Apr 20 2012

Translating Information-Dense Courses for E-delivery

Currently,  I am translating my on-campus version of FW315 (Ichthyology) for online delivery, and am certainly running into some challenges!  Chief among these is the fact that by necessity, this course is information-dense, and requires students to comprehend a set of foundational information that they need to succeed into subsequent courses in the curriculum, such as fish ecology, fish physiology, or my own 400/500-level Advanced Ichthyology course.   While this doesn’t prevent me from including some degree of synthesis and analysis in my course, it does mean that some of the learning objectives focus on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy . . . if a student fails to comprehend the basic mechanisms of respiration and buoyancy in fishes in FW315, they’re going to struggle when they reach the 400-level physiology courses and need to apply that knowledge!

The necessary information-density of the course presents something of a problem for online delivery, because I find that the online format supports analytical and evaluative goals and assessments (discussions, projects and so forth) better than it does lower-level information delivery.  I am working to include a variety of discussion-board topics and activities that will help students engage with the information presented in the course, such as an opportunity to place fishes that live near them geographically in the context of the evolutionary family-tree of all fishes.   This is a good application/analysis-level assessment that provides some reward for digesting and comprehending a set of information-dense lectures on fish classification.    Even so, it doesn’t circumvent the need to present a ton of data and facts to the students that they’ll need to understand and apply in this and subsequent courses.

Even in my on-campus course, I sometimes feel like I’m turning a firehose of information on my students . . . . we cover evolution, ecology, behavior, physiology, reproduction, anatomy, conservation and other topics all within a single quarter’s course, with a taxonomic scope spanning more than 30,000 species!    I am hoping that I’ll still be able to teach this information effectively in an online format, but doing so still a involves a lot of reading assignments and recording of lectures, neither of which really play to the strengths of the online format (such as facilitating interactions between students).   Hopefully the course will still meet its objectives and prepare the students for higher-level classes that more closely target the pinnacle of Bloom’s pyramid!

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Translating Information-Dense Courses for E-delivery”

  1.   Karen Watteon 20 Apr 2012 at 11:22 pm     Reply1

    One idea for dealing with large amounts of knowledge-level type information is to incorporate games into a course. Ecampus supports several classes where students simply need to ‘learn a huge amount of information’. Our multimedia team has developed games that help students interact with that information in a variety of engaging ways — that hopefully help them learn and retain it better than traditional methods.

  2.   sidlausbon 20 Apr 2012 at 11:35 pm     Reply2

    Thanks for the suggestion! Does one typically grade these games, or just leave them as optional exercises?

    •   Karen Watteon 23 Apr 2012 at 3:08 pm     Reply3

      Usually it is just an exercise — ungraded and repeatable so that they can use it to study as well.

      •   sidlausbon 25 Apr 2012 at 4:51 pm     Reply4

        Thanks, that makes good sense.

  3.   Jen Gervaison 21 Apr 2012 at 6:49 pm     Reply5

    Hi Bryan,

    I face a lot of the same challenges with graduate population dynamics- can I assume mastery of the logistic equation, and a thorough understanding of the difference between continuous and discrete-time models? Probably not. One way I plan to try to deal with this is to create short review modules, which I hope will be enough to refresh students’ memories, and identify the students (at least to themselves) who need more foundational work. I was thinking of using jing or something similar (to force me to keep it short and sweet) to cover just ONE issue (R versus r versus lambda, perhaps). Students can review, or not. I love the idea of games in addition to that- maybe I can use a game to help figure out where my class is in terms of knowledge, and students who are realizing they’re rusty can refer to the supplementary info, either in jing format, or short interactive slide shows… Maybe reviewing how fish float would be similar?

    I’ll be interested to hear how you work through the problem! We should continue to compare notes.


    •   sidlausbon 21 Apr 2012 at 8:07 pm     Reply6

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks for the comment. I do find that I need to review some concepts for students. Interpreting phylogenies, for example, while theoretically covered in the 200-level biology series, is a constant source of confusion. I’ve ended up devoting an entire day of classtime to the topic in FW315 (on campus) in order to try to backfill misconceptions.

      My bigger frustration is not that I need to review, but that I’m responsible for providing the basic framework that the students need to succeed in the courses that follow this one. That limits the amount of attention that I can pay to analysis and synthesis in FW315, and results in a lot of weight being given to comprehension-level assessments. That frustrates the more able students and also results in the high information density that I’m struggling with in the transition to the online format.

      On the other hand, my follow-up class (Advanced Ichthyology) is weighted much more heavily toward higher-level reasoning, so if I ever translate that to eCampus I’ll perhaps be able to avoid this frustration.

  4.   Shannon Riggson 23 Apr 2012 at 1:29 pm     Reply7

    More on games … The games Karen mentioned are typically not graded, but rather are offered as practice/learning opportunities. However, we can impress upon students that these practice activities will help them study for graded assessments. We can also create assignments to accompany the games, such as reflection pieces on what was learned.

    In addition to the custom games our multimedia team can help create, we also have software called StudyMate, which can take simple questions typed in a Word document and turn them into crossword puzzles, fill in the blank, and Jeopardy-like trivia games. You can read more about them here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/ecampuspdt/2011/07/19/studymate-active-learning-games/

    •   sidlausbon 25 Apr 2012 at 4:52 pm     Reply8

      Okay, that helps clarify the purpose of the games for me. Once we’re finished with the core revision of FW315, I might be interested in finding some ways to incorporate some more of these active elements.

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