Monday, June 8, 2015

Evaluating a Distance Learning Course

In this week’s post I will evaluate an open enrollment course (Harvard 2007) based on prior knowledge and specific reference material. The course in question is one of several open enrollment courses offered by Harvard and is entitled “An Intensive Introduction to Computer Science CSCI E-52. The course is still offered as CSCI E-50 as part of a synchronous web-conference university extension program. As such, the course (I was able to view) is essentially a video recording (two-hour segments) of a previously proffered, but still active Harvard/Yale.    
Essentially CSCI E-52 accessible to provide a means of judging if Harvard’s extension program is a good fit for perspective students. It is difficult to ascertain (materials not offered with this “sneak peek”) if any effort was expended in customizing the course for online learners. However, since the live course contained approximately 1500 students, I don’t think symmetric remote learners were at a significant disadvantage to face-to-face students. However, (Simonson, Smaldino & Zvacek 2015) warn Instructional Designers to avoid dumping instructor led course material into an online format. Clearly, the video clips (originally synchronous broadcasts) comprise the lion’s share of the course material and I suspect there is no effort to differentiate (save for means of contacting the staff) between face to face and distance learners. In my opinion, this is a small matter and the advantages of remote attendance at this prestigious university far outweigh any disadvantages.
Course progression, as outlined in the concise syllabus conforms to (Simonson et al.) distance learning requirements for project-based student-centric focus. Specifically; students are required to submit eight problem-related projects during the course of this 12 week course. The syllabus and amplifying material also provide a means for self-direction in the learning process. It is also worth noting the Instructor (Dr. David Milan) has a lively and engaging delivery style.
In closing, I would like to touch on a passage from (Laureate n. d.) detailing the inverse relationship between instructional efficiency and instructional effectiveness. According to this hierarchy, the most effective means of knowledge/skill transfer occurs through one-on-one on the job training and apprenticeship. It is obvious that such a relationship is time-consuming and terribly inefficient. Learner-led asynchronous applications reside at the opposite end of the spectrum, as the application is efficient, but may not always be effective. The figure below illustrates the inverse relationship between efficiency and effectiveness as applied various methods of transferring knowledge.  

Video Course: Harvard University (Producer). (2007). Intensive Introduction to Computer Science [Video file]. Retrieved from
Video Program: Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses [Video file]. Retrieved from
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education

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