Sharing a Biochemistry Class via Videoconference

This week ended a four-week intensive Biochemistry (MCAT prep) class that Dr. David Nowack, at Andrews University taught to Union College, one of our sister institutions and his alma mater. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the details and behind-the-scenes efforts it took to make this class a success! We started planning and preparing in December, and the class ran May 9 to June 3, 2016.

Teachers

The most important part of any instructional collaboration is the teachers! The two teachers at each institution knew each other already, and brainstormed this great idea of sharing a class together. They worked together to make it a success!

Live Videoconference

The first and most important technical piece of this collaboration was the tool used to connect the professor and class at Andrews to the class at Union. We thought about using Zoom, but we wanted to be able to have the option of camera presets afforded by room-based H.323 videoconferencing. Union had just acquired a new Polycom system, and we have a LifeSize system at Andrews. So we tested and decided that connecting the two was the best option. It worked well, as at our end, the teaching end, we could have presets on a document camera, the professor’s computer, and a variety of classroom and blackboard shots. Once set up, it was easy for Dr. Nowack to switch between the different views.

Technical staff at Andrews University (Dan Hamstra) and Union College (Richard Henriques, Michael Calkins) provided the regular support to ensure the videoconference worked well.

Content Sharing and Accessibility

Dr. Nowack’s PowerPoint as well as the view of the classroom or professor, were shared with Union via videoconference.

Chemistry PowerPoints are very intense a lot of detail. Students had the printed version in front of them, but another tool that helped immensely was using the accessibility feature of Windows to make the mouse pointer as huge as possible. This made it much easier for students at Union to see where Dr. Nowack was pointing.

Administrative Collaboration

After discussing several models with Dr. Alayne Thorpe, Dean of the Andrews University School of Distance Education and International Partnerships, it was decided the easiest way to make this collaboration work financially would be to have the Union students register at Union, and then to create a tuition sharing agreement between Andrews and Union. Support was needed at both locations, so the expenses and income were shared. Dr. Keith Mattingly, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Malcolm Russell, Vice President for Academic Administration at Union, provided additional support for the collaboration.

iClickers

In this content-heavy course, regular graded assessments keep students engaged and learning. At Andrews, chemistry majors buy their iClicker and use it often in their courses, as the department supports and encourages regular use by their faculty. iClickers are a great tool for a shared class, because the students at Andrews could use their clickers, and the students at Union could use the online version of iClickers. And all the students responses from both locations came into to the teacher’s computer and the collective results could be shown (or not) to the students.

Learning Management System

Another important piece of the puzzle was using Andrews’ learning management system, LearningHub (powered by Moodle). This involved several pieces:

  • An instructional designer at Andrews was assigned in January to provide course design and LearningHub support to Dr. Nowack as he prepared for the class.
  • The Friday before the class started, the Union registrar sent the students names and emails to our LearningHub support team, who created accounts in the course and emailed the Union students with their login information.
  • Handouts, reading guides, and student versions of the PowerPoints were shared in LearningHub. The student versions of the PowerPoints provided a note-taking guide for each chapter, and were provided ahead of time so students at both locations could print them ahead of time to be prepared for class.
  • LearningHub also hosted grades, including the grades synced from the iClickers using the integration between iClicker and LearningHub.

Reflection

It takes a team to make a collaboration successful! Both institutions need to be committed to supporting the creative collaboration desired by faculty. I look forward to supporting and encouraging future collaborations, both within the U.S. and internationally via COIL.

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