Questions on online ed

A few questions for those of you more familiar with the landscape in online education:

  1. In your view, is the current state of video conferencing technology adequate to simulate a lively, seminar-style discussion session?
  2. Do you know if any schools have tried to offer such a thing, as either a substitute for or supplement to “traditional” online pedagogical methods?
  3. Do you believe that there would be a significant market for such an approach? (I ask this particularly in light of the fact that the necessarily synchronous nature of such class sessions might cut down on one of the primary appeals of online ed, namely its flexibility.)

6 thoughts on “Questions on online ed

  1. I’m a Shimer student trustee who’s helping out on the technology side of our online learning foray, and it would be especially helpful for my open-source advocacy if anyone had experience with the BigBlueButton software package in particular.

  2. Hi Adam,
    I have done a lot of online and some VTT. The question would be what are you doing well now and then what would you want to do. There is all kinds of conferencing software. One barrier is that it takes a while to get the students set up to use it. The microphone settings are wrong and so on. It also takes skill for the presenter to
    know how to “work the online room”. I think only a few of our professors are using it. Most do asynchronous. Some of the asynchronous stuff has a chat feature built in but I do not use it much.

    If you are thinking about lots of classes and lots of revenue then that is a whole different ball game than your personal seminar. How much tech support do you have? I would start slowly and build up. Some professors will think it is too much work. The size of the class will make a big difference. Eight people is very different than 20 on this. The professor probably needs more of a script to work from than he or she would if people were physically there. I don’t know if this helps.I hope so. I think you have unusually bright students which probably helps.

  3. The University of Wyoming operates a pretty extensive video conferencing network that is used for both undergraduate and graduate courses, including seminars. I haven’t taught on it, but the reviews that I’ve heard have been positive. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation at offering courses over the “OVN,” especially between the main campus in Laramie and the campus in Casper but more broadly too. The network seems to have been in existence for a while, though I’m not sure for exactly how long. In terms of market, though, UW is a special case: as a state university and the only four-year institution in the state, there’s a stronger motivation to reach students across the state. (

  4. Hi, Adam. I teach a couple of online grad classes per year in a program that serves in-state students from rural areas and, increasingly, working students from the coasts who like the scheduling flexibility of online coursework and our comparatively low (Midwest) tuition rates.

    My take:

    1. The technology is pretty much there to do what you describe. There are still problems with scaling it up to large numbers, but recreating a small seminar experience is possible. As another commenter noted, online places a greater burden on the instructor to “read the room” and establish rapport.

    2. I don’t know of any schools that have opted for a seminar-style approach to online ed. No doubt some professors choose to do so, but institutions seem to prefer MOOCs, which we know are mostly lecture courses that have been moved online, with varying commitments to simulating interaction.

    3. I’m unsure about the popularity. On one hand, my own efforts to create genuine discussion online have been well received, so I know that the opportunity to engage each other individually is important to students. On the other hand, the flexibility provided by asynchronous discussion is crucial for my working students who are logging on from several different time zones. You could get around this in a small class by polling students about convenient meeting times, provided you’re willing or able to let the group consensus determine your own schedule.

  5. Hey Adam, we’ve chatted about this, but for the “public” record:
    I can only speak to #1 and my own experience. I have taken courses via a CISCO video conferencing app (sorry, don’t remember the name) and over skype. The former was a group discussion class where about 12 students were there at the seminar room in person and another student and I were teleconferenced in. I found the setting to be extremely detrimental to conversation. It was almost impossible for there to be dialogue between the in-person participants and the online participants. For one, we couldn’t see or hear all of the in-person people. Basically, I dont think that a mixed group works.
    On the other hand, when I’ve done skype discussion, it was <5 total people and everyone in the group already knew each other. This led to much better conversation, although I still don't think that it was quite as good as seminars where everyone was in the same room.
    Bottom line: with small enough classes, it can be feasible, but I don't think it's ever going to be as positive of an environment as in-person. However, some people (such as me), sometimes find themselves in the situation where meeting online is the only option and that's obviously better than nothing.

  6. 1. No, video conferencing is an not adequate replacement for traditional education, but a step back into “The Dark Ages” as a philosopher once said.
    2. The Global Center for Advanced Studies (run by C. Davis) and The New Centre for Research & Practice (run by J. Adams)
    3. Yes

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