Saturday, May 14, 2005

Online lectures for blended learning: the good and bad

Way back when, perhaps 5 years ago, I created PowerPoints with voice over for every lecture in my intermediate microeconomics class. If I can recall my thinking at the time, I had wanted my students to come to class prepared, and so had them do the Mallard quizzes before I lectured on them. They complained bitterly about this saying they had to work too hard and they had to "teach themselves" the economics. I'll ignore the irony in that complaint and simply point out that I couldn't be comfortable teaching students who were angry that way. But I didn't want to lecture on the basics in the live class setting, because I thought that was a poor use of class time. So I put that stuff online.

If you go here, you can still see the links to those lectures
But if you follow those links you'll hit a dead end. The server where that content resided died and we had to change servers. Here are links on the new server for Lecture_03.
PowerPoint with voice over as Web Page (The audio probably won't work).
PowerPoint as asf file (Windows Media Format). This should work but it is progressive download, not real streaming.
PowerPoint without audio (for printing out the files).

I'm showing this old content to demonstrate in part how nondurable it is. The first version used to work with IE but not Netscape. When IE 6 came out, it did something that messed up the audio associations. So at least I understand why it doesn't work now. The second version works but it looks really rinky dink, as if tiles fell off the wall. I have no clue why this has happened other than that Windows Media Player has gone through several iterations. If one goes to the View menu and then chooses File Markers, one will see the various slide titles. When version 6 of Windows Media Player was available (that was the commonly available version of the player when I made this content) one could actually use the File Markers as a navigation tool - in other words move to that particular slide within the presentation. Unfortunately, that functionality does not work with later versions of the player. The plain PowerPoint without the audio still works.

Since that time I've learned some things about accessible Web design and about embedding audio in Web pages. Also, most students on this campus now have reasonable access to bandwidth. Therefore, playing the audio off a server is probably worse than having the students download it. Here is an example of an html alternative to the PowerPoint which has audio and has to be downloaded so probably shouldn't be done over a modem. (It's 2.5 MB). I like this in terms of the technology. There are no frames. The navigation is straightforward. The embedded players show the time of the clip and can be paused or stopped and then repeated. Making the first one of these is a bear, but then it can serve as a template for other presentations and that makes it much easier. If the sound files are named with a numerical scheme (sound001.rm, sound002.rm, etc.) the same html code can be re-used. Ditto for the slides themselves and the navigation between them and the index slide.

However, I'm completely unsatisfied with this pedagogically. It is thorough. But it is boring. Boring and thorough is good as a reference. Boring and thorough is horrible as a presentation. This takes the worst of classroom lectures and puts it online. Either the content must change or the format must change or both.

In the post tomorrow, I'll talk about alternative formats. I'm still experimenting with that.

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