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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Confessions of a Low-Tech Social Scientist (page 2 of 2)

Getting on the Internet

I did not develop a simple Internet course. The Internet is the home base, but the course also includes a series of lesson tapes. Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (Sociology 625), the online course in question, is divided into 12 lessons with a videotaped program for each lesson. In the videotapes, I can provide what would be lecture materials in an on-campus class, and I also can add other materials, including a special interview for almost every lesson. I found Ron Payne and Stacy Livingston most helpful for my development of these videotapes. Initially, I tried to build in one on-campus meeting for students to share individual projects. My thought here was to promote face-to-face contact; however, this on-campus requirement had to be relaxed in favor of a videotaped presentation for the more distant students. Beyond that, I try to make optimum use of the Internet. In my planning for this, I found Dr. Sharon Guan more helpful than anyone might imagine. I have gradually built into my CourseInfo site the main ingredients that the Internet can provide. I first offered sociology as an Internet course in the spring of 2000. As I write this one year later, I am offering the course for the second time.

Internet course delivery has presented me with both major problems and enormous advantages. It is, of course, a problem not to see your students face-to-face. Although you actually can have more contact with them in discussion forums and e-mail exchanges than you usually would have in a regular class, there is still a major problem with student motivation. Many students are not self-motivated enough to do the work without the discipline of regular class meetings. Some expect this to be an easy class, and soon find it to be more challenging than they wanted. In any event, there is a rather high drop-out rate for the class, and this always signals a problem. In addition, there have been more particular problems with my Internet teaching. These include the difficulty of getting students properly enrolled in the course and on the Web site. Many students seem to have special problems, especially when they try to enroll late. Therefore, I have used the first week of the semester as basically a "dead" week for getting on the course-and there are still students who need special help in getting in weeks later. Since I have each lesson planned for a particular week (to encourage steady student progress and to help keep them together for their class discussions), there are obvious problems for late-starters. Another special problem has developed in my attempt to use electronic reserve. Students seemed to have no end of problems (including the necessary patience) in getting documents onto their own systems. This year I have abandoned general electronic reserve in favor of posting, on my Web site, a few selected articles and a larger number of article summaries.

But there are also enormous advantages with the Internet format. Not only is there flexibility for students to do their work when they wish, but the instructor, as well, is free to work when and where (either at home or at school) he wishes. CourseInfo provides ample opportunities for class discussion. I currently use the Discussion Board feature (one Forum for each lesson) for general discussion by the class as a whole. I raise basic issues, and the students take it from there. I also use the Group Pages feature, which allows the creation of discussions for smaller groups. Of course, it is not face-to-face interaction, but the comments are often more carefully considered than they would be "off the cuff," and this might give this framework advantages as well as disadvantages. Another key advantage is the efficiency with which an instructor can use his time posting announcements, creating documents, and responding to e-mail. Such activities are made relatively effortless by the CourseInfo software. Assessment tools are also well developed for student surveys and quizzes, and the statistics provided on these and other course activities are truly amazing. The instructor can tell not only what the student did on a particular quiz, but also how often the student uses all kinds of course opportunities. Quizzes can be timed and limited to a single access. While I have not begun to use all the features provided by CourseInfo (for example, I have not used chat rooms), I generally find the program to be extremely convenient for organizing and delivering this course.

So, this is the story of how a low-tech social scientist
came to be a satisfied customer of Internet delivery. I still have my qualms about the computer age. I still think books are more important than computers. And I have some misgivings about the way quantity considerations may take the place of academic quality in planning for distance education offerings. But these are the kind of qualms I have about almost any subject. Basically, I proceed in this new way without regrets.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

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