MSU students, professors enjoy online classroom

Headphones in place, John Kabanuk sat in front of a computer screen on Thursday and spoke with classmates in a graduate business class at Minot State University.

It’s a typical scene in the many distance education classes that are offered by the university, but the class that Kabanuk, who lives in North Carolina, is taking is a little different than other online classes.

It is offered in an online student integrated classroom, which enables students, who are armed with web cams and home computers, to appear on screen and join the class live. Nine such classes are being offered this semester.

Kabanuk and students like him can watch their professor’s lecture in real time, see any displays put up on an interactive white board, and ask questions of the professor. Each class is recorded so online students can also go back and access the class if they were not able to do so for some reason. It is integrated with Blackboard, the platform that the university has used for years for online class delivery. Unlike many online classes, some of the students enrolled are attending the class on campus. Most of the time classes are either offered via distance education or in a traditional face-to-face on campus setting.

For about 25 years, Minot State used the state’s interactive video network to offer distance education classes, but that technology requires students to travel to a location that has an IVN studio and professors had to broadcast their class from another IVN studio. Students taking a class using the online student integrated classroom can access the class from anywhere in the world.

Mark Timbrook, instructional design coordinator for the Center for Extended Learning and Office of Instructional Technology, said this particular delivery system was developed by Brian Beatty from San Francisco University. He believes only a handful of universities in the United States are using this particular technology to deliver distance education classes. The technology is also in use in corporate boardrooms, though Timbrook said they are far more expensive. A corporation might pay $250,000 to set up this technology while Minot State set up its system for under $3,000, said Timbrook.

So far the delivery method is too new for some of the professors to have completely mastered it.

“There’s definitely a learning curve,” said Carla Cabarle, assistant professor of accounting, who had used the integrated online classroom once and was still learning. “But the potential of it is fantastic.”

Cabarle said one of her students, who lives in Connecticut, said she liked this format because she feels more connected to the class.

Linda Cresap, associate professor of business information technology, said she was surprised when students who attend the class on campus and students who access the class online chose to work on a group project together. She had expected that online students and face-to-face students would choose to work as partners instead. The technology makes it possible for students to work together on group projects even at a distance, since they can meet in secure chat rooms and communicate via bulletin board messages and email over the network.

Gary Ross, chairman of the business administration department, said online students are able to access the archived recordings of individual classes at any time. Ross also makes the recordings available to face-to-face students who are unable to attend a class for some reason, but only for up to a week because he wants those students to attend class. Different professors have different policies on attendance and use of the recorded classes, he said.

Professors and students said the new delivery method is both cheaper, since it could mean that face-to-face classes and online classes can be scheduled at the same time and in the same class, and offers more flexibility for students.