By Natalia Perdigón
Portland – OR, United States
Online learning environments can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous online collaboration tools remove the distance or location. Asynchronous collaboration minimizes both location and time as barriers to working and learning together. It has a huge impact in the ability to provide educational opportunities that wouldn’t be possible for some students. One expert from University of Western States (UWS) speaks about his experience.
Jim Friscia, Director of Academic Support and Training at University of Western States, manages the academic technology tools used for teaching and learning. These tools include an LMS (Moodle), lecture capture (Panopto), polling (REEF Polling), electronic testing software (eMedley), and online meeting tools (Blackboard Collaborate), among others.
These tools are used for online courses, classroom-based courses, and blended learning courses though all the programs offered at UWS. Friscia’s team provides instructional design services, technical support, and multimedia production services to the faculty. They also provide group, individual, and online training.
He has become an expert on this topic since he jumped into the world of distance education using interactive video teleconferencing over 25 years ago. “With the evolution of the internet, many of us saw the possibilities it offered for distance education. My path eventually led to working with an online collaboration software company, and then back into higher education and my ongoing interest in how all of these tools could be leveraged to create a rich teaching and learning environment.”
For that reason, he joined the UWS in 2012, just after they launched their first fully online program.
As part of his role, Friscia helps the programs and instructors look at how to employ the most appropriate tools based on their program and course goals and objectives. Realizing that preferences for learning environments vary, his department creates training in a variety of formats to meet faculty needs.
UWS has campus-based faculty members who will always opt for face-to-face training before participating in an online training course. However, that’s not an option for online instructors. Most of the adjuncts are working healthcare practitioners, may be teaching at multiple institutions, and are located around the country or world. “We have the challenge of creating learning opportunities that takes into account their limited time available for training. We try to create online instructor training that is targeted, short, and engaging” Friscia explains.
For the online programs, the emphasis is always on creating engagement; whether it’s student-content, student-instructor, or student-student. Providing courses with a variety of opportunities for meaningful connection is the main focus. The instructional designer for online programs works directly with the programs’ instructors to develop their courses using a variety of tools available in Moodle to present content, create engagement, and assess learning.
At UWS, there are about 1000 students currently using Moodle and approximately half are fully online students. They offer over 40 courses each term among the three online programs. They have close to 80 courses each term in the campus programs using Moodle as an integral part of classroom courses. Over the next few of years, many of those will undergo redesign to be offered in a more hybrid or completely online format.
In addition, they host a variety of training courses for both faculty and students, and have a second Moodlerooms-hosted site for chiropractic continuing education. That site provides access to over 100 courses – some developed in Moodle, others via third party CE providers that they connect to through their site.
We have the challenge of creating learning opportunities that takes into account their limited time available for training. We try to create online instructor training that is targeted, short, and engaging.
UWS has used Moodle since 2010. It began as an optional tool to support classroom instruction and to offer a few pre-program science courses to prepare incoming doctor of chiropractic students. When the master’s program in human nutrition and functional medicine was first offered, that self-hosted Moodle platform was used. It became apparent that the needs of a full-fledged online program were beyond the school’s self-hosting and support capabilities, so they sought a third-party hosting solution and chose Moodlerooms. “I came onboard just before the transition and was very pleased to help implement the move,” he told us.
“For us, having Moodlerooms host Moodle and provide technical services has been of paramount importance. It’s great for our team to have the Moodlerooms support team to work with. We can focus on working with the programs and instructors to best utilize the LMS for teaching and learning, rather than worrying about whether the system is running or needs to be updated. As I have looked at various LMS choices available today, Moodle still feels like it was designed by educators,” he stated.
Regarding online collaboration, whether synchronous or asynchronous, Friscia sees that from an educational standpoint it has the ability to foster and grow an engaged learning community without place or time boundaries, and this is vital. In addition, it brings advantages in the shared construction of knowledge, independent thinking, responsibility, and self-evaluation.
When we asked about the future of e-learning, he answered: “calling it ‘e-learning’ assumes that it’s somehow distinct from other forms of learning. We’ve created digital tools that provide us with an unprecedented degree of flexibility around access to learning opportunities and learning modalities, but I don’t think they fundamentally change how we learn. They are the tools of an evolving learning ecosystem.”
*Jim Friscia, Director Academic Support and Training, University of Western States.
*Photos by: AFP Steve Dykes