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Interactive technologies spur student engagement in online diversity course

Natasha Watkins
Natasha Watkins, clinical assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies

When Natasha Watkins, a clinical assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies, transitioned her department’s diversity course to an online format this summer, she wanted to retain the feel of a traditional class, where students have the opportunity to share ideas and interact.

Working with ITaP educational technologist Akesha Horton, Watkins accomplished her goal by simulating those elements using key instructional technologies.

“With the online class, I was worried the anonymity of distance learning might allow students to feel too comfortable or disconnected, and students might not think about the social implications of what they say and how they say it,” Watkins said. “By incorporating a few technology tools into the course, I was able to create a more interactive experience, which resulted in more discussion and engagement.”

In the off-line classroom, Watkins uses a class activity designed by colleague Aryn Dotterer in which students give a presentation defending a viewpoint on a controversial social issue. Students back up their arguments with research and their fellow classmates respond with comments or questions, either verbally or in writing, at the conclusion of the presentation.

Retaining this kind of personal interaction was a top priority for Watkins in her online course. She used Blackboard Learn’s collaborative tools, including discussion forums, blogs and wikis, to give students the opportunity to share ideas. Watkins also adopted VoiceThread, a Blackboard-compatible application that allows users to add voice or text annotations to visual media.

Watkins’ students used VoiceThread to share feedback and comments on their peers’ slide presentations via microphone, webcam, keyboard or cellphone. A resulting Flash-based animation viewable to everyone in the course contained the original presentation as well as the commentary.

“Having done the presentations before in a face-to-face class, I was really pleased with the online response,” Watkins said. “In a traditional class maybe there would be a hand or two, but because of how easy it was for students to move through the presentations, process reactions and formulate responses, they really did have a full discussion. Being online can help students who don’t want to raise their hand in a large class setting.”

Watkins familiarized her students with the technology by having them record and upload video introductions the first day of class and comment using the VoiceThread text feature. The assignment didn’t just help them become comfortable with the tool, it also allowed them to connect with their classmates beyond reading a name on a screen.

In addition to VoiceThread, Watkins created her own lecture videos using Echo360 Personal Capture and uploaded them to Kaltura, the Web-based application that allows for easy video streaming within Blackboard Learn. She set up Course Signals, an online student-intervention tool, to inform students of their academic progress during the eight-week course and used the Blackboard Learn discussion forums so students had a place to post questions and address course topics.

Working with Horton, Watkins made technology integration within the Blackboard Learn course management system a priority for students’ convenience.

“I think students like the ease of having everything in one place compared to having to go to different sites to complete coursework,” Watkins says. “Akesha was immensely helpful in this process. Before deciding on particular technologies, we worked to define the objectives and goals I had for the course.”

A grant provided by the Provost’s Summer Instructional Innovation Program funded Watkins’ course design process. After the positive results of the initial course offering, the Department of Human Development and Family Studies plans on expanding enrollment in the course for the 2014 summer semester.

ITaP educational technologists are available to help faculty utilize Blackboard Learn, Kaltura, Course Signals and other technologies in online and traditional instruction. For more information, send an email to tlt-consultinga@purdue.edu or request a consultation.

Writer: Jonathan Hines, technology writer, ITaP, 765-496-7998, hines18@purdue.edu

Sources: Natasha Watkins, clinical assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies, watkinsn@purdue.edu

Akesha Horton, educational technologist, ITaP, 765-496-3499, akesha@purdue.edu

Last updated: Oct. 14, 2013