The online version of Soil Science 232 was a complex course to design as the face-to-face version was heavily based on physical labs where students would travel to and dig a control section in which to study soil samples and explore the differing horizons within each soil classification in Canada. We needed to simulate these excursions for the online student in a meaningful way.
Using Blackboard Learn 9 (BB9) as the Learning Management System (LMS) we began by taking the existing lecture notes and slides and converting them into Learning Modules. These modules included some written context around the textbook readings and further explored a more regional understanding of the concepts. They included maps, images and text to accomplish these modular “lectures”. The BB9 environment also delivered weekly quizzes that provided immediate feedback to students and allowed them to self-assess as they progressed through the course. These quizzes would randomize questions allowing them to go back and use the quiz as a review tool at exam time.
The lab component of this course that had traditionally been done with shovel and pail needed to be recreated for the online environment. We settled on a three-part approach.
Part One: The Videos
After being awarded funding from the provincial government’s Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) fund we partnered with the Educational Media Access and Production (eMAP) unit. Together we scheduled a summer of video shoots that took us across the province and beyond to British Columbia to film a series of short videos for each Canadian Soil Classification. These videos were later edited to include a variety of close-ups and cut-aways and were also sectioned into smaller chunks during the sequencing and chunking process of design and development.
Part Two: Interaction
The next component of the lab experience was to include some hands-on experience. In order to simulate the basic tasks involved in sampling a control section for classification we developed an interactive Flash component that allowed students to measure and record the depth of horizons, measure soil colour using a 10YR Munsell colour tool, and measure calcium carbonate levels using an HCI tool. The measurements were then recorded on a standardized data sheet and the answer key was provided for self-evaluation.
These simulations and videos served well to recreate the learning that students in the field were privileged to experience.
Part Three: Synchronous Discussion
In order to give students the opportunity to have a voice we also used Blackboard Collaborate to host synchronous tutorial sessions where students could ask questions and discuss their findings with their peers and instructor. These sessions were not mandatory, but were well attended as they were fairly informal in nature and allowed students to get quick, clear, concise answers to their weekly questions. These sessions were recorded which provided supplementary review material during assessment time.
Student feedback was gathered through a SEEQ evaluation conducted by the department and through a less formal survey monkey questionnaire that focused more directly on the tools and design of the course rather than the quality of instruction that the SEEQ surveys tend to address. The feedback was largely positive and when comparing the grades to the face-to-face/in-the-field version of the course we had very similar results.