Patricia A. Schoknecht and William W. Crosbie
Dept of Animal Science
New Brunswick, NJ
We proposed to develop a web-based course in Animal Nutrition that could be made available to anyone who wished to either take the course or utilize it within their own institution. We successfully completed this project, with 24 modules composed of full text, images, animations with voiceovers and transcripts, hyperlinked dictionary, self-test questions, and video. The course is being offered for the first time at Rutgers University during the Fall, 2000 semester. Rutgers has contracted with eCollege for all of its on-line course management, so Animal Nutrition is hosted on an eCollege server, with eCollege responsible for HelpDesk support. We provide in this report the results of a mid-course evaluation run by eCollege. We have also pressed all 24 modules onto a CD and this CD is being used as an electronic textbook within 3 other Animal Nutrition courses University of Delaware, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Ohio State University. The faculty and students at these institutions are conducting a minimum of two evaluations per semester on the usefulness of the CD as a textbook and course supplement. We expect that alterations will need to be made during the spring semester, with a full national roll out occurring in time for Fall, 2001.
The project was intended to meet three of the objectives as laid out in the RFP. At this point we have met two of these, with the third being fulfilled during the evaluation process. By creating the course, we are giving institutions that teach animal nutrition the option of using this course rather than utilizing faculty resources to create and/or develop a course of their own (Objective 1). Since animal nutrition is an important course throughout the natural sciences, the existence of an online course will allow students at many types of institutions to study this science and understand how it applies to their work (Objective 3).
The 4th objective, to facilitate interaction among scientists is the ongoing objective. Due to the one year timeline, we were unable to recruit other scientists to contribute significantly to the content others were not able to put their content together fast enough in the appropriate way to be developed. However, now that the course is complete, we are developing an evaluation mechanism that will facilitate this interaction. Three nutritionists are using a CD version in their nutrition courses this semester and we are developing an editorial board to provide a specific review of the material. We are hoping to recruit between 3 and 6 other scientists from across the country (including industry representatives) to serve on this editorial board.
We proposed to develop a web-based course in Animal Nutrition that could be made available to anyone who wished to either take the course or utilize it within their own institution. We successfully completed this project, with 24 modules composed of full text, images, animations with voiceovers and transcripts, hyperlinked dictionary, self-test questions, and video. We developed primarily using Macromedia Flash, with the voices recorded using SoundForge. These products allowed us to create media-rich animations and figures with very small file sizes.
We developed with two primary objectives: 1) to keep file sizes small since users may be interacting with this product from their homes (no single file requires more than 3 minutes to load over a 28.8 modem) and 2) to maximize learner control of the content. Again, by utilizing Flash, these objectives were seldom incompatible. Maximizing user control meant, for us, to provide both voice-overs and transcripts on all animations. All animations are controlled by tape recorder buttons that allow users to start and stop, replay, and move the animation to any specific point. Providing users with this level of control allows them to control their learning. There are also figures that are not animated, but allow the user to control cognitive load by choosing to see various portions, or all, of the information at a time. The hyperlinked dictionary provides buttons that allow the student to choose to hear the word pronounced and/or choose to have the definition read to them. Again, this provides them with total control. Anecdotally, one of my students suggested that we create a pronunciation dictionary. He said that he is understanding the concepts using the online course and enjoys it, but feels less confident that he could speak the language of the discipline. He believes that there are many words that do not require definition, or are well-defined within the body of the text, that he would like to hear pronounced. We made a conscious decision not to define a tremendous number of words to prevent the page from becoming too blue with hyperlinked words. However, the idea of creating a separate pronunciation area that is not actually linked is an excellent one.
We created, during the development phase, a number of other best practices. We created a series of pages so it felt more like moving through a book a familiar experience. There is always a table of contents on the left side so students can follow where they are as they move through a module and jump to specific areas if they choose. We have placed navigation bars at both the top and the bottom of every page so students can move through the pages of the module easily. We created specific symbols for compounds that are discussed often (i.e. glucose) and we used the same symbol across all 24 modules. We worked to make all of our figures as realistic as possible, our liver looks like a liver in shape and color. We worried about what we call screen real estate. We believe it is important that when a student is viewing a graph or diagram that the explanatory text is also on the screen. This means that the text must be succinct and the figure must be sized appropriately. Often this meant returning to the actual content and working on new ways to explain the concept so that all the necessary parts fit on the screen together.
