Distance Learning & Strategic Vision
It was nearly two a.m. in Japan, time for Tatiana Baranovich to switch on her laptop and join classmates 7,000 miles away for a one p.m. “Fundamentals of Epidemiology” class in room 2610 of the School of Public Health building in Ann Arbor. The graduate student was among 14 other so-called distance-learners, who joined 10 on-site classmates to watch and listen to Adjunct Lecturer Jennifer Beebe-Dimmer conduct a three-week, accelerated course offered as part of last summer’s University of Michigan Summer Session in Epidemiology. Beebe-Dimmer was outfitted with a lavalier microphone and was captured on video cameras, lecturing and leading the class discussion before two oversized, flat-screen video monitors showing outlined course material.
Now in its 45th year, the Graduate Summer Session has long used traditional teaching methods, but in 2006 the session launched a one-course distance-learning pilot program, and in 2009 it expanded that program to include 26 distance students participating in two classes. Besides Baranovich in Japan, a student attended from the Federated States of Micronesia, and several Canadian and out-of-state U.S. students joined on-site classmates.
Vic Divecha, eLearning specialist at SPH, says the school’s comprehensive distance-learning approach was designed from scratch. “Long-distance students don’t have to be expert computer users—they need basic computer and Internet skills to succeed.”
SPH staff members made appointments with distance students before the summer session started, to test their computer capabilities and make sure they were comfortable with the setup. During class sessions, a producer worked from a glass-front control room, switching among three cameras and three microphones positioned to capture lecturers, students, and graduate student instructors (GSIs). Material shown to in-class students on the classroom projection screens was transmitted to the computer screens of distance students.
During Beebe-Dimmer’s lecture, GSI Jennifer Knapp sat outside Divecha’s booth and kept an eye out for questions that scrolled along the bottom of her laptop from distance students. At one point Knapp interrupted a presentation on the concept of population-attributable risk to announce, “We just have a quick question about the formula. They’re saying the multiplier is not in the denominator.”
Beebe-Dimmer turned and reviewed the equation she had written on the board. “That’s correct,” she said, before moving parentheses to include the multiplier.
The Graduate Summer Session planners say their aim is to have off-site students participate as thoroughly and seamlessly as possible with students physically in the classroom—and to keep expanding the popular program.
By Kevin Brown, University Record
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