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Published December 8, 2008 | Cinema

Insights From Teaching On and Offline

Zsolt Szigetvari, of Dawson's Cinema/Communications Department gives two online courses. Scriptwriting is quite structured, and Digital Culture is more freeform. The Scriptwriting course is also given face-to-face and the differences between the two versions of this course and the more freeform online course give a lot of insight into the online course experience.

An advantage of on-line courses is that some students who are too shy to speak in class become quite cyber loquacious. In my experience, students in on-line courses get marginally better grades, but since these students must pre-register, this may be a result of self-selection on the part of more interested students. Student work in on-line courses equals tasks in face-to-face versions. The advantage is time flexibility; the average student posting is about 11PM at night.

The Structured Scriptwriting Course

Scriptwriting Schedule of Work

In Scriptwriting, the students' objective is to write a 4-5 minute film script. Students are constantly sending drafts, giving feedback, revising and then submitting. On-line, there is a reading and then an on-line quiz weekly. Some weeks, there is also a film which can be on the quiz as well. The original reading material is the equivalent of a short book. An interesting feature of the readings is the glossary tool allowing students to link from any underlined word to a definition customized to course content.

Much on-line class work is done in groups of 4 or 5 students. An example of intra-group workflow starts in Week 3 where there is a chapter to read on plot. Besides the reading, there is a draft submission to other group members, who read what their team members work and then compose a reaction piece. In Week 5, members must give feedback to each other member of the group, and in Week 6 the work is submitted.

Feedback is through a discussion forum. Only group members can read their postings; naturally the teacher reads everything. The chart above explains the logic behind these assignments. Work is always due on a given time and day, to be submitted within a one week window. Assignments stay on-line but weekly quizzes are only available for the one week.

The course has other discussion forums. One called 'Whatever' allows talk about any topic. Out of 'Whatever' frequently come the really interesting and spirited posts. Not for grades, content can go in any direction that the student wants.

The Freeform Digital Culture Course

More freeform, Digital Culture has no course text and readings are on topical issues. Notwithstanding the lack of fixed topics, there are still 4-5 person groups.

Students write reaction pieces individually to a posted topic on their group's forum. The following week, everyone responds to each other group member's post. After two weeks these groups are disbanded and new groups created to offer class members the chance to interact with all class members.

Week by week, the orientation of the class can change based on what was posted. The variety of posts is impressive; they can take the form of a video or picture. Most students, however, do write. During the Dawson Tragedy, the Scriptwriting course was much harder to adapt because it was so structured, whereas the Digital Culture course was so freeform that it could seamlessly incorporate the issue into class material.

Are On-line Courses the Wave of the Future?

Students have been weaned on media but they've never been forced to do things on-line full time (with the exception of a face to face first and last classes). Students in my class who I've surveyed feel that on-line teaching is an interesting alternative but should not replace face-to-face encounters. Virtually all these students, even those who didn't like the experience, said that they would recommend one on-line course to friends. 80% of students would recommend two on-line courses, and 60% would recommend three. None would recommend more than three. In the Creative Arts Program, students can take one fully online course: cinema students can take Scriptwriting, and non-cinema students can take the Digital Culture course as an option.

Each medium has a bias, and some things are better done in one medium or another. In the on-line class reading from the notes allows students to read at their own pace, but this freedom is not always an advantage. In Scriptwriting, the film 'Blue Velvet' was used in both face-to-face and on-line groups. In the face-to-face groups the verbal introduction was understood by most students because of instantaneous classroom interactions as well as after class discussion. On-line this difficult material was not as easy to grasp.

Should every student have the opportunity or even be forced to take one fully on-line course? Luddites should remember that books are also technology, and at one time were regarded with suspicion. Where do you stand on this issue? Let us know using the Reader Response Feature below

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