So, you’re thinking about offering virtual office hours in your online class. Your instructional designer is thrilled! Virtual office hours are a great way to promote social connection and build community with your students.

But, you’re nervous. Maybe you’ve tried offering virtual office hours before. Maybe you’ve heard from colleagues that students aren’t going to show up to your office hours. Maybe one student will show up. Maybe five. Or three. Or none. Maybe you’re not sure how to prepare. You want your students to come with questions. Maybe your students will come with tons of questions. Maybe they won’t.

Just as you can’t–or shouldn’t–teach an online course in the same way that you would teach an on-campus course, you also shouldn’t structure your virtual office hours in the same way you structure your face-to-face office hours. On-campus students already have face time with you and their peers in class. If your on-campus students come to your office hour, it’s likely because they have a question for you. Online students may have other reasons for attending your office hour. Given, not just the different modality, but the different reasons online students choose to attend an office hour, virtual office hours implemented into a primarily asynchronous online course, require thoughtful planning.

The research article, “Live Synchronous Web Meetings in Asynchronous Online Courses: Reconceptualizing Virtual Office Hours” (Lowenthal, Dunlap, & Snelson, 2017) explores how to successfully conduct online office hours in primarily asynchronous online courses. The article focuses on group office hours, but synchronous student-student and instructor-student interactions are worth considering as well. While I would encourage you to read the entire paper, I’d like to summarize some of the “implications for practice” highlighted in the article. The paper includes 21 implications for practice. Here are a few to consider for your online course:

  1. Rebrand your office hours. For better or for worse, we all have preconceived notions about what an office hour entails. Be thoughtful about your goals for the virtual sessions, renaming them to reflect how the time will be used, the level of formality, or the structure. Examples from the research article include, “Happy Hours, Coffee Breaks, Afternoon Tea, Bat Cave…Around the Campfire….Consultations, Design Studio, Conference Room, Headquarters, and Open Space.” (188)
  2. Schedule them in advance–ideally at the beginning of the quarter–and vary the days and times to accommodate different schedules and timezones. Providing ample notice and opportunities on various days and times is especially important as online students are often juggling home, work, and school responsibilities.
  3. Provide reminders via email or announcements.
  4. Prompt students for questions prior to the live sessions.
  5. Then, record the live session. That way, students can still ask a question, have it answered, and watch later if they’re unable to attend the live session.
  6. Post the recording in an announcement, so that it is easy to find.
  7. Start the session with an ice-breaker.
  8. Consider offering some brief direct-instruction or inviting a guest speaker.
  9. Incentivize students to attend by making the experience engaging and relevant–and giving them an agenda before the session.

While virtual synchronous interaction isn’t usually required in Ecampus courses, it is an option that, when thoughtfully implemented, can enhance the teaching and learning experience. If this is an approach that you’re interested in exploring, reach out to your instructional designer, and they can help you implement it in a way that is equitable for all students.

References:

Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285

Image credit:

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

One of the common ideas instructors have to bolster student-content engagement in a course is to add media. Podcasts are a type of media element that can support learning in a number of ways. It is relatively easy to link to an established podcast. Planning and producing your own podcast is more involved. This post explores the idea of producing a podcast for your online course. Is it something you should consider?

Prior to diving into the value and purpose of podcasts it is useful to understand what a podcast is…and what it isn’t.

The term podcast is a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”. This blended word says a lot because a podcast is a digital recording that is produced for distribution to a computer or mobile device (e.g., the iPod in 2005). Podcasts are distributed via RSS feeds that users subscribe to. Podcast directories, like iTunes®, allow users to find and subscribe to a podcast. Generally podcasts are episodic and often serial in nature with new episodes delivered automatically to subscribed users as the new content becomes available.

So, you can see a course podcast is more than an audio or video file embedded in an online course that students click on to engage with. In its ideal form, a podcast is a method of delivering course content to a learner’s mobile device via the podcast subscription process. Learners can engage with that content at any time and any place they have their mobile device.

Banner showing cover art from four OSU podcasts
Sample cover art from select Oregon State University podcasts.

Audio, Video, or Enhanced Podcasts

There a three primary formats of podcasts. Links to examples of each type of podcast are provide at the end of this article.

  • Audio: This type of podcast distributes digital audio files to listeners
  • Video (vodcast): This podcast type distributes a digital video file to podcast watchers.
  • Enhanced: The enhanced podcasts distributes a media file that displays images synchronized with audio. 

Instructional Use & Value
With mobile devices pervasive in college audiences, being able to distribute educational content to those devices is very attractive. The use of podcasts in online learning environments is common and spans many disciplines (Supanakor-Davila & Bollinger, 2014). Podcasting has also been applied in traditional college courses (McGarr, 2009) and in graduate teaching (Luna & Cullen, 2011). Fernandez, Sallan and Simo (2015) recognized podcasting as a major phenomenon in education with the primary purpose being the distribution of course content.

The purpose of podcasts in instruction varies by podcast type and author. Podcasts can be used to inform, provide analysis, develop skills and knowledge, motivate, mediate and more (Carvalho et al., 2009). Common types of podcasts produced for educational use include:

  • Informative: Description fo concepts, analysis, synthesis, readings etc.
  • Feedback: Audio or video feed back for student work or group work.
  • Guides: Helpful media content addressing field or practical work, studying, group dynamics and reflective or experiential learning.
  • Authentic: Original media contend such as news, interviews, radio programming and others.

