From Lecture to Online Course: Transforming a Regular Course into a Distance Learning Format
In 2012, I developed the course Gérer ses finances personnelles (Managing Personal Finances), a complementary course in the general education stream at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit. This course is an introduction to managing personal finances and is intended for students from all backgrounds who do not have any administration courses in their academic program. Since its inception, I have been giving this course in a traditional face-to-face format, combining lectures and discussion periods. Over the years, I have been interested in exploring new ways of teaching. With the support of my CEGEP administration, who wanted to experiment with distance education projects and continue to integrate technology into the classroom, I took the plunge and transformed my regular course into a distance education course. I opted for an asynchronous formula integrating 3 face-to-face meetings (the first class and 2 exams).
From self-study to teaching
To begin this digital shift, I read a lot about flipped teaching and distance learning. I also watched many web capsules and video tutorials to learn how to create my own videos. In addition, Julie Dessureault, pedagogical counsellor and ICT advisor at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, was a great help.
Through my reflections and readings, I pinpointed my needs and determined that Moodle was the best digital learning environment for my asynchronous distance course. In addition, I realized that a good online course should have content that engages the students’ interest, presented in a fun and structured way.
I already had an advantage because the Managing Personal Finances course, since its inception, has always been very popular with students. I created it based on the financial needs of a young person between the ages of 17 and 25. So, for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever discussed investment, credit, budgeting, saving, buying a property, etc. In my opinion, the interest generated by the topics covered made it the ideal course to try a distance learning experience.
For a first foray into the world of educational videos, Profweb invites you to consult the following real life story on our website: “Planifier, réaliser et diffuser des vidéos éducatives : lignes directrices et astuces pour les enseignants” [in French]. Myriam Laberge also suggests the article “How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos” to understand the effectiveness of different types of instructional videos.
Structure of my distance learning course
The Managing Personal Finances course is offered in 15 weekly three-hour sessions. Each week, students in the online course have a module to complete, i.e. tasks to be done in a specific order. They must read texts and watch 10 to 12 video clips, each of which is less than 10 minutes long. While they are watching the videos, they have to complete the gap-fill notes that I have posted on Moodle. Each module ends on an online quiz or a practical assignment.
My video clips very often take the form of a recorded PowerPoint presentation that also includes my webcam image. These are not too scripted to keep the teaching natural. I preferred to opt for several short videos per module to keep the students’ attention and to make it easier for them to observe their progress in the tasks at hand.
Since I had to create a large number of videos for my course, I chose to make them using the professional version of Screencast-O-Matic. Apart from this subscription, I have equipped myself with a headset for better sound quality.
I also bought a computer with a touch screen and stylus to be able to solve various quantitative problems in real time while filming my screen. I then made these demonstrations available to my students.
I organized 3 face-to-face classes, i.e. the first class and the two evaluation periods at midterm and at the end of the semester. During the first in-class meeting, I was able to prepare my students well for their distance learning, because for a large majority of them it was their first distance learning experience. During the 2 in-class evaluations, I also took the time to poll them and record the elements that they felt could be improved.
Sparking discussion through Facebook
An online course needs to be rigorous and forces students to be autonomous in their studies. To counteract the isolation that an online course can create and to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over again via MIO, I created a private Facebook group where students could ask questions that were not of a personal nature. I chose Facebook because all my students already had an account on this social network. To administer it, I created a professional Facebook profile for myself. It also allowed me to answer questions more quickly thanks to the chat mode. The Facebook group allowed students to connect with each other and help each other. I also used it to make occasional reminders, which the students would see much faster than on a course platform.
In person or at a distance?
After this first experience with online teaching, I am happy to see that the students greatly enjoyed this course format. In a survey they completed at the end of the semester, they indicated that the strengths of the course included:
- content that meets their needs
- the fact that they can listen to the video clips as many times as they want
- the flexibility that the online course gives them
- the autonomy they have to study
- the time they save because they don’t have to go to the CEGEP
With respect to the areas for improvement, they told me that it would be relevant to:
- publish a study guide for the final exam
- propose a review period prior to the final exam
- add videos and complementary exercises to allow them to explore certain topics in more depth
For my part, I really liked this course formula and became familiar with the creation of video tutorials. In fact, I plan on integrating the notions of flipped teaching in the next courses that I will give in the classroom. This will allow me to give fewer lectures and do more exercises in class and. There is only one thing I haven’t been able to reproduce in my online course: spontaneous discussions. Very often, in the face-to-face format, the topics covered during the course led to interesting exchanges where students shared their personal experiences. In future courses, I will try to maximize the use of a class forum to generate real discussions.
All in all, 96% of my students were satisfied with their online course and would recommend it to a friend. What’s more, there was no noticeable difference between the averages of the groups that took the online course and the classroom-based groups.
This first experience with the online course was very rewarding. It required a few adjustments, including a considerable amount of time to familiarize myself with Moodle and create the video clips, but I think that both my students and I enjoyed the course!