The Main Advantage of Online Collaboration

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Connected Conference OpenLMS

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Online learning environments can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous online collaboration tools remove distance, whereas asynchronous collaboration minimizes both distance and time as barriers to working and learning together. Asynchronous learning can therefore provide students with substantial educational opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. An expert from University of Western States shares his experience with this learning modality.

Jim Friscia, director of Academic Support and Training at University of Western States (UWS), in Portland, Oregon, manages the technology tools used for teaching and learning.

These tools include Open LMS, lecture capture Panopto, REEF Polling, electronic testing software eMedley, and online meeting tools like Blackboard Collaborate, among others. These tools are used for online courses, classroom-based courses, and blended learning courses though all the programs offered at UWS. Friscia’s team provides instructional design services, technical support, and multimedia production services to the faculty. They also provide group, individual, and online training.

Jim Friscia, Director Academic Support and Training, University of Western States. Photo: AFP Steve Dykes.
Jim Friscia, Director Academic Support and Training, University of Western States. Photo: AFP Steve Dykes.

Friscia has become an expert of teaching and learning technologies since diving into the world of distance education using interactive videoconferencing over 25 years ago. “With the evolution of the internet, many of us saw the possibilities it offered for distance education. My path eventually led me to working with an online collaboration software company, and then back into higher education and my ongoing interest in how all of these tools could be leveraged to create a rich teaching and learning environment.” For that reason, he joined the UWS in 2012, just after they launched their first fully online program.

As part of his role, Friscia helps program administrators and instructors to understand how to employ the most appropriate tools based on their program, course goals and objectives. Realizing that preferences for learning environments vary, his department creates training in a variety of formats to meet faculty needs.

UWS has campus-based faculty members who will always opt for face-to-face training before participating in an online training course. However, that’s not an option for online instructors. Most of the adjuncts are working healthcare practitioners, may be teaching at multiple institutions, and are located around the country or world. “We have the challenge of creating learning opportunities that take into account their limited time available for training. We try to create online instructor training that is targeted, short, and engaging,” Friscia explains.

For the online programs, the emphasis is always on creating engagement – whether it’s student-content, student-instructor, or student-student. Providing courses with a variety of opportunities for meaningful connection is the main focus. As a result, the instructional designer for online programs works directly with the programs’ instructors to develop their courses using a variety of tools available in Open LMS to present content, create engagement, and assess learning.

University of Western States. Photo: AFP Steve Dykes.
 University of Western States. Photo: AFP Steve Dykes.

At UWS, there are about 1,000 students currently using Open LMS and approximately half of them are fully online students. There are over 40 courses offered each term among the three online programs, and close to 80 courses in the campus programs each term using Open LMS as an integral part of classroom courses. Over the next few years, many of these courses will undergo a redesign in order to be offered in a hybrid or completely online format.

In addition, Friscia’s team hosts a variety of training courses for both faculty and students and have a second Open LMS-hosted site for chiropractic continuing education. That site provides access to over 100 courses – some developed in Moodle and others via third party CE providers that they connect to through their site.

UWS has been using Open LMS since 2010. It began as an optional tool to support classroom instruction and to offer a few pre-program science courses to prepare incoming Doctor of Chiropractic students. When the master’s program in human nutrition and functional medicine was first offered, the self-hosted  Open LMS platform was used. When it became apparent that the needs of a full-fledged online program were beyond the school’s self-hosting and support capabilities, UWS sought a third-party hosting solution and chose Open LMS. “I came onboard just before the transition and was very pleased to help implement the move,” said Friscia.

“For us, having Open LMS and provide technical services has been of paramount importance. It’s great for our team to have the Open LMS support team to work with. We can focus on working with the programs and instructors to best utilize the LMS for teaching and learning, rather than worrying about whether the system is running or needs to be updated. As I have looked at various LMS choices available today, Open LMS still feels like it was designed by educators,” shared Friscia.

Regarding online collaboration, whether synchronous or asynchronous, Friscia believes that from an educational standpoint, it has the ability to foster and grow an engaged learning community without place or time boundaries, and this is vital. In addition, it brings advantages to the shared construction of knowledge, independent thinking, responsibility, and self-evaluation.

When we asked about the future of e-learning, Friscia said, “Calling it ‘e-learning’ assumes that it’s somehow distinct from other forms of learning. We’ve created digital tools that provide us with an unprecedented degree of flexibility around access, to learning opportunities and learning modalities, but I don’t think they fundamentally change how we learn. They are the tools of an evolving learning ecosystem.”   

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