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LEARN WHERE YOU ARE, EVEN AT A DISTANCE
by Beth Lipscomb
FOR MORE THAN 40 OF ITS 50 YEARS, the College of Business has led the way in distance learning, beginning in 1975 when the College first distributed its MBA program to Fort Collins employers. Through that program, students could assemble together in their workplace to watch videos of their classes, then submit homework via mail — all without missing valuable work time.
“By accomplishing this, we proved we could take education outside the building and still deliver it effectively,” says John Weiss, director of Graduate Programs Recruiting for the College. “But of course the challenges were communication and turnaround times.”
The MBA program evolved over time, with class sessions airing on early-morning television, then through distribution of classes to individuals through DVDs — and finally transformed forever with the advent of the Internet. Suddenly “distance learning” became “online learning,” and communication became quick and easy.
ACTIV82LRN: A NEW LEVEL OF LEARNING
Today, faculty and staff in the College of Business continue to innovate. The latest example is ACTIV82LRN, an online application developed by Joe Cannon, marketing and MBA professor, and former faculty member Brian Fugate.
The software came from Cannon’s desire to mimic the case method of teaching, in which students analyze a business situation and offer a solution to a specific challenge. In the classroom, the technique allows for discussion and debate, while honing students’ critical thinking skills — for a peer-learning type of experience that’s not easily replicated online.
“Before this tool, we typically used discussion boards for our online learners,” Cannon says. “With those, I would pose a question about a case or business problem, and the first three responders would often exhaust the best answers. The result was that there was no back-and-forth, and very little consideration and airing of opposing points of view.”
With ACTIV82LRN, business students can now read and analyze a case. After responding thoughtfully to a question, a student is presented with three responses from fellow students who hold opposing views. They can evaluate those answers (giving each a thumbs-up or thumbs-down) and then offer responses that test their ability to debate. Follow-up questions from the professor deepen students’ analysis and fine-tune their arguments.
“It provided a way to think critically, apply our knowledge, and learn to give and receive balanced feedback from our peers,” says Tamria Zertuche, a recent graduate of the Online Professional MBA program. “You cannot merely oppose an idea or approach. You need to provide support for how the idea or approach could be made more effective. This type of skill is so critical to MBA professionals.”
ACTIV82LRN software is now spreading to other business school classes, and the developers are looking at commercialization. The College of Business continues to develop, evaluate, and utilize a range of educational technology tools to facilitate online learning.
“Some of the exciting ongoing developments in this area include adaptive learning, which uses technology to dynamically adjust content based on student need; learning analytics, using student information to influence learning and outcomes; hybrid learning, which includes both face-to-face and online instruction; and more,” according to Sanjay Ramchander, associate dean of academic programs for the college.