Students Connect With New Technologies in Online Summer Course



July 24, 2007 – Podcasting, iPhones, iPods and PDAs are now household technologies for many of today’s students. That’s why Southeast Missouri State University this summer offered the online course MC301 “Mass Communication Theory and Research.”

MC301 is a study of research techniques commonly used in the mass media with a broad overview of mass communication theory. While the course is also offered in the traditional classroom setting, Dr. Karie Hollerbach, Southeast assistant professor of mass communication, taught the course online this summer, incorporating the latest technology in the virtual classroom.

Hollerbach says her online course addresses the needs of the 21st century learner and enables students with different learning styles to take in the material by using a variety of high-tech components.

“The genesis of the idea to reach out to students with different learning styles using today’s technology came from the students themselves,” she said. “Some told me that it would improve their online learning experience if they could hear me deliver the lectures versus reading them on the computer screen.  Others asked if there could be printer-friendly versions of the lecture notes, while a few more wanted to be able to see me as a part of the online learning experience. “My reaction to these varied requests was ‘why not?” she said.

While the online learning environment has historically used a very heavy print component, today’s technology makes adding audio and video files less cumbersome and somewhat more user-friendly to the faculty member who is creating those files, Hollerbach said. “We are also fortunate at Southeast to have dedicated staff members at the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning who will gladly work with faculty who want to incorporate technology into their teaching, be it in the face-to-face classroom or the online environment,” she said.

Hollerbach said she considered a range of learning styles when developing her course. Some students, she says, are visual learners. Others learn best through auditory learning or via kinesthetic (hands-on) methods.

Each lesson of MC301 is listed on a course Web site and also is available for students to print. Hollerbach also has included on the course Web site video segments of herself explaining complex concepts to aid those who are visual learners.

Hollerbach says she hopes the combined use of print, audio and video files in the lecture materials enhances the learning experiences for communication majors who want to take the required MC301 course online.

“MC301 is a challenging course due to the nature of the material that is covered in it,” she said. “That fact does not change whether the material is delivered in the face-to-face classroom or the virtual classroom. I feel that I need to choose the optimal combination of resources to teach MC301 in a way that the students can relate to. In today’s online learning environment, using audio and video as well as print resources just makes sense to me, particularly as a professor in the mass communication discipline.”

One of the most exciting and useful elements of the online class is the streaming audio feed of Hollerbach’s lectures over the Internet that students can download to an iPod or an MP3 player.

Dan  Presson of Columbia, Ill., one of Hollerbach’s former students, said he took Hollerbach’s lessons overseas with him last year.

“I took a weekend and went to London. During the long plane ride, I listened to Dr. Hollerbach’s podcasts I had uploaded onto my iPod,” he said. “It was incredibly helpful. I just listened to the podcast and took notes, no big clunky books needed.”

Hollerbach uses her own voice, as in the case of audio streaming, and her person, as with video streaming, to humanize the transfer of academic material.

“The challenge of the situation is to try and make it interesting,” Hollerbach says.

Many students who have taken this course say they are enjoying taking part in this cutting edge method of academics and this new approach to learning.

Charlotte Jackson of Jackson, Mo., who took the course this summer, says being able to download Hollerbach’s videotaped lectures was very useful.

“I think the video is extremely beneficial when you are struggling to understand the materials,” he said. “Sometimes, even though it is the exact information (available in printable lectures), it becomes clearer when you hear someone actually say it.”

Jackson says the printable course lectures also were helpful.

“Her printout lectures are excellent mainly because they are essential when studying for the exams,” she said.

Jackson said that while some are concerned that instructor-student relationships suffer with online courses, she feels differently. She says Hollerbach’s inclusion of video in the online course was a welcome addition.

“I honestly feel very connected with my instructors online, sometimes even more than in class,” Jackson said. “At least I know they are talking to me.”