The production of podcasts can be faculty, student, or outside expert driven. Like any good media production it should have excellent production value and a structure to hold attention and enhance learning. Since podcasts are serial in nature shorter media segments are encouraged. Episodes of 15 minutes or less will likely promote better engagement with podcast content. Although a very engaging podcast can be longer.

The benefits of podcasts in online courses are tied to the nature of the media and distribution process. Audio podcast are popular because they can be listened to while doing other tasks. Additionally the speed of media playback can be controlled by the listener. Video podcasts are ideal when visual support is necessary to foster understanding of the course content. As mobile media podcasts may be used to facilitate and support remote field work by students or even tours of remote places. The ability to watch or listen to podcasts via WiFi or downloaded and used on-demand makes podcast a convenient asynchronous media adjunct to an online course.

So, as a course content delivery mechanism podcasts are a unique tool if applied thoughtfully. Understanding podcast types, formats, and their delivery mechanism helps you make better decisions about podcast application.

Research in Action sound wave image.
Visit the Research in Action podcast website at Oregon State University to listen to this episode and see how transcripts are shared.

Accessibility
Making content accessible when using podcast requires some planning and also reflects the nature of the podcast media you plan to use. For audio podcasts it is important to provide transcripts to support all learners. 

Video podcasts are best paired with well synchronized captions. When planning video podcast you may also want to think about providing audio descriptions of content that provides important information that is shown as a visual in the video.

Podcast Consumers: Is This Your Audience?
This is an important question. If you produce a podcast are learners likely to engage with it? Is podcasting on the radar of potential learners?  The Edison Research survey on The Podcast Consumer (2018) indicates that 26% of those surveyed listen to podcasts monthly. The podcasting audience by age shows that  30% of  12-24 year olds, 32% of 25-54 year olds, and 13% of 55 + year olds have listened to a podcast in the last month. Male and female listeners are about evenly split in podcast engagement. Smartphone and other mobile devices make up 76% of podcast listening devices with computers making up 24% of podcast engagement. The top three locations of podcast engagement are at home (82%), followed by in a car/truck (54%), and walking or on foot (41%). Podcasting seems well suited to reach audiences that are remote, mobile, and consume media in an asynchronous fashion. These are also common descriptors of online learning audiences.

A Podcast For Your Course?
If a podcast sounds interesting to you contact your instructional designer at Ecampus. They can help you understand more about this mobile media opportunity and help think through strategies for effective podcast use. They will also work with Ecampus multimedia developers to help facilitate the production and distribution of your podcast. 

So, what do you think? Can you imagine your students engaging with course content as a podcast? Could a podcast work in your online course?

Links to sample podcasts in iTunes

Notes: 

  1. Enhanced podcasts are best viewed on a mobile device although they can be viewed in iTunes once downloaded.
  2. Prior to 2017 educational podcasts were distributed by Apple via iTunes U. With changes in iTunes educational podcasts now appear in the podcast section of iTunes and iTunes U was discontinued.


References

Carvalho, A. A., Aguiar, C., Santos, H., Oliveira, L., Marques, A., & Maciel, R. (2009). Podcasts in higher education: Students’ and lecturers’ perspectives. In A. Tatnall & A. Jones (Eds.), Education and technology for a better world (pp. 417-426). Boston: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. doi:10.1007/978-3- 642-03115-1_44.

Fernandez, V.; Sallan, J.; Simo, Pep. Past, present, and future of podcasting in higher education. In L., Many & Y. Zhao (Eds.). Exploring learning & teaching in higher education pp. 305-330. Berlin: Springer, 2015,.

Luna, Gaye, & Cullen, Deborah. (2011). Podcasting as Complement to Graduate Teaching: Does It Accommodate Adult Learning Theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 40-47.

McGarr, Oliver. (2009). A Review of Podcasting in Higher Education: Its Influence on the Traditional Lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(3), 309-321.

Supanakorn-Davila, S., & Bolliger, D. (2014). Instructor Utilization Of Podcasts In The Online Learning Environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(3), N/a.

Webster, T. (2018). The Podcast Consumer. Retrieved from http://www.edisonresearch.com/podcast-consumer-2018/

 

Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, Assistant Director, Ecampus Research Unit

Online Learning Efficacy Research Database

Person looking at the research database on a computer screen

Despite the prevalence of online and hybrid or blended courses in higher education, there is still skepticism among faculty and administrators about the effectiveness of online learning compared to traditional classroom learning. While some individuals may have a basic awareness of the published research on online learning, some want to know about the research findings in their own home discipline. The Ecampus Research Unit has developed the Online Learning Efficacy Research Database, a tool to help address these needs and concerns. This searchable database contains research published in academic journals from the past 20 years that compare student outcomes in online, hybrid/blended, and face-to-face courses.

Using the Database

Screenshot of Research Database

The database currently includes 206 research citations across 73 discrete disciplines from 153 different journals. The database allows users to find discipline-specific research that compares two or more modalities (e.g. online versus hybrid). Users can search the database by keyword, discipline, modality, sample size, education level, date range, and journal name. The database also includes the ability to filter results by discipline, modality, sample size, and peer review status.

This new database improves upon other older searchable databases by adding the capability to search by specific disciplines. On a monthly basis, the database is updated with the latest published research. To learn more about scope of the database, sign up for monthly database updates, or to suggest a publication for inclusion in the database, see our FAQ page.

The database is also a valuable tool for those who are interested in or are currently engaging in research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. It will provide users with an efficient way to find gaps in discipline specific literature and pursue research to fill those gaps.