The Course Recast

"online learning is successful in direct degree to the background and drive of the disciplined self-directed learner"

Our course prototype was successful in a number of significant ways. We did have considerable success in creating an interactive online learning environment where students could engage canned resource material and interact in a live chat room environment. Our CD seems to have real potential for introducing students to the increasingly sophisticated study of stone tool analysis, particularly emphasising approaches using digital image techniques. Self-directed students were able to accelerate through the course as they grew accustomed to manipulating the online learning environment. Key here seems to be that online learning is successful in direct degree to the background and drive of the disciplined self-directed learner.

Personalities and learning styles are important

Though our sample was very small given a single run for a unique course, we feel comfortable concluding that online success is very much keyed to the personality and learning style of the student. A student who needs external direction and the kind of reinforcement found in the traditional structured classroom may not find the online learning experience successful. This proposition is heightened if that student also has little experience in the online subject beforehand or little or no experience in the online environment. A true virtual course with no real interpersonal contact between student and instructor and student and students is a challenge. We found that we exacerbated this problem by having few deadlines other than presence in the chat rooms with guest speakers. Most students simply delayed doing their assignments, quizzes and examinations until the last possible segment of the class, and their work suffered.

Universities as facilitators

A major stumbling block was the inflexibility of our own Idaho State University enrolment and accounting structure. ISU is home to the Idaho Virtual Campus, a consortium of Idaho universities supplying online classes, which has been in place for several years. This is a direction that will continue to be emphasised by the Idaho State Board of Education. So, ISU has a vested interest in online learning, and yet ISU has very clumsy enrolment and grading practices in place for the student enrolled at a distance. Our students outside the state of Idaho found it very awkward to work with our university. Further, our university charges online out-of-state students out-of-state tuition at the same time that it intends to recruit students to online courses. In fairness, many of these contradictory practices are in place because most of our university's online courses are intended to serve Idaho students enrolled in the university's degree programs but living some distance from campus. A course like ours is intended for students specialising in archaeology and wanting specific training and finds potential audiences outside the state. The university also schedules classes on a semester basis and all current administrative procedures assume that courses run over the duration of the traditional academic calendar. This course is designed to run outside of the academic calendar and could in fact be in place over the course of a year with students' enrolment time gauged from the time they enter the course as a fee-paying student. Also, the university's online courses typically supplement classroom instruction, and most, even if delivered at a distance, are brought into classroom environments with instructors or aides directing class activities. The university considers this distance learning and equates online transmission with television courses, seeing use of the computer simply as a more expensive or more interactive option.

Copyrights and other restrictions

We had limited problems in our course with copyrights and other types of restrictions imposed by publishers and authors but this is a signal problem for many classes. The IVC workgroup at ISU has struggled for several years with how to make materials available to students. Many journals will not release material online, seeing this as an infringement of copyright. Many authors will not make drafts or published papers available online, asserting that this is an abridgement of their right to be selective about exposure. We were fortunate in our class to own the products that we put online, either individually as the creators or as the Idaho Museum of Natural History. The Museum waived any proprietary interest in its journals or paper series and allowed these to go online. Our authors who came into the chat rooms allowed drafts of papers to be put online for advance student reading as preparation for the online interactions.

Anthropology 491 revised

We cannot solve our university-wide bureaucratic problems but we have devised some solutions for more effective classroom delivery. In the light of our experience, we are implementing the following changes into the next iteration of Anthropology 491. Many of these will be applicable to any web-based laboratory class.


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Last updated: Thu Jul 11 2002