Something I have been working on for some time now is an online Amateur Radio License Class program. The biggest issues I have been hammering away at are the platforms for designing an effective learning experience along with what I believe to be the inherent drudgeries of traditional online learning.
As a student, I have taken a number of online classes at the college level and found myself not getting much from the class. The lack of instructor involvement and the spontaneity of live Q&A and lectures makes the whole process less conducive to learning anything new or enjoyment of the process. At least this has been my experience.
I certainly don’t want to put my own students through this kind of class, and as of yet, I hadn’t been able to get a group of platforms to work together seamlessly enough to make the whole thing look like a professional endeavor. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy teaching when I feel like the whole process looks slip-shod.
As an Instructor, I have had some experience with online course development and publishing. I ran into many of the same frustrations I had as a student while working on the other side of the fence and it frustrated the heck out of me.
I think a good online learning environment incorporates a number of approaches.
First. A solid self-paced, resource rich, modular, study and quiz environment. This is the framework everything else is built around. If the bones are in good working order you can bulk up the flesh as needed.
Second. Community and communication. Students need to be able to interact. Most college online classes force community with journal style public entries or simple questions that require minimal engagement to complete the module.
Forcing community is tough, particularly when everyone is completely time-shifted. In live classes the first few hours, up to much of the first day, everyone is fairly lone-wolfing it. By the end of the first day, people are interacting. By the time we get to exams, there is some genuine comradery. It is great to see this develop.
Communication takes many forms. In forum type activities it takes a long time to develop any active communication. Instant messaging type systems encourage a more active participation but are difficult to maintain when people are active at different times.
Simple easy to use communications platforms are needed to develop an active community environment.
Third. Live, interactive events throughout the course. Lecture, Q&A, any active engagement is good. A combination of both Lecture and Q&A with a bit of time for general conversation or sharing is a great way to encourage both regular communication and sharing.
This has generally been the hitch on the whole thing. Live interaction requires several things, a visual component and an audio component as well as ease of use, and free or incredibly low-cost.
The Framework. I like the Moodle platform as a foundation. It offers a lot of options and incorporates planned lessons, resources, and quizzing, along with a really flexible back office system that has been proven over time. It’s a free platform, and it is used by colleges and universities all over the world.
Presentations & Communication. There are a lot of options for sharing presentations, mostly for collaboration, and there are webinar type programs as well. I recently became aware of FreeConferenceCall.com; I like this one because it allows me to do a broad screen share or select specific windows. It also includes video conferencing, VoIP conferencing, and dial-in conferencing, and text messaging, all in one package with all of the features being concurrent.
FCC, not to be confused with the government agency, seems like a good option for the communications element. There are of course other VoIP and messaging options that would work quite easily alongside FCC as just the slide/whiteboard presentation. For VoIP, solid choices include Skype or Google Hangouts. Both also have a text messaging component as well.
There are other options including live casting with YouTube. Third party software with YouTube can easily meet the presentation needs, but the learning curve for me while building the program in Moodle would be steep.
Conclusion. I am by no means set in stone with any of the options. I am leaning towards Moodle + FreeConfrenceCall, with maybe an outside text messaging option.
Any way you slice it, I have a lot of work to do.
Until next time, 73,
ETA (6/25/2017): The Ham-U.com domain is now dead. I let it go because I just don’t know when I will be able to get to setting up the online program. When it does go live, it will be part of the KK6GXG domain.