Development time for us became faster as we each became better at our jobs. The absolute minimum that we believe a high quality course could be developed is 24 modules in 6 months and that is only if the content provider has all of the pieces together so that the developer never has any down time. The content provider must also be readily available to assist the developer with questions, interpretations, reviews and rewrites, as necessary. The developer must already be proficient in the necessary software tools for this timeline to be met. During the actual development process, the content provider does not have to contribute very much time, but they must be able to provide the time when it is needed. We believe a good development strategy would be for the content provider to get the material together during the summer (for faculty), then work with the developer over the next 6 months.
The course is being offered for the first time at Rutgers University to 96 students this semester, with the lecture component of the course via the Web. All of the students are located at Rutgers University, but the instructor is at a distant location - Dr. Schoknecht is now working in Richmond, VA. Students are required to attend a weekly laboratory that is being taught at Rutgers by graduate teaching assistants. Rutgers has contracted with eCollege for all of its online course management, so Animal Nutrition is hosted on an eCollege server, with eCollege responsible for HelpDesk support. The students report that there were some problems at the beginning of the semester because the Rutgers Internet connection was not reliable. These problems seem to have cleared and they report no problems with eCollege itself.
We are also testing the feasibility of delivering this course through CD-ROMs. We have pressed all 24 modules onto a CD and this CD is being used as an electronic textbook within 3 other Animal Nutrition courses University of Delaware, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Ohio State University. The faculty and students at these institutions are conducting a minimum of two evaluations per semester on the usefulness of the CD as a textbook and course supplement. We have yet to receive any formal feedback from these institutions, but in one conversation with Bill Saylor at Delaware, he reported that his students were very pleased with the CD.
Rutgers University students completed a midcourse evaluation that was sent to them from eCollege. These results are attached at the end of this report. An executive summary of both the objective and written comments are provided along with all of the raw data. I believe this evaluation shows quite clearly that these students are not used to being required to take responsibility for their own learning. That single statement provides reasons to both discontinue online learning in this population and to increase the number of courses they take in this medium. Building a person who is ready for lifelong learning requires that they have learned how to accept this responsibility. The major concern of students seems to be the level of interaction they feel they are receiving from the instructor. Based on this, we have added a site to the course where students can post questions and the instructor can respond. We will see how much this site is used because it does require action to be taken by the students.
We are also putting together an editorial board of 3-6 nutritionists to review the content of the site, find mistakes, and suggest additions to the modules. We expect that alterations will need to be made during the spring semester, with a full national roll out occurring in time for Fall, 2001.
At this point, we envision continuing to teach the course to Rutgers students through eCollege. We also expect to market the course through the Norman Borlaug University, the first web-based university specializing in agriculture. NBU is developing marketing strategies to reach 1) international students, 2) students at institutions that do not offer animal nutrition, 3) schools of veterinary medicine who could use the course for those incoming freshmen who have not had basic nutrition, 4) industry salespeople, and 5) adults returning to school. If the course is taught for credit, we would like to use the eCollege system, but at this point these final decisions have not been made.
We also expect to sell the CD-ROMs as electronic textbooks to institutions that choose to continue to teach animal nutrition in-house. The animations and figures that we have built using the multimedia capabilities are far superior to static diagrams in a textbook. There is also the possibility that an institution may elect to have their students take the web-based course when a faculty member is on sabbatic or during semesters when they are not teaching the course. How often the course is offered will be dependent on the interest and the availability of the instructor. It is possible that we could have different instructors teach the course using the modules. All of these issues are still unresolved until we have successfully completed teaching the course this first time.
We have also disseminated information about the course and the process through a number of invited talks given by Dr. Schoknecht. She has spoken at the national Animal Science meetings, at the meeting that initial formed NBU, given 2 national presentations to the Food Systems Professions Initiative of the Kellogg Foundation and 3 presentations to the Northeast section of this Kellogg Initiative. Dr. Schoknecht has spoken to the faculties of the Agriculture Colleges at Ohio State University, Rutgers University, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and West Virginia University.
