ONLINE ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGY: THE HYBRID APPROACH TO TEACHING AND LEARNING
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This paper will focus on how the first online course offered at the Guam nCommunity College was implemented. The Environmental Biology course was developed over three years ago with very little resources. The first challenge was to create an online course without financial support from the college. The second challenge was integrating a field trip component into an online course.
A local Internet service provider was able to offer the technology to create and host an interactive course. Then, a great deal of research was conducted on free tools that are available for educators to develop online course content. This paper will outline the steps that an educator must take in order to develop an interactive course that contains lessons, quizzes, review games, field trips, discussions and an online grade book.
variety of web sites that offer resources for creating online
content will be discussed. Examples of online quizzes and review
games that have been created can be viewed at: http://gcconline.guam.net/workshop.
Initial course development began during the Spring 1999 semester. The administration at the Guam Community College (GCC) was very skeptical of the idea of starting an online course. The lack of funding for this project was evidence of this. To date, the college has invested no monetary resources for distance education. The only exception is a one-semester release from one course (over three years ago).
A local Internet service provider was approached and space was requested on their server for the online course. They were also able to provide GCC with the necessary support to password protect the web site and to have an online discussion forum. In addition, they had a very useful feature for adding announcements to the web site through an online calendar feature.
Many inexpensive software programs and freeware programs were used to create the initial web site such as Claris Home Page, Netscape Composer  , and WS FTP  (for uploading files). To make the course more interactive, review games were created. Other web sites were also used but not for the initial pilot session. Currently, Dreamweaver  is being used for the development of the web site.
The course was piloted during the Fall 1999 semester. This proved to be a vital stage in the development process. On the first day of the traditional Environmental Biology course, volunteers were solicited to pilot the first offering of an online version of the course. The incentive was that class time would be reduced by a significant amount. They would only meet in person for 20 hours instead of 60. These hours did not include the mandatory field trips that will be discussed later.
Six students volunteered to be in the pilot group. They all completed the course. Exam grades were compared to the traditional students. Exams were the only assessment that was the same for both courses. The other material was presented in an entirely different method. Both groups took the exams in person and they were not allowed to use their books. The average of the 2 exams scores for the online group (6 students) was 85.6%. The average for the traditional group (11 students) was 85.3%.
Feedback was collected through anonymous surveys during the course. The students liked that the class was convenient, and they enjoyed the flexibility of doing work when they had time. They also commented on the challenges of the course such as long download times (a problem that is now resolved on the GCC campus), and procrastination. One student wrote, ,You have to be dedicated to this, or you®ll fall behind big time!
Students in the pilot group met in person as a group on 10 Friday afternoon sessions. Part of this time was spent discussing the course. Other time was spent on the computer doing online course work. The instructor could immediately correct any mistakes that were found on the web site. Also, any questions that were not understood could also be re-worded differently.
The orientation, midterm, final exam, and field trips are the only face-to-face portions of the Online Environmental Biology Course. It is a 4-credit, 90- contact hour course. 60 hours are lecture and 30 hours are lab (field trips).
The orientation is a 2-hour session during the first week of the semester. Students introduce themselves, create a 4 digit secret number for obtaining their grades, and submit personal information such as their e-mail address (it is testing immediately to see if it works). After the logistics are covered, students navigate through the different parts of the site and learn how to post discussion topics and respond to other topics. This is done through a mock discussion.
The midterm and final exams are scheduled on Friday afternoons. They must come in person to take the exams. Exams consist of essays, multiple choice and true/false questions.
Field trips must be done in person but the answers to the field trip reports are submitted online. Field trips are important in environmental biology and cannot be substituted by any online activities. However, there are ways to reinforce the concepts taught in the field. These include the use of digital photos and links to other web sites with similar habitats. Students do not have to attend every field trip. They may choose between the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday field trips. There are common themes taught on each field trip so the objectives in the course guides may be met by attending a variety of field trips.
