Although recent studies indicate that traditional college enrollment is flat or falling, more students are taking online courses than ever before. For students, online courses can offer flexibility and convenience. And for institutions, online courses allow them to serve more students and extend teaching and learning beyond the four walls of a classroom or boundaries of a campus.

But the question remains: can the online experience be equal to that of a traditional classroom experience? Research being conducted by Dr. Kem Rogers, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University (Western) located in London, Ontario, Canada suggests that it can be.

Dr. Rogers has been a champion of online learning at Western. Since 2015, Dr. Rogers and the team at Western have used the Echo360 video platform to record lectures and presentations in face-to-face classrooms and then synchronously live stream those presentations to students enrolled in online sections.

With Echo360 installed in a lecture hall at Western which seats only 195 students, the addition of online sections allows more students to enroll in these classes.

“These are all very popular courses,” says Dr. Rogers. “If we didn’t have the ability to deliver them online with Echo360, we’d have to limit the number of students taking them.  We can now deliver these courses to 300 or more students online. The online sections allow us to serve more students, without compromising pedagogical integrity.”

High-Definition Video and Audio Makes Online Classes Seem Like Face-to-Face Classes

The courses created by Dr. Rogers and his team cover the intricate details of human anatomy and they needed a system that could support high-definition video and audio.

“We tried other video technology and it just didn’t work. I needed something more robust. Anatomy is something that is taught with your hands and when you are giving a lecture, you’re forming shapes with your hands. If you’re not capturing the video of the instructor, you’re missing that part of the lecture with the online students,” says Dr. Rogers. “One main reason we continue to use Echo360 is because it can maintain high resolution video from a PowerPoint presentation. Anything a student sees or hears in the classroom is streamed in high definition video and high-fidelity audio. So, Echo360 helps make the online experience identical to the in-class experience.”

Ease-of-Use Makes for Easier Adoption

According to Dr. Rogers, getting instructors to agree to teach the online sections was made easier by the fact that they didn’t have to alter their teaching or presentations.

“When an instructor enters the classroom, the only thing they need to do is turn on their microphone and make sure their PowerPoint slides are visible on the screen,” says Rogers. “Everything else is done for them and the session is automatically recorded and streamed to the students online by Echo360.”

Instructors also have teaching assistants to help monitor the online sections.

According to Dr. Rogers, the teaching assistant (TA) ensures that the video camera installed in the classroom stays on the instructor should he or she move about. The TA also monitors, and answers questions posed by online students using Echo360’s Q&A feature. If the TA doesn’t know the answer, he or she will raise their hand, ask the question, and the question and correct answer is integrated into the lecture. The Q&A feature is just one of many engagement tools built into the Echo360 video platform to support interactive and engaging learning environments, both in class and online. Other tools available to the instructor include polling, discussion threads and a button for students to flag confusing lecture content.

Research Reveals that Attending Class, Whether Face-to-Face or Online, Is Important

Whenever lectures are recorded, a common concern among faculty members is the impact it will have on student attendance. Dr. Rogers is investigating the impact of attendance, either virtual or face-to-face on student grades.

“We’re still in the process of writing our findings, but the preliminary data suggests that if a student attends class, whether it is face-to-face or online, and participates and listens to the lecture, their exam scores increase by about 10 percent. That’s a very strong argument for attending lectures in person or viewing them online, because we also noticed that simply viewing a lecture multiple times didn’t improve performance. In fact, grades dropped for those students who viewed lectures three or more times. The bottom line is that if you don’t understand the material, simply viewing the lecture over and over isn’t really going to help you. But, being present in class, whether it is online of face-to-face has a significant impact,” Rogers says.

Method of Course Delivery Does Not Influence Outcomes; Other Factors Do

From the beginning, Dr. Rogers has collected data on student outcomes in online versus face-to-face classes, and he has presented those findings at Echo360 active learning conferences. “In the early papers I published, we found no difference between student performance in online classes versus seated classes,” says Rogers. “This has changed. However, it’s not because of the way the class is delivered, there are other factors.”

According to Dr. Rogers research, the biggest determining factor to student success is their incoming GPA.

Correlation between performance and incoming grades.[1]

“Students may think that the online course is easier, but it’s not,” says Rogers. “The use of video and active learning technology ensures the online course is just the same as the seated course. The delivery method is the only difference. Currently, a higher percentage of students enrolling in the online sections come into those classes with lower GPAs. So, this has skewed the numbers. What our data reveals is that a high-performing student does just as well in an online class as in a face-to-face class. So, the method of delivery does not influence outcomes, which is a good thing because the initial prediction by faculty was that the online experience would be pedagogically weaker, and we’ve proven that wrong.”

From lecture capture, distance learning, flipped classrooms, and more, contact us to discover how Echo360 can transform teaching and learning at your institution.

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