Dr. Nakia S. Pope is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Pope has been the director of the CETL since 2012. Prior to moving to Texas, he was an assistant dean and associate professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina. He’s interested in educational technology, philosophy of education, and popular culture in the curriculum. He also hikes and collects comic books.
Dr. Carlos A. Martinez is the dean of the School of Education at Texas Wesleyan University. He began his teaching career at Palacios Independent School District, teaching English as a Second Language to Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants in the mid-1980s. He has been training teachers at the university since 1991.
Mrs. Lisa Hammonds works as an instructional designer in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan University. Mrs. Hammonds assists faculty with effective pedagogical applications that promote active learning innovation. She began her professional career in computer science. Her areas of expertise include information technology, course design, distance education, and faculty development. Mrs. Hammonds holds a Master of Science in education with a specialization in professional studies in adult education.
This case study examines a partnership between the School of Education and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan University in developing a technologically mediated course in a teacher preparation program. A course was developed and is currently being taught using teleconferencing technology to reach multiple sites. The course also employs a learning management system for assessment and distribution of materials, as well as using Google+ Hangouts for virtual office hours. One of the objectives of the course development and implementation was to develop a model for other education courses to follow. Just as importantly, the course development process informed the philosophy of hybrid and online course development within the School of Education as the school reconsiders delivery formats in order to better meet student need.
Keywords: faculty development, teacher education, videoconference, online education
Texas Wesleyan University, like many other small liberal arts institutions with a focus on career preparation, is often challenged by the non-traditional nature of its students (“Mission & Vision,” 2014). Specifically, the School of Education often serves students who are seeking career preparation while attempting to live adult life. Both graduate and undergraduate students seek to complete degrees for career placement or advancement within a controlled period of time.
Within the context of the non-traditional nature of its students, the Undergraduate Education and Master of Education programs are attempting to increase their reach and size as a means to meet the institutional mission. These programs seek to increase enrollment while maintaining the level of rigor that the faculty believe is necessary to develop effective teachers and school leaders. The faculty feel strongly that student engagement and faculty mentorship are imperative for the implementation of effective programs. These programs also feature groups of students who want flexible delivery of programs, but may not be the sort of independent learners that alternative forms of course delivery require.
These programs were faced with one final challenge—transitioning experienced, yet traditional face-to-face faculty into alternate forms of delivery. This transition included helping faculty realize that the transition to alternate forms of delivery was imperative, identifying the level of skills and comfort with instructional technology, and identifying the training required (Bhushna, 2004).
The School of Education selected the Master of Education Program as its focus for this collaboration because of the nature its students and the challenges involved in offering a program appropriate to their needs. In Texas, with the exception of Master’s degrees in administration, school counseling, or educational psychology, very few Master of Education degrees lead to upward career mobility. Unlike other states, there is no guaranteed pay increase for teachers with a Master’s degree. Thus, recruiting students for these programs is quite challenging. Additionally, students enrolled in the Master of Education Program at Texas Wesleyan University are full-time employees who can only attend class in the evening or during the summer making the delivery of the program somewhat more complex.
Stafford and Lindsey (2007) suggest that enhanced technology coupled with increased teleconferencing options provide additional opportunities for campuses to deliver courses in multiple locations. The faculty decided to transition into a program that included courses delivered via three different means. Students would take their specialization coursework face-to-face either at the school district or on campus. Second, they would take the core curriculum required of all students online. Finally, they would take another portion of coursework using teleconferencing technology either at their home district or at home.
This case study will specifically address the development of a course using teleconferencing technology and online components. For the purpose of this case study, the instructor selected the course EDU 3324: Language Acquisition Theory.Language Acquisition Theory is a course designed to provide students with theoretical content regarding the nature of language and its acquisition by first and second language learning subjects. These concepts are described with a focus on classroom applications for pre-service teachers who will be charged with teaching a second language to K-12 students. This course was selected because the instructor had already developed materials for the online environment with Blackboard 9.1 and, although theoretical, the course required students to develop teaching skills using the frameworks discussed in class. Additionally, the style of the instructor is very interactive, so he wanted to develop strategies within the teleconferencing environment to create an interactive classroom.
Given the needs of the Master’s in Education program, partnerships were developed in order to facilitate faculty development in course design and technological skills.