During the pilot course, a grade book was created using Microsoft Excel and then converted to a web page. This was a very tedious process. A colleague mentioned that there was a free resource online for instructors to create grade books. The name of the site is Gradesource  . The grade book can be updated from any computer at any time. A link to the grade book is provided on the course web site. Students view their grades based on a four-digit number that they created during the first day of the course. Example:
The only drawback of using this program is that once the grade book is updated, the instructor must create a report based on the assessments that are completed. If only a few students have completed an assignment and the instructor creates a report, then the students that did not complete the assignment will receive a zero for it. This can make the report look deceiving, especially if the assignments are not due yet. The way around this is to only create a report on an assessment after that assessment is past due.
The University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre Hot Potatoes  . It is free for educators to download. Each game or quiz will be created using Java Script. You do not need to know Java Script; all you need to do is create questions. The files can be saved in the HTML format and played on the web site.
Multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blanks, and short answer questions were all created using the Hot Potatoes Software. The advantage of using this program is that the students can play these games from anywhere and they receive immediate feedback. Links to the games were placed throughout the lecture notes. Students were also reminded to play the review games again before each quiz or exam.
During the pilot stage of the course, students had to e-mail the instructor the answers to quizzes. This involved copying and pasting the questions into the body of an e-mail message. This was very inconvenient for the instructor and students. Not only was this time consuming for students to take the quiz, but it was also more time consuming for the instructor to grade the quiz. This is because the quizzes (multiple choice type) were not automatically graded.
There were many sites that offered course management systems. Course management systems such as Blackboard  have a quiz generator that will automatically grade the quizzes. This feature was needed in order to save time on the grading process. However, course management sites did not offer the flexibility of web design due to the pre-set templates for the course.
The first solution was to use a site called Web Math (this was later purchased by Discovery Online ). Discovery Online has a Quiz Center that allows instructors to create quizzes that are automatically graded and the results are e-mailed to the instructor. Links were made on the course web site to the quizzes. After a student submits a quiz, there is a link to return to the course web site. The only disadvantage to this method is the tremendous amount of e-mail that the instructor receives. One piece of advice for using this method is to set up e-mail filters based on the titles (Subject Line) of each quiz. That way, each quiz can be put automatically into folders.
The second solution is using a site called Quia  . Quia used to be free of charge but now it is only $49.00 per year for membership. This site can also be used to create games and quizzes. Quiz sessions can be set up and the scores are stored on their web site. Class statistics for each quiz is also stored. For example, how many students answered each question correctly. It also stores the average for each assessment.
If there is a short answer or essay type of quiz, Discovery Online is recommended so that the answered can immediately be e-mailed to the instructor for grading and feedback. However, if the quiz is the multiple-choice type, Quia is preferred.
This is another area of the course that has greatly evolved. The first approach was for the instructor to set up all of the topics and the students would respond. This method was not conducive to a great deal of interaction.
The second approach was to have teams of students be the leaders for any given topic. The leaders would be the ones to start the topics and other students would respond. This was a bit more interactive but it was difficult to get the students to post on time, leaving the discussion void of topics.
The third method is the currently used one. The instructor introduces a theme such as ,local environmental issues and concerns.¬ Many examples are given as to appropriate topics that can be discussed. Each student must start a new topic. Each student must also respond to at least two other student®s topics. There is about a 3-week period for discussions. This method seems to work the best so far. The instructor just acts as a facilitator, commenting where appropriate.
The web site should be simple and easy to navigate. There are only five sections that link from my home page. They are: Syllabus, Lessons, Assignments, Discussions, and Grades.
If students will be directed to other web sites, it is recommended that frames be used. Frames are wonderful navigation tools. The links to the current site can remain at the top or side of the page. The content from other sites can be loaded into another section of the page.
To open a link in a new browser window, the target (_blank) option should be used. That way, the student never leaves the course web site because the window is still open. However, this must be explained during the orientation of the course so that students understand how to navigate through the site.
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