-in use. Finally, the Faculté’s strategic technology integration plan provides for at least two additional "Smart Classrooms" over the next two years.

As a result of these on-going technological advances, FSJ has been able to introduce a number of undergraduate and graduate courses that are delivered synchronously (i.e. real time and place dependent) with the increased use of Web-based support. The course described in this paper was delivered in the Fall of 1998 to on- and off-campus students using interactive videoconferencing along with Web-based support. The course, PSYCE 104 "Procédés psychologiques de base" is the French-language equivalent of PSYCO 104 "Basic psychological processes" offered by the Department of Psychology. Either course is a prerequisite to all other Psychology courses offered at the University of Alberta.

Up until this time, PSYCE 104 had been delivered in a traditional lecture-based format. Student evaluations described the lectures as being well organized and informative though not particularly exciting. The lectures included numerous overheads, videos, and in-class demonstrations. Given the amount of content that had to be covered, there was little time for any in-class discussions and/or interaction. Moreover, even when students were actively encouraged to ask questions and share relevant experiences, they seldom did so. Despite the favorable student evaluations, there were concerns felt by the course instructor regarding the effectiveness of current teaching practices.




Link to Faculté Saint-Jean, University of Alberta.

The opportunity to incorporate videoconferencing and Web-based support for the course led to the redevelopment of the entire course content in order to integrate these instructional technologies and to address the pedagogical concerns of the instructor. Pedagogical and technological support for this project was provided by the Academic Technologies for Learning (ATL) initiative, an academic department centrally supported by the Office of the Vice-President, Academic. ATL‘s mandate is to encourage and support both departmental and individual faculty initiatives involving learning technologies.


Link to Academic Technologies for Learning, University of Alberta.

2.2 Technologies
The early stages of this project involved, among other things, understanding interactive videoconferencing technology and how to use it as an effective teaching and learning tool. As mentioned above, Faculté Saint-Jean has recently acquired a state-of-the-art videoconferencing facility. The PictureTel 4200ZX room-based system allows for simultaneous connections to remote sites using digital connections with speeds of 128 Kbps to 384 Kbps. The instructor's console is equipped with a computer with Internet access, a document camera, a VCR, and an audiocassette tape deck. The videoconferencing facility, which seats up to 22 people, also has main and auxiliary cameras, a rear-projection SmartBoard, built-in microphones, and three video monitors for the instructor and near-end students. A wireless keypad is used to control the cameras and audiovisual equipment. The facility also has a phone and fax machine.

The synchronous videoconferencing sessions were supplemented with an asynchronous Web-based teaching and learning environment using "Web Course Tools" or WebCT, an integrated set of tools and components for the development and delivery of interactive courses over the Web. From a teaching and learning perspective, WebCT's multiple features provide a framework to:

  • encourage interactivity either between instructor and students or among students themselves (e.g. conferencing, internal e-mail system)
  • simplify course management by way of centrally located course materials (e.g. calendar, course notes, PowerPoint presentations, Internet links, glossary)
  • simplify student management (e.g. online tests, student records)

(19 KB) Videoconferencing main camera view.




(21 KB) Videoconferencing smart board view.



Link to University of Alberta WebCT pages.

2.3 Implementation
The students enrolled in this course attended a 3-hour weekly evening class: three in a face-to-face, on-campus setting, and one student at a distance. As this was an evaluative pilot, the relatively low enrollment enabled us to respond quickly to student concerns about the technologies and the course design. None of the students had ever taken a course delivered over the Web and only one had previously taken a course delivered by interactive videoconferencing. The distance student became a fully participating member of the class through a CBCI desktop videoconferencing system equipped with a Zyadacron Z250 board and a Canon VC-C1 camera. Through WebCT, the lecture content summary, with a structured note-taking guide, was made available to the students one week before the classroom session. Students were encouraged to print the notes guide and bring it to class to guide their observations. The course content summaries contained hyperlinks, interactive glossary items (key terms), and discussion questions based on both lecture and reading material. These questions were cued by a contrasting color frame, as were the key terms. Students could link to WebCT’s discussion forum directly from the related course notes, allowing the instructor to contextualize the conversation. At various times, students were able to test their own learning with embedded questions, and completed their timed practice and midterm examinations online. Finally, the PowerPoint presentations used during the videoconferencing sessions, which contained much of the supporting visual information, were also made available online.

