Review of Online Learning Course

This week, I have reviewed Introduction to Databases from the Stanford Engineering Online. The URL of this program is: http://www.db-class.org/course/auth/welcome

An Introduction to Databases is a free version of an online course taught by Professor Widom, Chair of the Computer Science Department at Stanford University. This class is the same as that offered by the Stanford School of Engineering to its students, with some difference in the assessments and that the non-Stanford students will not earn college credit by taking the course.

Does the course appear to be carefully pre-planned and designed for a distance learning environment? If so, how? If not, in what ways?
It would appear that this course was well thought out and most of the needs of the distance learner were taken into consideration. First, the online registration is straightforward and simple to do. Students are given an overview of the course, its objectives, and organization prior to registration so that they have the opportunity to evaluate their fit for the class. This online course offers support to distance students via the Feedback button, which allows users to enter information describing an issue. However, the course does lack other support systems, such as a library, counseling or tutoring (Tait, 1995).
Dynamic content and student interactivity are also key features of a successful online class (Harasim, Teles, & Turoff, 1995). This material does provide interactivity for the student, who must click buttons and links to access the course resources. The student has the option to view the course material or participate in a learning activity, such as the forum, or learning check quizzes (which are not graded). Video lectures also serve to deliver content in an engaging manner. The videos are brief, so they load quickly, showing another aspect of the planning that went into the course.
This course provides a schedule for the students with suggested content and an assessment to go along with the topic for each week. However, the material is always available; following content in a non-liner fashion is not penalized, but the learners must still take the test corresponding to each week. This shows a learner centered approach to the design (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2009) because the learners have “room to learn their own way, but must have evaluations that show that learners have learned the objectives” (Laureate Inc., n.d.). The videos are brief, so users will not have to wait too long for a movie to download.
The syllabus, schedule, course materials and text are all mentioned from the first class so that the student can easily tell what the class entails and what they should learn.
Does the course follow the recommendations for online instruction as listed in your course textbook? Which does it follow? In what ways? Which does it not follow?
I will base this review of the course on this compilation of criteria set forth by Simonson, et al. (2009):

1. Content management – Yes
The Content Management System (CMS) manages all the resources, classes, and activities in a single repertoire. The content is presented well, is easily accessible, and different forms of media can added easily.

2. Course organization – Yes
The student is made aware of the overall organization of the class even prior to registration. The outcomes and objectives are clearly stated on the registration page and then reiterated in Professor Widom’s welcome video. Once a student can login to the course, they will have access to the clearly defined schedule, class calendar, required assignments and materials. They will even be notified of upcoming events and sessions via email.
3. Is content relevant and well designed? – Yes
The content supports the learning objectives by providing instruction on the topic and a brief video to watch on the processes described in each step. Innovative use of picture-in-picture allows the student to see Prof. Widom deliver the lecture while simultaneously watching an animated slide to explain the content. Text captioning adds another dimension to the learner appeal, making this quite an engaging presentation. There are also optional exercises to check understanding of the material.
4. Student interaction – Yes
The course home page serves as a prominent announcement area where the instructor has posted many messages for the students. A Q&A forum also provides a means for the students to interact with each other and the instructor. However, this discussion appears to be user led, and does not seem to have a course related topic thread.
5. Evaluation – Yes
Testing is included in the class format. Assignments are included, however, the drop box is replaced by the submit or save features which will prompt grade notification or closing of the test respectively. Grades are available immediately upon completing the quiz.
6. Material distribution –
Students are supported with easily accessible extra materials, such as sample databases and software guides. These encourage learning even outside of the class.

Did the course designer implement course activities that maximize active learning for the students? If yes, in what ways? If not, how is it deficient?
The optional learning exercises provide the student with a personal inventory of weaker areas of knowledge that they can return to. An instructor led message board or wiki could have been included to provide more directed interaction based on the instructional topic. The course materials page offers information on optional text books that can be used as extra references. A dummy database for users to practice with could have been included with the instruction. Some portable options for attending the class could have been added e.g. creating a podcast to listen to at a later date.

The ID clearly planned out this course thoroughly, and included engaging instruction, relevant content and practice, as well as a means to evaluate learning.

References
Harasim, L., Hiltz, S.R., Teles, L & Turoff, M. (1995). Learning networks: A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning Online. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press

Laureate Inc., (n.d.). Developing Online Courses. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5693697&Survey=1&47=7229053&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=1&bhcp=1

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Tait, A. (1995). Student support in open and distance learning. In F. Lockwood (Ed.), Open and distance learning today (pp. 232-241). London: Routledge.

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