Web-based instructional technology has made possible the delivery of education courses over the internet. While originally used only as an occasional resource, or on an experimental basis, now the use of the internet-based instruction in college courses has become widespread. Several studies have identified benefits of online courses and web-enhancements to on-campus lectures, including positive effects on students’ learning, problem-solving skills, and critical-thinking skills, improved academic outcomes relative to students in lecture-only sections and substantially increased active learning in hybrid course formats.
A team at Arizona State University describes the planning, development, and delivery of an internet-based plant biology course for nonmajors, Concepts in Plant Biology (PLB108). Through the course, students explore how plants live, grow, and reproduce; plant diversity; plants’ contribution to the biosphere; and their relevance to human life.
Several difficulties were encountered in the implementation of the web course. Some students had difficulty down-loading the large file sizes of audio and video components. No minimum specifications for computer hardware, software, and internet access speed were required for students enrolled in the on-campus sections, using the website only as an adjunct. Some of those students who did not have adequate hardware or internet access speed had technical difficulty.
To help with this problem, online videos were converted to streaming movies allowing the user to begin viewing almost immediately, while the movie continued to download in the background. In addition, the videos were burned to CD and distributed to students upon request. Since the development of the interactive website for Plant Biology non-majors, more than 673 students have enrolled in the online course. A total of 109 students surveyed in three separate years rated the course on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being very poor and 5 being very good.
The mean score for the course as a whole was 4.16. Ninety-eight percent of the students said they would take another online course.
The ongoing challenge that was experienced with the PLB 108 course is to make the website helpful to all students. Doing that successfully is based in part on the students having access to adequate technological capabilities, in part on the university and departmental commitment to providing resources for upgrading and improving the website on a regular basis, and in part on better knowledge of how to motivate and teach individual students to benefit from this new, exciting, innovative, and evolving education tool.
For more information:
Plant Biology: From the Classroom to the Internet by Lucy K. Bradley, Jean C. Stutz, and Leslie R. Towill in Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, Vol. 39, 2009.