Real Life Stories
The Different Facets of Distance Education – The Virtual Hybrid Class in Tourism Management
Since the fall 2014, the Cégep de Saint-Félicien has offered distance courses in a virtual hybrid class in its Tourism Management program. It is a regional exclusivity, as our CEGEP is the only college institution in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean that offers the program.
The Methods of Distance Learning in Tourism
The tourism program is developed according to a modular approach TriplEX (for “triple experience”). The program specific courses are reunited under 3 thematic modules to which the general education courses are connected.
The three themes of the modular approach TriplEX (source).
These 3 modules are:
- Customer service in tourism in a sustainable development approach
- Marketing of tourism services and products in a sustainable development approach
- Management of tourism business development in a sustainable development approach
The modular approach allows students to follow one of the 3 educational modules of the Diploma of College Studies (Diplômes d’études collégiale – DEC) in an independent manner and obtain official recognition from the CEGEP.
This method was developed specifically for the B-type clientele: those who have been out of the college network for a certain number of years, are returning to school, or are employed in the tourism industry and would like to find a specialization from our course offerings. The objective of these students is therefore not necessarily to obtain a Certificate of College Studies (Attestation d’études collégiale - AEC), but they can choose customized professional development. This approach is unique in the province of Quebec.
Presently, only module 2, “Marketing of tourism services and products”, has been put online. For 2016-2017, there are 6 courses offered by virtual hybrid class, which means that the courses are offered both, in-class and by simultaneous transmission to distance students. There is also an asynchronous dimension with the use of the Moodle platform. The class period is also recorded and all the workshops and pedagogical exercises are available on Moodle.
A Hybrid Program Just Getting Started
The Tourism Program has only offered the hybrid method since the fall 2014. The first distance student registered in a course in January 2015. In 2015-2016, we had 2 students who took advantage of distance learning. Both were already employed and they wanted to become specialized in their field.
We have not yet proceeded with a marketing strategy for this program. In the long term, we would like the program to reach the regular clientele to entice students, notably from Saguenay, to register in the tourism program at Cégep de Saint-Félicien. Distance learning allows us to draw students that otherwise would turn to the large cities (like Quebec). We hope to propose a flexible and attractive education offer to persuade students from our region to continue their college studies.
The Transition to Distance Teaching
To begin with, the transition to the hybrid method stemmed from the CEGEP’s strategic plan, that planned for the design for the courses and how to adapt them for a virtual hybrid class. Julie obtained released time in order to undertake the revision of the courses to be designed.
The first weeks, I got familiar with the literature about distance learning and Real Life Stories from Profweb. I was completely “uneducated”, I had no experience! This approach was completely new to me. I had only ever used Skype and that is nothing compared to the tools used in distance learning. I had a very interesting learning curve.
In tourism, we were already in an active learning context. The students work in teams on collaborative projects (project-based approach). The profile of the students proved to facilitate the transition to the hybrid method.
“My concern during this transition was specifically related to getting the students to work in teams in a distance context (the how, from a logistical point of view). Fortunately, the students in the tourism program already have a very “techy” profile and are very participatory. After all, the industry calls for being plugged into the world and to be able to interact easily with the clientele.
The Technology Environment
Another helpful aspect is that the hybrid method does not modify the role of the teacher: he/she does not go from guide to animator, nor to technician. We didn’t have to change the pedagogical framework of the courses. Furthermore, the method represents an added value to the teacher because it is in accordance with the ICT Profile for College Students and allows them to go a long way with the acquisition of skills.
From a material perspective, the tourism department equipped themselves with 15 laptop computers, especially to facilitate teamwork by distance.
The CEGEP also has a multimedia room (sometimes used for professional training seminars by businesses). This room has 9 microphones placed on the ceiling and 2 tracking cameras to follow the teacher while he/she is moving around the room and to provide different viewpoints of the class. The teacher also wears a clip-on microphone and can use the various wireless microphones throughout the room. These microphones are related to the teacher’s computer, which allows the distance students to better experience the ambiance of the class.
A look at the technological material that is used in a virtual hybrid class. The student in-class and at a distance take the course simultaneously. Photo credit: Actu@liTIC.
Julie quickly became independent in this environment:
One challenge was to learn how to use the tracking cameras while I was moving around the classroom. I cannot forget to change the camera angle when I move or when a student asks a question. However, these are tactile tools that are not technically difficult to use.
To prove this, I can now sometimes ask students to manage the teacher’s computer, especially the cameras and the interactive white board, while I move around the room.
Through playing with the tools, it has become a passion. But certainly, on the first day, even though I was already familiar with the tools and the course was well planned-out, I felt a certain nervousness. It is the same feeling during your very first class, with your first group, in your first semester of teaching: your heart is pounding in your chest, but after a few minutes it passes.
Support and Guidance Offered to Teachers
In the capacity of Education Advisor and IT Rep, Bernard offers support to the teachers during the transition to distance courses. He specifically created a Guide for teachers and one for students. Both tools are available in the course space of Moodle.
