Software produces virtual classroom

November 04, 2004, vol. 31, no. 5
By Marianne Meadahl

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Teaching a course on interviewing skills for use in the corrections field presented a challenge for criminologist Neil Madu when he wanted to offer it as an online distance education course.

But it was just the sort of challenge John Whatley, academic program director for criminology at the centre for online and distance education (CODE), could sink some virtual teeth into.

The result is the first use of Elluminate Live (ELive) software, together with the more commonly used First Class software.

It allows 17 students across the country to participate in criminology 369, Professional Ethics and Interpersonal Skills in Criminal Justice, in a virtual classroom featuring crisp audio, around the clock access to each other and live tutoring from their instructor.

Using ELive, students from Montreal to Penticton call up a white board display on their computer screens and monitor activity during a class or after.

ELive allows classroom discussions in real time to be facilitated by an on-the-air button controlled by the instructor. Students can raise a virtual hand to speak while simultaneously sending written thoughts to classmates or their instructor.

Given high demand for the course, Madu decided that an online version could reach more students. His problem, however, was that most of the course's grade is based on hands-on activities, such as conducting interviews, classroom interaction and feedback.

After developing the course with Whatley and sweating a few initial bullets, both were impressed with the results.

“I'm amazed at how well ELive works in this sort of interactive environment,” says Whatley.

“It gives you the advantage of getting a sense of the person through their tone of voice. With the clear audio you almost feel you are in the same room.”

“It's encouraging to see how this kind of technology can handle such human needs as this course has,” adds Madu.

Amy Severson, a development assistant in the learning and instructional development centre's teaching enhancement services, says developing a knack for teaching with ELive is like learning to drive a car.

“When you first get in, things can look overwhelming,” said Severson while online, during a course demonstration for SFU News in the west mall. “Before long you can incorporate more visual stimuli and pick up speed.”

Severson has incorporated ELive software into a variety of courses but Madu's is the first distance education course to present such specialized interactive needs.

Students are currently preparing to conduct online class interviews and will submit them along with their critiques to Madu, who does his grading online.

Criminology 369 is a required course for the school's field practices program. It focuses on codes of ethics for all possible career lines in criminology, from corrections to immigration.

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