April 22, 2013

Encouraging Participation Across Campuses

by Kalin Clifford, PharmD, PGY-2 Geriatric Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Distance learning is becoming the norm as improvements in technology allow students to attend, across hundreds of miles, lectures synchronously delivered from the main campus.  However, student participation in classroom discussions across distant campuses can be very challenging.  How can educators engage not only the students in the physical classroom, but those students who are attending hundreds of miles away?  Several tools have been evaluated that purport to increase the effectiveness of the educator and enhance learner participation in synchronous distance campuses.

Recently I began teaching in an elective course that utilizes video-teleconferencing technology and links students on two campuses. One of my main concerns is effectively engaging students at the distant campus.  After all, they are a part of the same class and active participation in the class discussions is an essential component of the learning.  After my first class session in this course, I became aware that I’d failed to involve the distance campus during the discussion.  My pharmacy school did not have any distance campuses and all didactic instruction was delivered at one site.  This method of delivery – via video-teleconferencing - was completely new to me.  After talking with some of the guest lecturers in the course, many of them stated that it was difficult to connect with the students at the distant campus. Clearly there is a need for proven methods that can increase student participation and engagement across campuses.

Distance education has emerged as an alternative to “traditional” methods of delivering instruction because it increases flexibility and provides access to more students.Distant campuses must provide the same quality of instruction for students. Therefore, new methods and techniques are required to increase participation not only within a classroom, but also with distant classrooms.2  Several methods to increase learner participation across distant campuses during synchronous exercises activities have been described, including:
·  Using Audience Response Systems (ARS)
·  Creating a Randomized Online Discussion Registration Process
·  Learning Management Systems with voice over internet protocol (VOIP)

The first method that may be useful in increasing student engagement would be the audience response systems (ARS).  Using response devices (aka "clickers") which students were required to purchase, Clauson, et al. found that 81.3% of students believed that the clicker improved the overall class experience.3  Students felt the ARS encouraged greater participation (89.3%) and improved the clarity of subject matter (71.1%) but it also lead to greater anonymity (89.8%).3  The majority of students (85.3%) thought the ARS increased ease of participation and student focus when lectures were delivered synchronously from a different campus.3  ARS may be an option for those campuses considering distance education.

A second technique is utilization of a web-based program to randomly select students to participate using an online class registration log.  This system allows student to register when they are present for class and each is assign a number for the day. The instructor clicks on the screen when they ask a question to the audience and the program randomly selects a participant (associated with a number) to respond to the question.  Students receive participation credit as an incentive to both attend and participate in each class.  Mehvar found that 75-90% of students believed they were more prepared for class, more likely to attend class, and more attentive during the lecture.4  Approximately 80% of students from both campuses agreed that by requiring participation improved overall learning. It is important to note that students received credit for participation, they were not scored based on the correctness of their answer.4  This can be a system used in larger classrooms where most students are reluctant to raise their hand.

The third option is a learning management system with VOIP.  In this method, students “log on” to a secure online classroom.  The students view the lecture simultaneously as its presented to other students on the main campus.  This system also provides a “chat-log” for distant students to type in a question for the instructor, and the instructor can answer questions when they have a break, or pause, during the lecture. Henriksen and Roche found that students did not raise their hands to contribute classroom discussions, even when strongly encouraged to do so by faculty. Distant and campus-based students were more likely to utilize the “chat-log” apparently because they could anonymously submit their questions.

Many of these options are great techniques that have been proven effective with students on distant campuses; however, the question of cost should be considered. More often than not the university would need to provide support and funding for these systems.

Several methods to increase student engagement across multiple campuses have been reported in the literature. These techniques are effective; however, not all universities may have the financial resources to acquire these tools.  For any program that is considering distant campuses, these tools need to be evaluated to improve overall student learning and development.

1.  Hussain I. A study of learners’ reflection onandrogogical skills of distance education tutors. International Journal of Instruction. 2013;6(1):123-38.2.  Stewart DW, Brown SD, Clavier CW, Wyatt J. Active-learning processes used in US pharmacy education. Am J Pharm Educ. 2011;75(4):Article 68.
3.  Clauson KA, Alkhateeb FM, Signh-Franco D. Concurrent use of an audience response system at a multi-campus college of pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76(1):Article 6.
5.  Henriksen B, Roche V. Creation of medicinal chemistry learning communities throughenhanced learning technology and interdisciplinary collaboration. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76 (8): Article 158.

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