Mid-course (October 22, 2000)
This survey was sent to students via e-mail by e-College and the students responded directly to eCollege. 85 out of 95 students completed the survey. Thirteen questions were created by eCollege, with four questions created by me as the instructor.
This survey suggests that the students are not accepting responsibility for their own learning in a way that is necessary in an online course. This is not surprising given that few of them have had this experience before and, since this is a required course, they are not a self-selected group. The survey was also run immediately after the first exam and my exams are notoriously difficult, so the students may feel particularly needy at this juncture of the class. By the way, they did as well on the first exam as any previous group, so they are understanding the material. Some highlights:
The students state they want more interaction with their peers (52%) and with me (60%), yet few students e-mail me direct questions and I have yet to receive a phone call. When I was on campus two weeks ago and announced that I would be available, only 6 students came and none of them to discuss content, just to discuss the online environment. This suggests to me that they have yet to accept responsibility for their own learning and they define interaction as sitting in a classroom and being talked at.
A full 45% of the students did not run through the online orientation course provided by eCollege. Of the 55% that did take the course, 87% felt it prepared them well. Close to 30% of the students say they are not comfortable using the online system we dont know if these are a subset of the ones who never took the orientation course.
As for the technology itself, 80% said the system is available when they wanted it (I hear that Rutgers has been having a lot of downtime this semester) and 18% said that web pages take too long to load. 55% had never used the eCollege Help Desk, but of those who had, 79% thought the Help Desk was helpful.
Overall satisfaction is not bad, but not great. 25% are not satisfied with the online system, but the previous data would suggest that this has to do with the technology not working as well as they would like or with their lack of effort to take the orientation course or use the Help Desk. 14% said the course has not met their expectations and 33% are not satisfied with the online education experience. We have to be careful here because the reputation my course had developed may have resulted in these negatives.
1. The amount of interaction that I have with other students in this course is:
Far too much 0%
Too much 1.2%
About right 47.1%
Too little 35.3 %
Far too little 16.5%
2. The amount of interaction that I have with the instructor of this course is:
Far too much 0%
Too much 0%
About right 38.8%
Too little 32.9 %
Far too little 28.2%
3. The instructor provides feedback that is helpful to my learning.
Strongly agree 15.5%
Strongly disagree 3.6%
4. I receive feedback from the instructor in a timely manner.
Strongly agree 43.4%
Strongly disagree 2.4%
5. The pace of the course is:
Far too fast 4.7%
Too fast 17.6%
About right 76.5%
Too slow 0%
Far too slow 1.2%
6. After going through the online orientation course I was sufficiently prepared to use the online system.
Strongly agree 8.2%
Strongly disagree 2.4%
Did not take the orientation course 44.7%
7. I am comfortable using the online learning system
Strongly agree 16.5%
Strongly disagree 8.2%
8. The online system was available whenever I logged on.
Strongly agree 25.9%
Strongly disagree 2.4%
9. When I am in my online course, the time that it takes for a Web page to appear in my browser consistently:
Exceeds my expectations 3.5%
Meets my expectations 42.4%
Nearly meets my expectations 36.5%
Does not meet my expectations 17.6%
10. The Help Desk was helpful in solving problems and answering questions.
Strongly agree 5.9%
Strongly disagree 0%
Have not contacted the Help Desk 55.3%
11. So far, my expectations of this course have been:
Nearly met 22.4%
Not met 14.1%
12. Overall, how satisfied are you with the online system?
Very satisfied 11.9%
Very dissatisfied 11.9%
13. Overall, how satisfied are you with your online education experience?
Very satisfied 12.9%
Very dissatisfied 16.5%
14. When you view an animation, do you:
Watch the animation and listen to the voice 36.5%
Watch the animation, turning the voice off and read the transcript 20%
Watch the animation with the voice on and the transcript open 43.5%
15. When viewing the animations, do you stop and replay them?
16. Are the lectures in this format better than a book?
Yes, I am more engaged with the material because I am doing things, i.e. using the mouse, starting animations, answering questions 37.3%
Yes, I like having both text and voice 32.5%
Yes, I prefer the computer to a text 13.3%
17. Do you print the modules?
a) I think the animations and lectures were set up very well. It seems that everything possible has been done in absence of a teacher. I enjoy going through lectures at my own pace, and I feel that I concentrate more on the material.
