Bridging the Gap Between Online and Traditional College Courses

We often share stories about flipping the classroom model or using educational videos to make room for one-on-one conversations between teachers and students. These approaches have made a huge difference for thousands of educators across the globe. But we don’t spend as much time discussing the human element that is key to any lasting educational endeavor.

Brian McCarthy, a professor in the MBA program at Portland State University, is leading the charge when it comes to making videos and online education a bit more personal. A former Microsoft employee turned full-time educator, Brian has spent years honing his Camtasia Studio skills to make his videos what they are today.

The spectrum of higher education

Brian teaches courses that are entirely online. He also teaches courses that are entirely in person as well as classes that are a hybrid of both. By exposing himself to the full spectrum of course types, Brian was able to knock down some of the barriers separating online and traditional learning.

“When I first started teaching online courses, my selection of tools were limited,” said Brian. “I soon found Snagit, which helped me build better presentations for my students. A few years after that, I started using Camtasia Studio to record my presentations and improve the course experience for online learners.”

Brian didn’t stop at basic video though. He continued to experiment with length, content, even picture-in-picture (PIP), to put a human touch on the video. The videos that resulted are now at the core of his online courses and are becoming more and more important in his traditional courses as well.

Improving the online experience

Through his experimentation, Brian was able to determine the best video formula for his students. He understood the needs of his MBA students, who were generally employed, mid-career professionals: they didn’t have much time and had to squeeze in course content over lunch breaks or at the end of the day.

“I started making my videos predictable,” said Brian. “Not in the sense that they were repetitive, but in a way that the students knew exactly what to expect when they started watching one of my videos.”

Brian opens each video with upbeat theme music that he purchased online, and then lays out exactly what students can expect to learn during the video. He begins every presentation with a slide showing the “big picture,” or the overall concept the course will cover. Using Camtasia animations, he then indicates where that particular lesson falls in relation to the overall concept.

With Camtasia’s PIP feature, Brian is able to add a video of himself narrating the presentation so that students can see as well as hear him. Toward the end of his video, Brian adds in a quiz — not to grade students, but to give them an opportunity to interact with him and share their thoughts on the subject. Brian also ends his presentation with the same theme music, with the final video generally clocking in at 10 minutes in length.

“In the classroom, face-to-face, I can bring my enthusiasm and energy with me,” said Brian. “And I can still bring that energy to my online courses through video. I can share my enthusiasm, my energy, my passion for the subject matter, with the online learner who is likely in a quiet office on their lunch break or in their den at 11 at night. They can see and hear how I feel about the subject and maybe that way I can inspire them to feel the same way too.”

Increasing student participation

Camtasia Studio offers video creators the ability to add quizzes into their videos, a great way to check viewers’ engagement and get feedback on content. Brian uses this feature to ask students for their thoughts and opinions on the lesson, similar to the way he would pose thought-provoking questions mid-lecture in a traditional class.

“When assessing my online courses and my traditional courses, I try to build as many similarities between the two as possible,” said Brian. “However, I’ve noticed that even on a good day I get responses from half the class in a traditional classroom environment. But with online courses and quizzes inserted in my videos, I get 100 percent participation.”

Brian hears very similar responses from his students online as he does from his students in traditional courses. But online, it’s much easier to see that all of his students are learning, engaged and understanding course content.

“That is one of the great things about teaching online that is underrated,” said Brian. “And that’s why the combination of online learning and traditional classroom learning is so powerful, because you can get the best of both worlds. The best of online is that everyone participates and is engaged. The best of the classroom is that we’re together as human beings working and collaborating, finding synergy and building off of each other’s ideas.”

To keep up with Brian, follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.