Two key partners emerged in the process of designing and implementing the course: Dr. Carlos Martinez, dean of the School of Education, and the staff of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan. Dr. Martinez was also the course instructor. He served as the subject matter expert, developing course materials and constructing assessments. In this regard, his role as contributor was essential but traditional. As dean of the School of Education, he also functioned as a sponsor and champion of the project. The identification of an early adopter is the catalyst for ongoing faculty support of new course development efforts (Bacow, Bowen, Guthrie, & Lack, 2012). Dr. Martinez leads the faculty in course development. A successful course serves as a template for other faculty moving forward as they develop courses with alternate delivery methods. Lessons learned by Dr. Martinez also informed the developing ethos of the School of Education.
The other key contributors were staff members of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Texas Wesleyan University. The CETL began in 2008 with initial funding from a federal Title III grant. Since then, it has become embedded within the daily operations of the university. Assisting with online and hybrid course development is part of its normal suite of services. The CETL staff consists of a director, an instructional designer, an instructional technologist, and a recently added administrative assistant. Mrs. Lisa Hammonds, the instructional designer, and Dr. Nakia Pope, the director, worked closely with Dr. Martinez on course development, with additional training in supporting technology provided by Ms. Addy Meira, the instructional technologist.
Ms. Hammonds is responsible for training faculty in Blackboard, the learning management system used by Texas Wesleyan. She served a leading role in advising how to bring in and arrange course content and develop assessments in the Blackboard course shell. Ms. Hammonds offered suggestions on engaging course activities that utilized the hybrid format. Dr. Pope, meanwhile, offered advice on high-level structural considerations, student engagement, and utilizing technology beyond Blackboard. Ms. Meira, then, offered training on third-party technologies, such as Google+ Hangouts, that Dr. Martinez wished to use in his course.
Mr. Charles Martin, media and classroom technologist, is responsible for managing and supporting classroom technology. Mr. Martin provided training on the use of teleconferencing equipment and support for the system throughout the semester.
Initially, the design and implementation of EDU 3324 was not targeted as a case study or a research project. It was simply an attempt to fill a need in the School of Education and allow Dr. Martinez to gain skills and experience in technologically mediated course delivery. These goals tied into larger ones for the School of Education and Texas Wesleyan, however. A key element of the strategic plan of Texas Wesleyan University is the development of online, hybrid, and web-assisted courses. The 2020 Strategic Plan of Texas Wesleyan University states that 85% of all courses will be web-assisted, the number of hybrid courses will increase by 35%, and the number of online classes will increase by 10% (“Academic Distinction,” 2014).
In order to achieve these strategic goals, courses within the School of Education must be transitioned to different formats. The transitioning of EDU 3324 is both a way to meet those larger university goals, but it also emerged as a way to facilitate the transition of other courses within the school. In a sense, it serves as an experiment for the dean to test technology, ascertain best practices, and assist his faculty in developing a programmatic philosophy. This philosophy will inform the transition of other courses.
While there was visible commitment to the strategic goals of the university and key values of course access and academic rigor at the initial phase of the project, there were few preconceived ideas about the best method of course delivery. Multiple options were discussed and, even though the course is currently in progress, experimentation is still ongoing.
This emergent process of course and case design did not lend itself to a quantitative definition of success. EDU 3324 was successful as a course if it enabled students to achieve the learning outcomes. It was successful as a case to the degree to which it has informed and assisted the development of web-assisted, hybrid, and online courses for the School of Education that are consistent with its core values of rigor and access. Taking into account the course learning outcomes, the team’s number one priority was to ensure that the delivery method maintained the quality of the course and resulted in student learning.
Dr. Martinez elected to use the videoconference technology to deliver the face-to-face component in his class in two sites. The Burleson site is located about 30 miles south of Texas Wesleyan’s main campus and draws students from the southern suburbs of Fort Worth and surrounding rural counties. Thus, students from that area were saved a 30-45 minute commute into the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Texas Wesleyan University is fortunate to have many of the necessary technologies in place to facilitate the transition from a face-to-face course to a teleconferenced one. The necessary technologies for EDU 3324 included:
Blackboard Learn — Texas Wesleyan University uses Blackboard Learn as its learning management system. While not a deliberate choice of technology for this course in particular (it’s the LMS for the entire university), the design team was able to utilize particular features of Blackboard Learn to meet the student learning objectives for the course as well as Dr. Martinez’s goal of maintaining a student-centered, flexible classroom.