View a demo of the WebCT course site for PSYCE 104.







(57 KB) WebCT course content page screen shot

As stated above, WebCT provides a number of instructor and student tools, which may be integrated into the course. For example, the course management and student self-tracking functionality in WebCT allows both the instructor and the students to check individual progress in several different formats. This feature is particularly helpful, pedagogically, in terms of formative evaluation. That is, the instructor is able to track, among other things, the number of times specific pages have been accessed, alerting him/her to possible content, navigation or design problems. The instructor is also able to monitor the nature of student activity in the discussion forum. For example, student participation in the forum can be assessed not only by looking at each individual message posted but also by tracking the number of messages read by each student, as well as the number of original and follow-up messages posted, thereby indicating which threads the student has initiated as opposed to merely responded to.

(33 KB) WebCT page tracking screen shot.




(21 KB) WebCT student tracking screen shot.

3. Outcomes
The outcomes of this project are presented from the perspectives of both the instructor/designer and the students. Using information culled from detailed personal notes maintained by the instructor/designer throughout the development and implementation phases of this project, as well as from multiple surveys of the students, we examined some of the benefits as well as the limitations of the technologies used in this course. Student participation and level of satisfaction were monitored by way of multiple online and offline surveys. These surveys were designed to assess among other things:

  • familiarity with videoconferencing and Web-based technologies
  • accessibility to adequate computer hardware and software
  • the extent to which the technologies facilitated or impeded learning
  • what changes, if any, could be made with respect to the technologies used in the course

In addition, the students participated in a 45 minute in-class focus group session mediated by an experienced consultant in Evaluation Research, thereby providing them with further opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the pedagogical and technological aspects of this course. It should be noted that the instructor/designer was not present during the focus group session.

Generally speaking, both the instructor/designer and the students concurred that the technologies used in this course were good, when they worked, and that they had a positive effect on teaching and learning strategies. Major technological difficulties during the first three weeks of the course (e.g. quality of audio and video signal during the videoconferencing sessions and hardware and/or software problems with on- and off-campus computer equipment) were a source of frustration for the instructor/designer and students alike. However, the actual presentation of the course content was not adversely affected as it had previously been decided to record the videoconferencing sessions as a backup measure in the event of equipment and/or connection failures with the remote site. As for the Web-based materials, these remained accessible to the students until the end of the term.




(20 KB) WebCT quiz/survey tool screen shot.

3.1 Comments Specific to Videoconferencing Technology
The benefits of this technology can be summarized as follows:

  • It allows off-campus students to take a university-level course for credit.
  • It makes the course more interesting (e.g. through the appropriate use of multimedia tools).
  • It is conducive to collaborative learning.
  • It is conducive to changes in existing classroom practices (e.g. it necessitated the chunking of the course content into a more manageable and attention sustaining format).

The limitations of this technology can be summarized as follows:

  • The quality of the audio/visual signal was variable.
  • Initially, there were difficulties maintaining connection to remote site with the desktop videoconference system.
  • On-site students said that, at first, they were intimidated by the cameras and monitors in the videoconferencing facility.
  • In spite of the creation of a highly interactive teaching and learning environment, students still preferred less of a content delivery focus and more group learning activities (though this was difficult to achieve with such a small number of students).

3.2 Comments Specific to Web-based Learning
The benefits of Web-based learning can be summarized as follows:

  • It allows for relatively easy access to course materials.
  • It provides ample opportunity for interaction using the conferencing and e-mail tools.
  • It allows for timely instructor feedback.
  • It is conducive to collaborative learning.

