Going Beyond Text: CAF Project Produces a Variety of Learning Enhancements for Online Courses
Showcase Courses Project
AU is adding more than 20 new multimedia learning enhancements to high-registration courses as a result of the Showcase Courses project.
"This project has created an opportunity to present more information to students in a variety of formats that go beyond text on a screen,” said Stephen Addison, an AU learning designer and a coordinator of the project.
“The main focus was on course content that students find more difficult to learn,” Addison said. “So we developed interactive learning objects and other enhancements as a way of helping students engage more successfully such content.”
For example, a crossword puzzle with audio clues helps students learn to hear the difference between a major chord and a minor chord in Music 267. In Human Resource Management 386, students test their knowledge of occupational health and safety by examining a picture of construction workers on a roof and completing a multiple choice quiz about the scenario accompanied by audio narration. Supplementary information also pops up to explain why the answers they choose are right or wrong. In Biology 325, students practice identifying important species of bacteria by working through the branches of a taxonomy tree.
“Information about identifying bacteria is in the textbook, but this tree offers students a grand synthesis of the information,” said Biology 325 course coordinator Dr. Shauna Reckseidler-Zenteno. “It’s a way of putting it all together and seeing that these bacteria belong to this group, and that group is part of another group.”
And the tree does more than illustrate the connections between classes of bacteria, because students don’t just look at it—they interact with it. Their understanding of bacteria classification is reinforced by selecting the classes to which they think an unidentified bacterium belongs. By selecting classes, they travel down the tree branches until they arrive at a species of bacterium. They practice what they’ve learned in a way that isn’t possible by reading their textbook.
“Creating something like the tree, which presents information in a way a textbook can’t, is really helpful,” said Reckseidler-Zenteno. “It’s an excellent way to cater to different learning styles and help students master the course learning objectives.”
Making Reusable Learning Enhancements
“One of the goals of this project was to develop resources that are reusable,” said Chris Manuel, the instructional media analyst who programmed the taxonomy tree and several other Showcase Courses learning enhancements.
“We’ve built a number of things where the core is reusable,” he said. “The XML content can be replaced with new content.”
The Human Resource Management multiple choice quiz is one of these reusable resources. “If you edit the text in the XML file, then you’ve got a new quiz, including the reference to the picture,” said Manuel. “So the quiz could be used for a completely different subject area without reprogramming at all.”
The project team has also developed a reusable streaming media player, which provides indispensable support for courses enhanced with video and audio files, as well as an application for inserting images, audio and/or video into the left-hand menu column in the Moodle course template. The latter application has been used to insert a verbal course introduction from the course professor—a simple, effective way to add a human touch to a course.
Yet another reusable enhancement is an animation that engages students in learning the ins and outs of plagiarism. The animation features the story of a female student character who has to learn about plagiarism as she works on an assignment.
At Project’s End
At the end of March 2011, most of the learning enhancements created by the Showcase Courses team had been integrated into the courses. After March, AU course developers will continue to adapt the learning enhancements for further use in various courses.
“I’m very pleased with the quality and range of learning enhancements that have come out of this project,” said Dr. Cindy Ives, director of AU’s Centre for Learning Design and Development.
“We’ve accomplished more than what we set out to do, which was to increase the usability, interactivity, accessibility and learning efficacy of our online courses. And we have developed skills and resources to help us sustain and expand our abilities to design enhancements for other courses.”
Theatre of the Air: Virtual Field Trips to the Theatre
A different type of Showcase Courses enhancement was the Theatre of the Air project. “This project enables AU students to take virtual field trips to the theatre,” said Mark McCutcheon, project coordinator and assistant professor of literary studies.
Theatre of the Air has entailed re-recording and digitizing the Theatre of the Air radio series produced in the 1980s and 1990s by AU professor emeritus Dr. Anne Nothof and Alberta radio station CKUA. “CKUA has granted us access to the master reel tapes,” said McCutcheon. “Using these reel tapes, we are format-shifting to MP3 to enhance the use of this series in teaching and research.”
Theatre of the Air episodes are a mix of radio adaptations of important plays in Western and Canadian theatre and learned commentary by Nothof.
“The courses in which students stand immediately to benefit from access to the format-shifted archive are English courses in drama history, Shakespeare, Canadian drama and post-colonial drama,” said McCutcheon. “I can also envision uses of this format-shifted archive for other literary studies courses, cultural studies courses and media studies courses.”
Alberta Women’s Memory Project: Preserving Women’s History
Another multi-course subproject in Showcase Courses provided support for the Alberta Women’s Memory Project (AWMP). AWMP is digitizing materials that document the history of women in Alberta—letters, photos, journals and more—and archiving these materials at the Alberta Women's Memory Project website.
“The site is a portal for historical research, a tool for public outreach and education, and a gathering place where historians and archivists can make connections with people across Alberta,” said Donica Belisle, project coordinator and assistant professor of women’s studies.
“We have several programs directly related to historical education and research,” she continued. “By offering a website that can be used in courses across these programs, the AWMP provides opportunities for cross-collaboration among students and faculty in several academic centres, courses and programs.”
The AWMP website also ties in directly with the curriculum of Women’s and Gender Studies 363 and 365.
“Distance students often don’t have the chance to conduct archival research,” said Belisle. “We are providing them with key resources and opportunities in this area.”
After March 31, AWMP team members will continue to collect and digitize historical materials using systems created in the CAF phase of the project. They will also work with course coordinators to integrate the AWMP website into assignments.