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Published May 21, 2018 | Language of Mathematics and Computer Programming

Asynchronous Computer Course to Foster the Autonomy of Science Students

This article was first published in French.

At the Collège d’Alma, students in Science are required to take a complementary computer course. This course was previously a face-to-face course, however since the fall of 2016, the course has been offered as an online course in asynchronous mode. This change was a resounding success!

What motivated us to change teaching methods

In the course Informatique appliquée aux sciences, we teach students the data processing notions that will be useful for preparing their lab reports.

For example:

  • Acquire the vocabulary of computing
  • Use WORD (page setup, table of contents, etc.)
  • Use EXCEL (tables, graphs, etc.)
  • Search the web

When the course was given in class, we felt the students weren’t really taking charge of their learning. The success rate was excellent, but it seemed that the students weren’t autonomous. Often they didn’t pay attention during the theoretical courses. Then, in the computer lab, questions came from all sides. All of the students wanted the teacher standing beside them to answer their questions.

In the lab we had 2 options:

  • Take control of the students’ desktop to show them exactly how to do something (but then the students did not have the opportunity to practice)
  • Let the students work on their own…But then each one faced different issues and waited for us to come and answer their question so that they could continue.

Nancy was a member of the distance learning committee of our college and had the idea to transform the course. Annie enthusiastically got on board.

We hoped that an asynchronous distance-learning course would better meet the needs of individual students…and we were satisfied with the results!

The method we chose

In fact, we opted for a hybrid formula: the first class was in person, in the evening. The exams took place in class also during the evening. For the rest, students were free to learn when and where they wanted: it was an asynchronous distance course.

In person or at a distance, the content did not change

We did not modify the exams or assignments when we transformed the course. The content was equivalent.

A first course face-to-face to start off on the right foot

For the first week, students attend class in person. We use the opportunity to explain how the session will proceed and to make sure that all of the students can access Colnet, Moodle and OneDrive platforms.

Teaching using video capsules

All of the teaching is done using video capsules. (The students do not have to read any texts.) We took numerous screenshots with Screencast-O-Matic freeware. Each video capsule lasts from 3 to 5 minutes. To respect the weighting of the course (1-2-3), students had to watch a certain number of capsules every week, for a total of one hour per week.

Excerpt of a capsule created for the computer course applied to the science program. Annie Bouchard explains how to insert a caption or a page number in the header.

The first year, we used the free version of Screencast-O-Matic, very user-friendly and functional. However, this year, we opted for the « pro » version, for $1.50 a month. There is no longer a Screencast-O-Matic watermark at the bottom of our videos. We also have access to a video-editing tool. (Of course, we didn’t redo the capsules that were made in the first year! But we did modify and add some.)

At first, creating a 1-hour capsule took 3 or 4 hours. Now, with experience we can do it in an hour and 30 minutes. Here’s a tip: if you want to record, insert pauses after each idea that you state. This way, if you make a mistake it will be easy during editing to cut only the part to change. If the capsule is delivered in a continuous stream of speech, you will have to do the entire recording over again.

In Moodle, a list of things to do during the 3rd week of class. There is a list of video capsules to watch, instructions regarding assignments and the weekly forum.

Support perseverance and monitor students

In order not to lose students when we transfer the responsibility of learning and time management to them, we monitor them closely. The students have an assignment to hand in each week. If a student forgets to hand in more than one assignment, we get in touch with them.

We make a point of answering emails and messages on the forum with 24 hours. Initially the due date for weekly assignments was Sunday evening. The lure of procrastination being what it is, the forum was swamped with questions on Saturday and Sunday… To remedy the situation and be able to enjoy our weekends, we changed the deadline to Friday evening!

Note as well, because the students are on campus, whenever they have a question, they can come to our office and ask us.

Instructions for the assignments students must do in the 3rd week with additional documentation.

The workload for us

Answering questions on the Moodle class forum represents the same amount of work as answering student questions in class during the lab periods. However, before there was a barrage of student questions, now we can take our time to answer in detail.

The second year we pre populated the forum with frequently asked questions from the previous year. This would avoid us having to answer the same questions again!

What the students think of it

The success rates and the final grade average have not changed since it has become an online course.

Each year a survey has confirmed that students are pleased. 85% have said they enjoyed the distance learning experience.

We are very satisfied with the results of this change in method. We consider that other courses in our department could be changed to asynchronous distance courses. To be continued!

Note from the editor

Annie Bouchard and Nancy Bluteau shared their experience of changing a course from a face-to-face approach to a distant learning approach during the 2017 Associaton québecoise de pédagogie collégiale colloquium. You can consult the slides they used during their presentation.

About the Authors

Nancy Bluteau She has been a teacher since 1995, initially at the secondary level and later at the college level. She enjoys teaching programming techniques and enjoys experimenting with different technologies. Sharing her knowledge with students is a challenge she enjoys every day. Nancy has a bachelor's degree in computer science from the Université de Sherbrooke and a certificate in teaching from UQAC.

Annie Bouchard She has been teaching since 1990, initially in private colleges, then in the public network. She loves working with young adults. She is concerned about the success of her students and the use of new teaching methods motivates her immensely. Teaching courses as a contributive discipline stimulates her because, in addition to teaching computer skills, she teaches students to like "the machine". And that, she likes that!

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