The challenges of Web-based learning can be summarized as follows:

  • The inequalities of on- and off-campus access to computer hardware and software raise the issue of differential access to course materials.
  • Students requested that the instructor distribute hard copies of all course materials, in spite of their being readily available on the Web. This probably relates to student inexperience with online learning.
  • There are several technological, timing, and security issues pertaining to online testing (e.g. the possibility of server-related problems during the course of a timed exam).
  • Students must be provided with some training early in the course if they are to fully benefit from such instructional innovations.

(7 KB) Figure 1. Summary of student activity in WebCT.

4. Other Considerations
Although students said that this course required more time and effort than their other courses, they felt that greater learning was achieved in this course than in other, more traditional classroom-based courses. They also acknowledged that the technologies were somewhat helpful in terms of their effectiveness on learning strategies. For example, the students were provided with:

  • timely access to course-related information
  • an opportunity to diverge and explore more than would have been possible otherwise
  • an opportunity for thoughtful discussion be it by oral or written means

From the perspective of the course instructor/designer, this course redevelopment project required more than 900 hours of work. Much of this time was spent reworking the course content and visual supports, creating a glossary and multiple-choice test bank, and searching for and cataloguing relevant Web sites to be incorporated into the course content. Figures 2 and 3 provide a breakdown of how much time was spent by the instructor/designer and the pedagogical/ technological support staff on various aspects of this course redevelopment project. The course instructor/designer also had to learn and become very proficient in the use of several software packages including Word, Power Point, Excel, Photoshop, WebCT, HTML, and the WWW.

Figure 4 presents a timesheet for the instructor's so-called "virtual" office hours for this course. Bearing in mind that there were only a handful of students enrolled, one can easily foresee that the number of contact hours could increase dramatically, thereby necessitating some changes in how the instructor to student interactions are managed.

(6 KB) Figure 2. Summary of the amount of time involved in the redevelopment of PSYCE 104.

(8 KB) Figure 3. Summary of the amount of pedagogical and technological support time involved in the redevelopment of PSYCE 104.

(6 KB) Figure 4. Summary of the amount of instructor-student contact time in PSYCE 104.

5. Conclusions
This course redevelopment project has resulted in radical changes in teaching style and has also made the instructor more cognizant of the concept of multiple learning styles. Some of these changes can be summarized as follows:

  • the creation of a richer learning environment through the reorganization of the course content and the judicious use of different multimedia elements (e.g. reducing amount of lecture time, chunking of content, overt and covert in-class activities such as demonstrations and the use of questions which move beyond facts to achieve higher learning outcomes, and CMC)
  • fostering the development of a number of personal skills including communication, critical thinking, adaptability, and working with others.

In spite of the amount of time invested in this project, there are significant carry-over effects. As mentioned above, the total amount of time required to redevelop PSYCE 104 was almost 900 hours. However, the redevelopment of a subsequent course - PSYCE 105 - involved no more than 200 hours of work. In addition, this year-long experience has provided the instructor/designer with a sound pedagogical and technological preparation to undertake further initiatives in this area. Among other things, we are now in the process of providing assistance to other instructors who wish to redevelop their course materials for videoconferencing and/or web-based delivery. Taken together, these initiatives attest to the emergence of a new generation of faculty, keen on the development and use of alternative teaching and learning strategies.

(7 KB) Figure 5. Comparative summary of the amount of time involved in the redevelopment of PSYCE 104/105.

6. Acknowledgements
This project was made possible through an ATL Partnership awarded to the first author. We wish to thank Dr. Nathalie Griffon and Ms. Marjorie Rabiau for their assistance. A very special thanks to the staff of the ATL Production Studio.

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IMEJ multimedia team member assigned to this paper Daniel Pfeifer