Summer 2008 Issue

Featured Instructor: Kevin Ahern, Senior Instructor, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Kevin AhernMy Pleasant Surprise

I confess. I came to Ecampus kicking and screaming. It wasn’t that I was opposed to the concept of distance education. In fact, I’m a strong advocate. Rather, my opposition, probably like that of many others, was that I was quite content with classroom teaching and I didn’t want to take the time to develop and work within another system.
I was complacent – too complacent.

I knew that my courses were well-suited for distance delivery before I started: I have been videotaping my lectures from BB 350, 450, and 451 for seven years and I provide streaming video, streaming MP3 audio and video/audio podcasts for each. The main problem was that I don’t do “the PowerPoint thing,” preferring instead to organize all of my figures, outlines and notes in HTML. In a typical lecture, I click through hyperlinks to bring up figures and other content as needed from my class webpages.

The obstacles between me and Ecampus were part mental, part technical. Technically, I couldn’t see a way to navigate my HTML-based class material to Blackboard. Mentally, I had to get over the hump of seeking such a solution. To my pleasant surprise, the conversion turned out to be much simpler than I expected, thanks to Victor Yee, Ecampus multimedia developer.

Victor is a wonderful resource who was flexible in helping me migrate my content to Blackboard and while keeping the HTML intact, too. Better yet, over the course of about a week, we developed a simple scheme that has worked almost without a hitch for the past three years.

As a result, Ecampus students in my courses get to see the exact images on their screens as when I videotaped the lectures. The link between these, I believe, has been instrumental in helping students watching technical descriptions of concepts thousands of miles away from OSU to perform at equal levels to their classroom counterparts on exams.

My courses are popular, so the Ecampus pay method provides a considerable amount of money to my department. That’s not the most important reason to develop and deliver your courses online through Ecampus, or the most important benefit either. The stories of students taking my Ecampus courses energize and inspire me as an instructor and, I now know, are essential for my professional development.

I am a strong advocate of diversity in all aspects of life, and though we strive very hard to diversify the student body at OSU, it does not reflect the faces of the world outside of Oregon. That limitation does not exist in an Ecampus setting with its borderless classrooms. Here, everyone truly has equal access to an education that is the same as offered in the classroom, and is not limited by the need to live in Corvallis, by the fixed times of day courses are offered or by the need to pay for daycare for one’s children. To paraphrase an old saying, “If Mohammed can’t go to the classroom, the classroom should go to Mohammed.” That is just what Ecampus provides.

Students often take my Ecampus courses to complete requirements for professional schools (medical, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary medicine) in the time frame they need it. Some use Ecampus to complete that one last course necessary to graduate. Others are stay-at-home parents hoping to one day finish a degree and get a job when their kids are older. Still, others work full time and require the flexibility that on-demand videos offer.

The students are not the only beneficiaries of Ecampus. I am one. I learn from my students in every class I teach, but without Ecampus, these experiences are limited to the rather limited diversity of the OSU campus student body. Thanks to Ecampus, I get opportunities to interact with and learn from a diverse, talented and motivated group of people the world over. I never knew what I was missing!

Though I didn’t realize its importance to me professionally when I began teaching through Ecampus, I’ve come to realize that thanks to it, I am better equipped to understand and serve students with a broader set of needs than I might ever have had in the classroom-limited world I lived in previously. I am very grateful to Ecampus for this lesson and for these experiences. I also encourage everyone to try it.

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