This week I am to write a review over a course I choose from an open course site. I choose the Open Yale Courses (OYC) and the course I choose was Astronomy. I was asked to answer several questions in my review which you will read in a bit but I wanted to say that as my instructor pointed out these questions do not help one review an online course and after the questions I will have some extra information about the course that is important when looking at a course. So first off the questions:
- Does the course appear to be carefully pre-planned and designed for a distance learning environment? How so?
The course does appear to be pre-planned and designed for distance learning. The online portion of the course itself is well-organized and has a navigation menu at the top with four buttons. These buttons navigate you to the important areas of the course and the materials are all very well-marked and explained. The materials especially the lectures are available in multiple formats and through multiple sites (YouTube, iTunes). The embedded videos of the lecture have the ability to play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward. What I find especially helpful is that the key points of the lecture are noted next to the embedded media and you can click on them to skip ahead in the video if you choose to. This availability and type of course materials and the course organization makes this course appear carefully planned and designed, as Simonson, M. et al. (2012) states “Instructors of online courses must make course organization, calendar activities, and expectations as clear as possible. Students need this kind of structure and detail to help them stay organized and on task.”(p. 134). However, the actual videos for the course and the teachings included are not created for the use on the online environment. The videos are 50 minutes long and the instructor is lecturing the whole time and only using a projector to show his notes and mathematics formulas. While these notes are provided in a PDF for users to download they are hard to read and hard to follow with the course. I feel that Simonson, M. et al. (2012) said it best, “Taking the time to develop good visual media will enhance the quality of the learning experience. Also the length of the videos is painfully long and while the side-bar allows for you to see portions of the lecture these portions are still in upwards of 20 to 30 minutes. This is poorly made in a distance learning standpoint as Hartsell, T., & Steve Chi-yin, Y. (2006) state “Keeping the video short and to the point can also help maintain interest than watching long, dull videos of lectures. It is recommended to use short 15-minute clips that incorporate PowerPoint slides and demonstrations to present course materials” (p.38).
- Does the course follow the recommendations for online instruction as listed in your course textbook?
The course text recommends the use of the unit, module, and topic model. That means that an online course will have one unit per semester credit, those units are broken down into module and then those modules are broken down into topics. The book also suggest a major assignment per unit (examination, ten-page paper, project, etc.), a minor assignment for every few modules (quizzes, activity report, article review, short paper, graded threaded discussion, etc.) and that the students are paced at one module a week (Simonson, M., et al., 2012) The course I reviewed did not follow these recommendations the course consisted of 24 lectures, and two exams offered to the online population. The course did offer more assignments and assessments to the actual face to face course.
- Did the course designer implement course activities that maximize active learning for the students?
The course designer did not implement activities at all for this course. The course is video lectures with links to notes and test answers and no actual activates for the user of the open course website. When creating a course a designer could “plan activities that encourage interactivity at all sites” (Simonson, M., et al., 2012, p. 153). The designer of the online portion of these courses did not provide any materials or activities to help foster active learning.
So now that those questions have been answered let us take a closer and more Instructional designer look at OYC. The purpose of OYC is to allow everyone to access quality education for free. As OYC states on their about page “The online courses are designed for a wide range of people around the world, among them self-directed and life-long learners, educators, and high school and college students.”() While I understand that just having these courses online for free I feel that Yale drops the ball in providing these courses. The course I took as I mentioned before was a video of a lecture with notes and a link to a resources website included. While I had access to the video in different formats it still last 50 minutes and the only media provided was the instructors notes on an over-head projector. The designer of these courses did not think of this world-wide audience when creating these courses. The lectures should be shortened and quality graphics and media should be prepared to help foster learning. While collaboration would be hard to achieve with theses course, the use of a discussion board to post questions and insight would greatly help learners make connections with the material and with other learners. I honestly enjoy the web portion of the courses, the website navigation is easy and organized and all the content is easily found. I like what the designer made for the website and I just wish they could have done the same for the actual instruction. The problem is that Yale took a traditional course and produced it online without retooling the content or thinking of the online audience. When you move a traditional course online you must rework it to fit the online environment which Simonson, M., et al., (2012) make two great points as to why this should be avoided “
- Keep in mind that courses previously taught in traditional classrooms may need to be retooled. The focus of the instruction shifts to visual presentations, engaged learners, and careful timing of the presentations of the information.
- In revising traditional classroom materials, consider ways to illustrate key concepts or topics, using tables, figures, and other visual representations
“(p. 153). The distance education theory I feel that OYC used in creation of these courses is Hilary Perraton’s Synthesis of Existing Theories. This theory states “you can use any medium to teach anything” and “distance teaching can reach audiences who would not be reached by ordinary means” (Simonson, M., et al., 2012, p. 51). OYC uses a streaming video as it medium and theses videos are now accessible on the internet for anyone in any country with an internet connection to access. While I think it is great that we are now offering free educational materials online, I think that OYC should design there courses to be more distance education friendly.
Hartsell, T., & Steve Chi-yin, Y. (2006). Video Streaming in Online Learning. AACE Journal, 14(1), 31-43.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.