Videoconferencing equipment — Texas Wesleyan University has two rooms on the main campus outfitted with a comprehensive videoconferencing system designed to facilitate distance learning, with a matching room set up at the campus in Burleson, Texas. The videoconference equipment consists of the following: one Polycom QDX 6000 Codec, two cameras per room, and two mobile microphones in each room. The two cameras have fixed mounts, with one mounted behind the instructor’s position to show students and another positioned in the rear of the classroom to show the instructor. This equipment is in addition to the standard classroom technology setup, which includes a desktop computer, laptop computer input, a DVD/VHS player, and a document camera. All of the standard classroom tools are run through the codec, so students in any location can view any materials the instructor decides to present.
Echo360 video capture — In 2013, Texas Wesleyan University contracted with Echo360 for media capture and storage, purchasing several devices that could be connected to cameras to capture, store, and (if necessary) livestream digital video. Once stored, the video can then be accessed by anyone with the proper web link.
Google+ Hangouts — Dr. Martinez expressed the need for a technology that would allow him to meet with students at a distance, similar to the way in which the teleconferencing equipment allowed him to conduct “face-to-face” classes. The CETL advised him to use Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts is a feature built into the suite of online Google products (Gmail, Google+) that allows video and text chat between a maximum of ten people. It is free and requires a minimum amount of hardware to be used successfully. Only a webcam and microphone are needed to use video chat. There are also options that allow participants to call into a Hangout using their telephone. The CETL felt this would be the best option for Dr. Martinez to conduct his virtual office hours.
The implementation of this project began in late Fall 2013 and is ongoing.
A key component of the implementation strategy was to incorporate the use of existing technology. The instructor taught at both sites in alternate weeks, so that students at either site had the opportunity to see the instructor face-to-face at least seven times during the semester while not having to commute to a distant site. Even though this strategy placed additional burden on the instructor’s time, the face-to-face time positively influenced the student’s perception of their ability to acquire and understand the content.
In order to focus class time on student/teacher interaction, the instructor made available thematically organized audio files, presentation files, and lesson graphics as appropriate for each lesson within Blackboard. Because the course is taught in discovery mode, these materials become available for student review after the theme has been discussed in class. Course content remained largely unchanged, but course assessments including quizzes, responses, short exams, and the final are delivered online.
Every class began with a question and answer session designed to clarify and apply key course elements. Using a student list by site, the instructor made sure that he selected students from both sites to participate in the Q&A session. The instructor used several camera presets to ensure the class flowed without technology interruptions. This session lasted 10 to 15 minutes. Using PowerPoint presentations, the instructor delivered the content, asking for questions, examples, and demonstrations from students at each site. This was done systematically to ensure that both groups of students understood and could apply the concepts with similar levels of understanding.
The new format created an opportunity to extend the course’s Q&A component beyond the classroom and became part of the assessment strategy. In previous semesters, Dr. Martinez had students write a Weekly Application Report, where students would explain and apply a key course concept. This would feed into the next week’s discussion. During implementation of this course, the assignment was broken down into two smaller assignments for the teleconferenced class: “Application Responses” and “Quizzes”
After each class session, Dr. Martinez posted a response question to a Blackboard Course module called “Responses.” Students then had four days to submit a critical, one- to two-paragraph, one-page response via the assignment feature in Blackboard. “Quizzes” were created directly as a Blackboard assignment. The students had ten minutes to complete the quiz once it was opened. Their responses were short paragraphs that demonstrated their understanding of key course material. Responses and quizzes allowed students to receive feedback between course meetings and formed the basis for the Q&A that began each class. Given the open-ended nature of the quizzes and professional status of the students, academic integrity was not a concern for this independent work.
Other principal assignments were largely left as they were in previous versions of the course, only moved online. The mid-term, however, was broken into two short exams. Dr. Martinez felt this was necessary to give both he and students an earlier indicator of student progress. Since the course had fewer face-to-face meetings, feedback via electronic means became more important.
Evaluation and Outcomes
The CETL maintains several strategic goals tied to the university’s strategic plan, two of which are relevant to the current project. The CETL assists faculty in improving student learning “through the implementation of learner-centered instructional methods and appropriate use of educational technology.” The CETL also works to help faculty “develop and deploy learner-centered hybrid and online courses.”
