April 20, 2007

Voice program a new learning tool for VUSN

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Nursing School LAN manager Ryan McNew works on the new voice-over-Internet program. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Voice program a new learning tool for VUSN

Vanderbilt nursing students and faculty are some of the first on campus to adopt a new voice-over-Internet program to enhance online learning.

The new program, called Centra Live, provides radio-quality voice-over instruction in real time, along with a variety of features that enhance the virtual learning experience.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve the learning process for our students while maintaining our high standards,” said Linda Norman, D.S.N., senior associate dean for Academics at the School of Nursing. “We already see a variety of technology-enhanced applications and our faculty and researchers will surely develop new uses as well.”

The program replicates typical classroom interaction and brings together voice, data, video and graphics in a structured, online learning environment for up to 200 simultaneous users. The system can work with either off-the-rack headphones or a Blue Tooth ear piece. A DSL or cable internet connection is a requirement due to the large bandwidth needs.

Informatics professor Jeff Gordon, Ph.D., and his team recently assumed roles of instructor and students to demonstrate the new features available for learning.

Real-time interaction included instant surveying of students, the opportunity for questions and answers and student feedback.

Students and their instructors also have the ability for synchronized Web tours, where each online participant can go to the same Web page and the instructor can use his or her markup tool to highlight certain points. Instructors can still use PowerPoint presentations as they would in a traditional classroom setting.

The instructor can set up the virtual classroom so all questions are held to the end or questions may be asked throughout. PowerPoint presentations work well in this new format and can be pre-loaded by the instructor to ensure as little down time with students as possible.

The new technology also has the capability to vary class time with guest speakers who can be easily hooked up from remote locations and added into the classroom group. Additionally, courses can use online breakout sessions for peer-to-peer interaction, which is an important part of VUSN nursing education.

All classes are recorded and posted online in case students miss a class or need further reinforcement.

“The catalyst for adopting this technology was initially our Ph.D. program, since we are targeting our recruitment efforts to students in Nashville and other geographic locations,” Norman said. “However, more and more faculty are considering its many applications.”

One such faculty member is Mavis Schorn, M.S., C.N.M., program director for the school's midwifery program, who expressed interest in using this technology to work with preceptors in clinical settings in addition to the classroom.

“As an instructor, I think this approach capitalizes on the advantages of in-class teaching while providing a new level of convenience to students,” said Schorn. “I really like that the sessions are all recorded, so students can pick out parts they missed or need to hear again.”

The technology was officially launched in March, but Gordon has been testing it in his database design since January. He admits to working out some bugs and doesn't recommend this technology with wireless systems.

Still, he sees much potential.

“Using the program allows students and instructors to have a personal connection that can be missing with current online text technology,” he said. “This new system takes online learning to a new level. I've got several faculty who are interested in incorporating it into their courses this summer and will build from there.”

Vanderbilt University has a two-year license for the technology. In addition to the School of Nursing, the Owen School of Management is also using Centra Live.