Feature

 By Webcasting their courses, Drs. Kristin Ritchey, Rolf Holtz and Holmes Finch, of Ball State University, were able to teach students both on and off campus, all of whom could revisit lectures through the technology's "on-demand" features.

Love to use your digital video recorder's rewind feature? Turns out college students like it, too-as a learning tool. A growing number of faculty are teaching courses with the newest generation of Webcasting tools, which allow students to pause, rewind and fast-forward lectures when they need more help with a tough concept, or want to skip what they already know.

"It's learning on demand," says Gary Pavlechko, director of teaching technology in the Office of Teaching and Learning Advancement at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. "We are maximizing the students' time. We aren't bogging them down with hearing things over and over when they don't need it. We're individualizing the learning experience within the constructs of traditional types of teaching."

He and other technology and learning experts say that the demand for such teaching is increasing among faculty as more view Webcasting as a way to boost students' learning. So far, Webcasting is still used most frequently in big-budget departments, such as nursing and pharmacy, but is gradually fanning out to others, such as Ball State's educational psychology and psychological science departments.

"If we could afford to offer this to everyone, we would be so overwhelmed with requests that everyone would disappointed," says Nick Laudato, PhD, associate director of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education at the University of Pittsburgh. "Faculty have embraced it."

Here, there and everywhere

Among them is Ball State University department of psychological science professor Kristin Ritchey, PhD, who Webcast an Introduction to Psychology course last summer because she wanted the opportunity to teach more distance education students, especially young mothers seeking to balance education and family.

Ritchey's course was a "hybrid" class: 22 students were on-campus and 15 were distance-education students. The off-campus members of her class could watch her live or download the lecture anytime and use the on-demand features to watch and take notes at their own speed.

"The students have total control over what they see, how they see it and the pace," says Ritchey.

For example, students can stop the video and choose one of Ritchey's PowerPoint slides and the recording will go to where that slide is being discussed.

Ball State educational psychology professor Holmes Finch, PhD, who Webcast a graduate-level intermediate statistics course-also a hybrid class-initially worried that the on-campus students enrolled might skip his 9 a.m. class to watch the class at their leisure. To his surprise, he found students still attended class regularly and only used it to review the lesson or keep up if they were sick.

Finch also had concerns that Webcasting a statistics course wouldn't work because it's a subject students often struggle with. "Students need to see in person that it's not hard and have the ability to answer questions quickly," he says. But he found that most of his off-site students fared just as well in the course as the traditional ones and believes that the on-demand features likely helped everyone stay on track.

"Questions are often about not hearing what was said," notes Finch. "And that's something you can easily overcome by just watching the tape again."

Media blitz

Beyond the perks of on-demand learning, Webcasting tools also allow instructors to diversify their lectures. In the Webcasting rooms at Ball State, Ritchey is armed with a document camera, a DVD player, a VCR, a PC and a Mac that are connected on a touch screen near her lectern. The setup allows Ritchey to move seamlessly from a video clip, a Web site, PowerPoint slides and a plastic brain.

"I am technology-phobic," says Ritchey. "And even for someone like me, this was easy to learn and use."

Unlike Ritchey, Finch says he sticks to the basics, mainly tapping the document camera to display formulas as he lectures. Yet keeping it low-key didn't fend off a technology pitfall: Once, he discovered he'd lectured for 45 minutes to a dead microphone. The class was lost for the off-site students, and he had to re-record it later. A similar malfunction also once hit fellow instructor Rolf Holtz, PhD, of the department of psychological science, when the system lost his lecture due to a power disruption caused by a lightning storm and he had to re-record his talk.

His top advice for other Webcasters is to become very familiar with the equipment and to carve out extra time to talk one-on-one with any off-campus students in the class when they have more in-depth questions, which requires time but can boost their learning.

"It's important to call them and talk with them...and then you can address [their questions] in class, too," says Holtz, who has taught two introductory psychology courses as hybrid Webcast courses.

All three psychology professors plan to teach more classes this way. This summer, Ball State will use Finch's archived Webcast lectures to offer an online statistics course. This time, Finch will be the one off campus; he'll answer student questions and grade homework entirely online.

In fact, he says he'd be willing to tape all of his classes in the future as long as students are getting what they need. "My biggest concern is that the teaching doesn't erode," he says.