We believe the project has been very successful relative to these strategic goals. Given the emphasis on learner-centeredness in Dr. Martinez’s philosophy of teaching and course design, the design and implementation of his course worked to meet the CETL’s first strategic goal. CETL’s partnership with Dr. Martinez involved tailoring instructional technology to meet the course learning objectives and piloting learner-centered instructional methods within the videoconference/multi-site/hybrid format of the course. A key part of the CETL’s mission is to facilitate the transition to hybrid and online courses; Dr. Martinez now has a fully developed hybrid course, with the skills in place to deploy and alter the course in the future.
The course has been successful as well. Student feedback was gathered by a series of questions Dr. Martinez submits to his students weekly. These questions are designed to allow student feedback on the technology used and course format. Information gathered will be used to determine future course delivery methods and inform overall program delivery. These questions are listed below, with a summary of student responses immediately following.
1. Of the content discussed in class, which ones do you think you could have learned on your own in a hybrid format?
Student perception of what could have been learned in a hybrid or online format was mixed. Most students agreed that the role of the instructor in explaining complex theoretical concepts was essential. However, they felt that introductory content such as the nature of language, language in society, and some of the applications within the different theoretical frameworks discussed in class could have been explored online. Additionally, the students believed that they could have begun to explore some of the classroom applications within the online environment.
2. Do you feel that you had opportunity to discourse with your peers? Please explain.
Students described the class as one big interactive discussion. Even though the students would have liked more small-group work, they believed that the pace of the class, the nature of the content, and the amount of content being delivered would have made small group work somewhat difficult. Interestingly, they developed a number of strategies to cope with class content that produced significant group interactions outside of class. It seems as if they established a pattern of small group discussions before class and via e-mail that was productive. All students agreed that student-student interactions within sites existed and were productive, but across site interactions were non-existent.
3. Do you feel that you had the opportunity to interact and visit with your instructor to your satisfaction? Please explain.
Students expressed great satisfaction with instructor interaction. Specifically, they describe classroom interactions that not only allowed, but encouraged, student questions. Students felt the instructor was always willing to clarify concepts and give examples. Students were impressed with the strategies developed by the instructor to communicate with students outside of class. Specifically, they felt the instructor answered e-mails promptly, provided significant input on class requirements, and communicated with students within Blackboard. They also enjoyed using “Google+ Hangouts” to communicate with the instructor. Initially, students were required to use “Google+ Hangouts” only on Thursdays at 9:00 pm, as an online office hour, but many students used the instant messaging feature to communicate with the instructor between class periods. Overall, students felt more connected to the instructor when he was face-to-face at their site than when they were the teleconferenced group.
4. Evaluate the assessments of the course (exams, responses, other activities used for grades).
Students agree that even though some of the response and quiz questions were somewhat vague or difficult to understand, they believe the course requirements helped solidify their knowledge of the content. They preferred untimed requirements (i.e. responses and interviews) and disliked timed requirements (i.e. quizzes, short exams, and final). They believed the timed requirements added unnecessary stress to the activity itself. Finally, they disliked requirements that were due at a specific time and date. For example, all quizzes were open between 9:00 pm and 9:30 pm on Thursdays. Though this happened to coincide with the instructor’s virtual office hours via Google+ Hangouts, the assignment wasn’t related to the available office hours.
5. Relative to the technology used in this course (teleconferencing and Blackboard), provide your thoughts about the effectiveness of the course delivery.
Even though most students preferred the instructor at their site, all but one student perceived the experience to be positive and appreciated the opportunity to attend class closer to home. With the exception of several technical issues experienced at the beginning of the semester, the students believed that the teleconferencing mode did not negatively impact their learning. Students believed that Blackboard helped them organize the course materials more efficiently. Additionally, they enjoyed having these materials available asynchronously. Even though the material is the same, they did not like that audio files were not specifically recorded for their own class.
The lessons learned from the partnership between Dr. Martinez and the CETL differ slightly depending on each partner’s role and perspective.
The experience has been positive, but not without challenges. Even though the institution was motivated to deliver courses using the teleconferencing environment, it was not prepared for the level of equipment needs and requirements. Specifically, bandwidth was of particular issue for the transmission of video between sites. Slow speeds and spotty connections between the main and Burleson campuses were routine challenges. Additionally, the recording of each class session and making the video available to students became a challenge because of the size of the video files. The lectures were recorded, but were not made available. To overcome this unexpected hurdle, Dr. Martinez created podcasts of lecture topics and posted them in Blackboard.