The ICT technicians at the CEGEP conduct preventative tests, once a week, which removes some of the weight off the shoulders of the teacher. However, it’s Bernard that is responsible for offering technical support for Moodle:
There are no IT Operations at our CEGEP. I provide training “à la carte” and teachers also have access to video tutorials on my blog Actu@liTIC (in French only) or on the DECclic portal.(in French only) There are also guides and examples directly in a Moodle course (Moodle101) that I created for teachers of Saint-Félicien. In Julie’s case, I strongly believe that she mastered Moodle on her own, from the documents and by trial and error, like the majority of teachers. The basic tools, such as the distributing of files, doesn’t usually require any special training.
While she was preparing the course design project, Julie attended APOP training seminars to learn different techniques and discover new resources:
- Discovering the iPad (APOP 154-363 – in French only) À la découverte de la tablette iPad (APOP 154-363)
- Technologies to mentor praticum students training abroad and assess their learning (APOP 151-395 – in French only) Des technologies pour encadre et évaluer les étudiants en stage ou en formation à l’extérieur (APOP 151-395)
also went to Cégep de Jonquière to attend classes on distance learning and to get a better idea of what it was all about and to learn what being done in this field.
The Educational Relationship at a Distance
As the distance component is reserved for a clientele that is already working in the industry, Julie did not feel any barriers with communication:
I found it easy to establish an educational relationship at a distance, but it was maybe the simple reason of the personalities of students that I had. They did not hesitate to contact me, and often by telephone rather than email, contrary to the regular students.
I have a cellphone that I bring to class with me. It is essential: if there is a technical problem, it is about the only way that the distance students can reach me.
It is not obligatory for the distance students to meet their teachers in person during the semester. Our objective is to make it as easy as possible for this clientele. This is same reason that guided our choice to not impose in-person summative evaluations to be held at the CEGEP for distance students. To get to St-Félicien from Alma or Saguenay, it takes many hours by car and would therefore mean taking a day off from work just to write an exam of one or two hours. That is very demanding.
Evaluations by Distance and the Question of Plagiarism
The tourism program has few written exams to begin with. Evaluations are mostly in the form of assignments or semester-long projects. The few distance exams take place in simultaneously transmission and are subjected to the same rules as the students in class:
e in-class student has the right to two sheets of handwritten notes. He/she writes the exam at the same time as the students online. Their camera is turned on and I see their working station and they show me their notes before beginning.
The evaluations are mainly composed of long-answer questions, which do not lend themselves to copy-paste. Even if the student tried to look on the Internet from their computer, the time allowed to complete the exam does not permit them to do any research.
If in doubt, the teacher can always use Compilatio, the plagiarism detection software used in our college. The students know that we use it, because we inform them: the information is on the blogue Actu@liTIC, but the teachers talk about it as well:
- They regularly remind students of the instructions about referencing sources.
- We make visits in class.
- Bernard meets students at the library with an education advisor.
In short, the information circulates and students experience a bit of fear when facing plagiarism, as they know that we have the means to detect it rapidly.
The Outcomes Perceived by the Students
The main outcome that we observed, after this first experience of hybrid education, is accessibility. Our CEGEP is rather remote: it is the most northerly college establishment in the region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. One of our distance students takes the course from Alma and she told us that if the course had not been online, she would not have been able to come to St-Félicien.
The second student is registered for a second course in the winter semester 2016, which we consider a success. This student doesn’t have any education in the field, but she was already employed in the tourism industry. She receives a liberation from her employer to continue her education, in a more dynamic context. It is also an added value to the employers, because they can raise the knowledge of the employees thanks to this type of training.
Developments and Future Partnerships
Presently, we want to reach a clientele that wants to return to their studies, but who cannot afford to take a sabbatical from work to study at CEGEP during several semesters. The hybrid method offers a flexibility that makes the consolidation of professional and family responsibilities easier for this clientele. It’s even more important that the education institutions train enough workers for the tourism industry, especially during the high season. It’s an industry that is in demand and the students are solicited by employers well before the end of their studies. The Cégep de Saint-Félicien meets a need and could reach even more students thanks to distance learning.
Eventually, we would like to extend this offer of service to our regular clientele, for remote students, those with mobility difficulties, injured or recuperating to make it easier to continue their education. These are possible openings.
A second phase of development in our planning is a partnership with another college. Julie would like to have a satellite class with another CEGEP, in order to put together the students from the two institutions. Bernard is thinking of possible developments with a partner in Mexico for learning Spanish. With the possibilities that technology offers us, why not dream of international projects?
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Nicole Perreault wrote November 2, 2016 at 10:05 AM
Wow! This interesting article provides an informative insight into various aspects surrounding distance learning, as well as its impact on students’ success and future developments. This project deserves to be known. I sent an invitation to Bernard and Julie to present the project at the REPTIC/IT REP meeting of April 2017 at LaSalle College in Montreal. Thanks again and good luck!