Monash University has deployed a Web conferencing tool to bolster its Masters of School Leadership program for off-campus students.
The university had 37 students enrolled in the first cohort of the new Masters course which includes intensive full-day classes, forcing off-campus students to travel to Melbourne.
An initial trial of the WebEx training and meeting centre application has proven successful with students praising its interactive features.
Brenda Beatty, Monash project director and senior lecturer for the Faculty of Education, said the university uses the audio and video features in the technology to allow off-campus students to share presentations, collaborate on exercises, and engage in group discussions.
"It is a highly interactive tool because of features like the hands-up icon which allows remote students to request audio time, and a virtual white board for collaborating on notes and exercises," Beattie said.
"During one class a student presenter in Mildura could operate his part of a group presentation and contribute even though the rest of his group was on-campus."
Lecturers and students use lapel and handheld microphones to send audio feeds to remote students while an on-campus camera streams video to all students who have a Webcam.
Although online discussion and taped lecture recordings are nothing new, Beattie said they have limited effect because they are removed from immediate participation in lectures.
"I have worked with remote students before using methods like online discussion forums [and] while they work, it can deny students the classroom experience which impacts their learning," Beattie said.
She exemplified the technology citing a class involving a guest lecturer from Florida who presented via Webex while the entire class was on-campus. She said the lecturer could control her slide presentation while speaking, and also answer questions from the class afterwards.
According to Beattie, the university will consider expanding the technology's potential to its international campuses and will use it for its various research programs.
"In the future we want to start using the technology to collect data for our research programs; we could hold online virtual focus groups which would be automatically recorded and available for analysis which would simplify our ability to interview subjects and gather data," she said.
Other faculties within Monash university including Law, Pharmacy, Medicine and the IT department have expressed interest in the application and are looking at applying the technology for their own students.
Monash University has six Australian and two international campuses based in Malaysia and South Africa.