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Technology Day: Focus on E-Learning

Jan Stahl, English; Claire Pamplin, English; and Sarah Haviland, Music and Art

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E-learning is “at the forefront of education globally,” according to Ms. Janey Flanagan, Director of the E-Learning Center, plenary speaker at this year’s annual BMCC Technology Day. The March 31, 2011 event, whose theme “E-Learning Comes of Age: What’s on the Horizon?” enabled faculty and staff to learn about and share E-learning practices as well as strategies to use technology in the traditional classroom.

The Forefront of Education

After opening remarks by Dean Michael Gillespie, Ms. Flanagan noted that E-learning offers exciting possibilities for BMCC students and faculty. It particularly suits the needs of students with disabilities, students with full-time jobs, and students who are parents.

Currently, BMCC has three types of E-learning courses: (1) online courses (2) hybrid courses that have one and a half hours a week of traditional classroom time with a percentage of the course taught online (3) web-enhanced courses in which technology is used in the traditional classroom to aid and enhance instruction.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Grahame Moore’s presentation, “E-Learning Horizons: Far and Near,” explained that owing to advancing technologies, we have moved from “an information age to an interactive age.” Dr. Moore, Professor within the College of Education at Pennsylvania State University, discussed the necessity for instructors to design activities to stimulate collaboration and knowledge sharing that each student can personalize.

Building Professionalism  

Technology Day featured a series of “Breakout” sessions with concurrent presentations by BMCC faculty and staff. A total of twelve presentations explored ways to use technology for professional growth, to enrich online courses, and to improve one's pedagogy and classroom practices in the traditional classroom.

Here are a few of the highlights:    

Ms. Kim Chu, Career Development Center, discussed LinkedIn, the professional networking website. LinkedIn can assist professional development by providing a vehicle for faculty and students to gain recognition for their work and to network with potential collaborators.

Using technology to build professionalism was central to Prof. Jean-Yves Plaisir’s presentation. Prof. Plaisir, Teacher Education, showcased E-Portfolios. Early Childhood Education majors at BMCC work with instructors to initiate an E-Portfolio containing relevant documents that can be shown to potential employers.

Motivating Discussion and Learning

"Keep Them Talking" -- this is good advice for successful e-learning courses and it was the title of Prof. Kathleen Offenholley's presentation. Prof. Offenholley, Mathematics, presented information that she gathered from thirteen different online math classes with seven different instructors. She observed that "talking" online really helps students; in other words, the Discussion Board portion of an e-learning course is critical.

Prof. Offenholley stated that higher-order thinking occurred with greater frequency among students after synergistic interactions online, that is, when one message is connected to another in the Discussion Board. She assured listeners that emphasis on class discussion online makes courses only seem extremely student-centered. In fact, the instructor is still central to the class and its success. The instructor must post responses, too, and the ideal ratio seems to be one instructor post for every five student posts. Too many teacher posts cause student participation to go down, and too few also cause students to post less.

Need strategies for motivating online discussion? Prof. Mahatapa Palit, Business, and Prof. Michelle Wang, Cooperative Education, recommended in their presentation embedding a point designation into the grading system of online courses. Clear instructions on how to answer discussion questions must be given.

Instructors should provide an “open and trusting environment,” Prof. Wang added. To accomplish this, instructors of online courses should offer a warm introductory statement with biographical information including educational background, and personal and family interests. Instructors should access online courses daily and provide students with immediate and encouraging feedback. Responding to students’ personal email is important. Every student should receive a personal email at least twice in the semester.    

Prof. Ling Chen, Science, discussed how she uses Wikis to enhance science literacy. Prof. Chen assigns students to work collaboratively on writing and editing summaries of chapters for her science courses.  

Prof. David Krauss, Science, discussed the possibilities of giving exams on Blackboard. Currently, the college policy prohibits instructors from administering online exams. Prof. Krauss explained that a faculty committee is collaborating with the administration to establish appropriate guidelines for administering Blackboard exams.

