By Lucie Fremeau - For the Cal Times
Beginning in the Spring 2012 semester, California University of Pennsylvania will be offering linked classes, a new instructional method in which video and audio technology is used so that one professor can teach two classrooms simultaneously.
“The professors who will be instructing linked classrooms will teach from Room A on one day and Room B the next day,” Stanley Komacek, Associate Provost, said. “The professor will alternate initiating instruction from A to B and then repeat.”
Students and faculty are both excited and concerned about the new linked classrooms. A challenge with linked classrooms is keeping the learning and teaching experience meaningful, productive, and personal, according to Sean Madden, a professor from the Department of History and Political Science.
“I agreed to be in the pilot because it is causing me to rethink some of my delivery and pedagogy,” Madden said. “There is a small group of faculty who will be meeting under the direction of Professor Joe Zisk to discuss strategies, ideas, constraints, and strengths of the linked classes, and that will be a valuable learning experience in itself.”
An assistant professor believes that linked classrooms present a challenge to the instructors to keep students engaged in classes that already struggle with student retention.
“Being televised into another room is probably going to increase the feeling of disconnect that some students experience,” this assistant professor said. “I almost feel like I would need to transform my class into an entertainment program, like a stand-up comedy or talk show, in order to ensure that students tune in.”
Students will be able to ask the professor questions and participate through microphones that will be located in multiple spots in each classroom. Graduate assistants and student workers will help facilitate communication in the classroom without the professor, according to Komacek. The technology allows for real-time participation.
Linked classrooms are a good idea, according to student Sarah Edwards, but will require more responsibility, motivation, and integrity from the students.
“I think that linked classrooms allow the university to offer more classes,” Edwards said, “and this gives us more options for courses. I didn’t expect something like linked classrooms when I came to Cal, but I am not opposed to it since it allows us to take new and exciting classes. The only issues that I foresee are cheating and problems with the technology.”
The faculty hopes that the technology will perform up to everybody’s expectations, according to Madden, but technology is not without flaw. However, Madden does not believe the technology will be problematic in instructing a linked classroom.
“Many publishers are staying right up to speed with teaching and learning delivery,” Madden said. “So, I am looking for texts, applications, and ancillaries that will allow me to do the things I think are best for the classroom experience. I think there are many ways to keep the learning experience personal, to not abandon writing, which I think is a critical skill in all disciplines, and to not make the experience canned or like a reality TV program.”
Students who come to Cal U don’t expect linked classrooms and such an impersonal style of teaching, according to the assistant professor.
“This sounds more like something you might expect to find at Ohio State or Penn State,” the assistant professor said, “where the study body is huge and classes run in the multiple hundreds. I know this is not what I expected coming here as a professor. I love getting to know my students as individuals.”
Next semester, eight classes will be offered as linked courses, which means that there will be a total of 16 sections of linked classrooms. Currently, the classes that have been identified as linked are Introduction to Anthropology, Art Appreciation, Biology of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Introduction to Business, Elements of Economics, Introduction to Electronic Portfolio, U.S. History to 1877, and Current Health Issues.