Student familiarity with technology was also over-estimated. Though Google services seem ubiquitous in the educational world, especially for those in educational technology, most students had not heard of Google+ Hangouts. Several students did not even realize that Hangouts required webcams for video chat, and a few didn’t even realize they did not have webcams until Dr. Martinez couldn’t see them during their virtual office hour! These challenges were overcome; students were simply able to use the text chat function of Hangouts to ask their questions. This particular example, however, suggests instructors and designers should be careful not to let their particular familiarity with technology blind them to students’ needs. On a practical level, it suggests that instructors need to carefully and explicitly delineate technology requirements, even at the basic hardware level. For this course, detailed instructions on the technology such as Blackboard and Google+ Hangouts were developed and added to the syllabus for the next iteration of the course.
In addition to these important lessons about technology implementation, this case also carries lessons about attitudes and the affective dimension at play in the transition from purely face-to-face teaching to hybrid or other technology-mediated formats. There is resistance to this transformation, even from a willing partner like Dr. Martinez. This resistance is rooted, in part, in a lack of familiarity with the variety of technology available and its capabilities to facilitate learning (Bacow et al., 2012). More importantly, the resistance comes from a deep concern for students. Faculty within the School of Education were committed to provide the best educational experiences they can for their students, who are often lower-income or first-generation college students. In their limited experience with online or hybrid learning, they had not seen examples of education that can provide intimate, engaging educational experiences that meet students’ needs.
Attention must be paid to these faculty concerns in order for partnerships between faculty and faculty development staff to be successful. A first step is a charitable interpretation of faculty reluctance. By beginning with the assumption that this reluctance arises out of a concern for students and their learning, the faculty development side of the partnership can work to explicitly meet those concerns. It wasn’t difficult, for example, to show how a multi-site videoconferenced course could reduce student stress by shortening commutes and providing more family or work time for the types of students we serve. Similarly, recorded lectures provide the opportunity for students to review material on their own time and in formats that may be more suitable to them. Both of these are student needs, especially with the changing demographic of our student body. They may not have been the needs of Wesleyan students ten years ago, or the needs we had when we were undergraduates. But a deep concern for the learning and lives of our students can drive adaptation to new class and program formats if partnerships begin with the idea of serving students as the center of the project.
As the course is not yet complete, we expect more lessons to emerge during the remainder of the semester. Quantitative data, in the form of student grades and responses to course evaluations, will be available at the end of the course. These will certainly inform the evaluation of the course as successful.
Using Dr. Martinez’s class as a model, the School of Education plans to expand its online and hybrid course offerings, particularly in its graduate programs. The plan is for all core graduate courses to be technologically mediated, while content specialization courses will remain face to face. The CETL will maintain its focus on finding appropriate technology and training faculty in its use, but will alter its training methodology somewhat. The CETL plans to develop a way to put faculty values first. By focusing on individual faculty’s values regarding teaching and learning and their course goals for students, they will better be able to help faculty construct learning environments that reflect those values. This may be as simple as developing an “intake form” which foregrounds those issues of teaching and learning and makes the technology secondary.
Within the School of Education, plans for technology-mediated classes are accelerating, with particular attention paid to Master’s level programs. There is also discussion of resequencing courses within the program. The course in educational technology might be moved up in the sequence, with the hope that having this course earlier in the program will increase student familiarity with a variety of technology and thus minimize the unfamiliarity issue that developed in Dr. Martinez’s course.
Higher education is not known for being particularly nimble or responsive to emerging forces, be they from the student market or technology (Anderson, Boyles, & Rainie, 2012). Many decry this lack of responsiveness as problematic, showing how antiquated higher education is compared to other (often business-like) models. Certainly, market forces and changing technology pose challenges to higher education, especially small, liberal-arts institutions like Texas Wesleyan University (Bacow et al., 2012). Funded primarily through tuition revenue, without a huge endowment or state support, Texas Wesleyan University must be sensitive to the needs of its markets, both the market of potential students and future employers. We agree that this sort of sensitivity is important and that change—often rapid change—is necessary. Education, however, is also a value-driven enterprise. Sometimes the resistance to change in higher education comes from dedication to a set of values—values that are derived from a sense of duty to students and their learning. The challenge facing the School of Education at Texas Wesleyan University is how to navigate change in a responsive manner while maintaining those core values of student-centeredness. The development of EDU 3324 is an attempt to do just that.
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