I Need Your Class, I Just Don’t Want to Attend

Students are fickle. They want an online course experience, the ability to work at their own pace, in their own environment, wherever that environment is, home, work, school, beach house, neighbor’s house, or Starbuck’s.

In all course evaluations, online students report how they want more contact with faculty, how they don’t get email replies back immediately, and how distant and separated they feel from the learning experience. They don’t want to have a regular online meeting time because “I might as well have taken the real class if I wanted to meet on Wednesdays at 4:30pm.”

I give away education for free. My self-created lecture videos were created using Camtasia (TechSmith), paid for out of my own pocket. I was recently interviewed by the folks at TechSmith, by the way, about my teaching, videos, and education. Most of my Powerpoints have embedded content, courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and their Scientific Visualization Studio.

Faculty, stop making your Powerpoints so boring. Yes, making more attractive Powerpoint presentations is time-consuming, but take 2 minutes and embed a video, or an animation, or some nice pics of something to get your students thinking about your field. Organize your content and make the content appealing. Powerpoint takes consider heat supposedly for damaging lectures. On the contrary, Powerpoint is a powerful content publishing tool when time is used to exploit functionality. Powerpoint is boring because YOU make it so. Below is an example of one of my weather and climate videos.

One of the common complaints I receive from U.S. students is how slow I speak and the monotone quality of my voice. My speech is deliberate. U.S. students represent a very small contingent of possible students, globally. The population of the United States is about 5% of the global population. Our native student body thus must be even smaller than 5%. I speak deliberately for my non-native English-speaking students around the world. As an individual, I find the complaints irritating, as the comments typify traits of U.S. citizens who think the world revolves around them. As a geographer, I find the complaints irritating as the comments continue to support the stereotype U.S. citizens believe the world revolves around them. My global students appreciate the manner in which I speak, though in my traditional course I am considerably more energetic than my videos would lead one to believe.

“I might as well have taken the real class if I wanted to meet on Wednesdays at 4:30pm…

Some of my students email me and admit they have never seen as much effort put into an online course and communicate the wealth of material. I have also received emails from people all of the world, Pakistan, India, and across Africa who are using my videos to help them in their studies. Even U.S. students taking the same course at other schools email to thank me for pushing out content their home school faculty won’t deliver.

My intent here is not self-aggrandizement. First, I would encourage faculty to develop media-based lectures which relate material which students can then watch on their own time, which is precisely what I have done. The Powerpoint notes mirror the video lectures. You’ll also notice I don’t show myself. Again, deliberate. My content and message is more important than my face, I believe. I don’t want to sacrifice slide “real estate” with my ugly mug. Secondly, spend some time to develop your material. Students, by and large, appreciate the time you spend in delivering content if they can see the care taken to create the content.

And, Powerpoint is easy. I am of the mind Powerpoint is a powerful publishing tool. The ability to ask questions, to direct students to various slides based on answers to questions, the ability to embed videos and animations has the potential to transform a Powerpoint into an online quiz / lab exercise. With some practice, and perhaps a whiteboard to draft an outline of content, a savvy instructor could build assessments directly into a Powerpoint show.

For instance, build a slide with an image or embedded video showing some clouds and ask the following question: “The clouds in the {image/video} are of what type?” Add some multiple choice options, the answer and a couple distractors. Within Powerpoint, buttons can be added. Each button can be associated with a response slide. The distractor buttons connect to slides which describe why the select response is wrong. Then, provide an option to return to the question slide. Yes, time-consuming.

However, this is where textbooks need to be. What if textbooks only released material depending on the mastery of previous material? Who decides what the mastery level is? I do, of course. Or, you. Because you would login through a portal and establish the decision rules for releasing textbook content.

Just like an online role-playing game, like WoW, Everquest, or EVE Online, students move on when “Level Achieved.”

And, attendance eventually becomes moot. Maybe.

Thanks to my subscribers, like CrimeThrillerGirl, JasmineKEclipse, Oz du Soleil, and Shannon Thompson. I’m grateful for the attention. PAX

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