b) I love the online system, it sure beats sitting in a lecture room with a couple hundred people. Notetaking is a lot better too, I can read at my own pace and go back if I have to.
a) Although this online course has been informative, I would rather have participated in the course in person with the original professor teaching it.
b) Patricia Schoknecht is the most amazing teacher. Its too bad she cannot be teaching this class to us in person!!!!!
c) Include some optional practice questions at the end of each module.
d) I think there should be more available discussions from the professor. Its one method of learning to stare at the web and take notes, but a totally different experience if you are sitting in class and have a professor explaining the material to you. For example, I think it would be helpful if the teacher could post some type of open forum lecture, whether it be through a chat room, or anything where all the students of a class could, every so often, come together to discuss the topic and make it more applicable to life.
e) I think the notes should be already printed out for us. I spent a lot of time printing them out at my computer labs because I need the notes in front of me when I study. I like to highlight important things and write my own notes on the side. It would be helpful if we could purchase a course packet with all the notes in it.
f) Make the notes themselves easier to print. For example, when I print out a page of notes, I also get the entire syllabus of the module. I neither need nor want this syllabus on each page and quite frankly its a waste of ink and time.
g) There should be a section where students can looked at questions asked by other students.
h) Education and learning is an interactive process. Classes should not be taught online, but there are certain circumstances where an online class is the only way a university can provide a certain class. Ordinarily I would not be pleased with taking a course like this, but Dr. Schoknecht did a wonderful job of putting it together, we have labs that allow for interaction with other students and teachers, and the feedback questions help the learning process too.
a) I want a teacher in front of me.
b) When Rutgers University is having University-wide problems with their ethernet it is difficult to stay up to date with the work. Especially when the dorms had no connection for the first month of school.
c) I think that if Im paying for a course, I would like it to actually be taught, at least interactively, by a human, who will explain this overwhelming amount of material in a manner that allows students to become comfortable with the material, instead of just trying to figure out what points are important and which to decide to bypass.
d) There is only so much you can get from the online class instruction. Personally, I believe it would be more advantageous to the students if we had an actual person instructing us. But as for the system itself, there is little it can do to improve this, so I have no suggestions pertaining to improvements.
e) Some of the webpages are a little slow to open, is there some way that could be sped up a little? The animations are also very slow to load using dialup access through Rutgers.
f) I need to sit in a classroom and be able to get an instant response to my questions and hear the professor so that I know what is being stressed. I also dont think its fair to have an exam on Friday and an assignment due Tuesday. If this was a class that met we would not have covered material between Friday and Tuesday and since I do the lectures on the days we would have class in the evenings I am forced to rearrange my schedule that was working for me and I am a person who needs order to be able to make everything fit in my day.
g) I dont have time (or the eye strength) to sit at a computer for two hours straight, so I always print out the modules; however the Macs are not compatible with printing Netscape shuts down frequently when trying to print although this wouldnt be a problem if almost every computer on campus was not a Mac.
h) It is a totally different thing reading the text and taking notes compared to being in a lecture. In lectures, the professor can emphasize different key points, whereas in the modules, everything is the same. It is up to us to decipher whats important and what is just extra information. Just reading the text does not emphasize what the teacher expects us to learn.
i) The videos do not appear. The computer systems at Rutgers are not updated to view the videos from the computer lab, so I am not able to view the videos. The instructor posts a question once a week at the beginning of the weekend and we are to complete it by the end of the weekend. This is not enough time for me being that I work all weekend long and am not able to view the question until about 11:55pm on a Sunday night. I believe the question should be posted midweek.
j) I think going to class and having a teacher is not so bad. Students normally get more out of a subject when it is spoken and taught in person. We have no one to ask questions to other than email. Going to class would have helped in learning this material.
k) I have trouble viewing the modules when there is animation being loaded on the page. I use AOL and when I want to view a page with animation on it, it shuts down my AOL. I have tried reloading AOL because I thought that maybe that was the problem but it isnt.
l) I think it is better to have actual classroom meetings rather than online lectures.