Using Technology for Convenience in the Traditional Classroom

Streamlining multi-course instruction in the traditional classroom through Blackboard was the focus of Prof. Vernon Smith’s presentation. Prof. Smith, Social Sciences, explained that Blackboard allows instructors to keep notes, materials, and course handouts in one convenient place.

“Anxiety over getting to reprographics can be eliminated,” said Prof. Smith. Blackboard postings can be sent to students' email addresses and smart phones. Images and videos can also be saved through Blackboard.

Still not convinced that paperless is the way to go? Prof. Michelle Martin, Developmental Skills, discussed how going paperless saves instructors’ and students’ time, saves money, provides easy access to assignments, and encourages student responsibility to obtain and use electronic materials.

Strategies instructors can use to minimize paper include using an E-textbook and course management systems such as Blackboard, and allowing students to submit assignments online.

Student Perspectives

Prof. Claire Pamplin, English, led a question-and-answer session on the student perspective on e-learning.

Harrinson Estrela, Business Administration major, told a group that the most challenging part of e-learning was getting used to the Blackboard system at the beginning of the semester.

He said the best part of the course was the fact that students were “forced” to interact on Discussion Boards. He added that there was no way to avoid doing homework, either.

New Technologies on the Horizon

Several presenters demonstrated new technologies.

Prof. Carlos Hernandez, English, and Mr. Joshua Debonis, game designer and programmer for companies including Gamelab, and Magellan Interactive, showcased the computer game they are developing, Meriwether. Their game is based on the expeditions of Lewis and Clark. Prof. Hernandez emphasized that instructors “should be thinking about how to bring fun into the classroom.”

Prof. Tom Means, Modern Languages, demonstrated the CUNY Academic Commons, a new online social network for CUNY faculty, staff, administrators, and graduate students.

First initiated in 2009, the Commons uses the Internet to build community across the entire CUNY system. The Commons serves as a networking tool, repository, and open-source hub for discussion and collaboration. Members can join groups, locate people, information, or documents, and share through blogs and wikis. Prof. Means explained that “anyone can join with a email address,” and can then invite others to join.

Prof. Means clicked on a “Getting Started” tab and showed how a member can view People, Groups, Blogs, Wiki, or News. Adding key words will assist in finding groups or individuals with like interests. Various links show colleagues who are members or active online.

Ms. Lana Callender, Ms. Allana Hankey-Thomas, and Ms. Rebecca Li, E-advisors in the Academic Advisement and Transfer Center, demonstrated the online community they are implementing for E-learning students. Starting next semester, Academic Advisement will offer both in-person and online information sessions and support services for prospective and current distance learning students.    

The well-attended event ended with a lottery drawing for prizes.   

Technology Day was organized by the Technology Day Committee, in cooperation with CETLS, Office of Academic Affairs, the E-Learning Center, the College Computing Center, the Office of Instructional Technology, and the Media Center.

The 2011 Technology Day Committee Members were: Mary Sepp, Developmental Skills; Colin Persaud, Computer Information Systems; Kanu Nagra, Library; Elisa Pigeron, Developmental Skills; Cynthia Wiseman, Developmental Skills; Lisa White, Media Center; Ruru Rusmin, Instructional Technology Services; Donna Dickinson, Instructional Technology Services; Melinda Neus, E-Learning Center; Janey Flanagan, E-Learning Center; John Gallagher, Media Center; Tom Lew, Instructional Technology Services; Vinton Melbourne, Media Center; Gus Kanellopoulos, Instructional Technology Services; David Krauss, Science; Chiaki Yanagisawa, Science; Tori Mondelli, CETLS; Deborah Gambs, Social Sciences; Mark Jagai, Mathematics; Zhanna Yablokova, English; Michelle Wang, Cooperative Education; Nadia Sandy-Bruce, College Computing Center; and Yakov Genis, Computer Information Systems.