PULLMAN, Wash. — It’s not “business as usual” for some 70 Washington State University students taking a unique course in the College of Business and Economics this fall.
While their first day in Professor Wayne Joerding’s Economics 102 (Macroeconomics) class was in person, they are taking the rest of the course, “102V,” completely online over the World Wide Web. This electronic format is commonly called “virtual” learning, hence the “V” in the course number.
The course is a pilot project made possible in part by a $500,000 grant from The Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation in Bellevue.
During their first-and-only in-person class, they watched a demonstration on how to use a web browser to access course materials. To take Joerding’s class, they need to be comfortable using computers and navigating the web. From now on, they will touch base with the professor in person only at optional discussion sessions and for exams.
From their home or campus computers, Joerding’s students will read along with the online narrator; watch the flash animations, moving text, graphs, and on-screen illustrations; manipulate interactive exercises; and complete self-check tests at the end of each learning module. The Econ 102V students belong to online “chat groups” to discuss the materials, and have online office hours with the professor.
While students will eventually be able to take such “virtual courses” at their own learning pace without regard for the class schedule or locale, this prototype course is taught parallel to the regular class of about 500 other WSU students in a traditional lecture classroom.
“The virtual class has two major advantages for some students over the traditional class,” says Joerding. “First, the virtual class is available 24 hours a day to accommodate students who have constraints such as work or other obstacles that prevent them from attending traditional lectures. Second, the computer can facilitate interaction with the subject matter in ways not possible using traditional methods. That is, a traditional textbook in economics has many static diagrams, but the online materials used in this class can be manipulated by the students and the diagrams become ‘interactive.'”
Virtual education also helps teachers monitor almost immediately how students use the materials and then make adjustments as necessary. The delivery system provides Joerding feedback mechanisms that traditional teachers often don’t have, such as access to online homework, numbers of times students access the site, and other such performance tracking, which, Joerding believes, will lead to development of better materials over time.
This Internet-based instruction is expected to enhance the effectiveness of education and teachers, and help them reach students with diverse learning styles, according to Jayne Brahler, director of WSU’s Educational Media Systems lab. The courseware is content-driven, rather than technology-driven. The streaming media, Java programming, invisible assessment tools, storyboards and other applications are used to create learner-centered materials. The materials provide students varied learning cues, including visual, audio, contextual and kinesthetic.
EMS, in the College of Engineering and Architecture, converted Joerding’s curriculum and pedagogy into the courseware. Its staff of 20 programming and multimedia wizards, many of whom are students, collectively invested about 600 hours to convert just the first hour of Econ 102V instruction into the multimedia prototype. (The class will have about 45 total hours of instruction this semester.)
“Of course, our future efforts won’t take half the time compared to this front end of our learning wave,” says Brahler. Next semester Econ 102V will be offered again, as well as Econ 101V (Microeconomics), which is under development at this time.
Bert Kolde, president of the Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation, says the modular online approach can help instructors avoid “reinventing curriculum from scratch for each course or particular student they teach. Instead they can share core content modules and add new or customized modules for specific courses and students. Management systems and other tools for courseware help teachers track student progress and adjust teaching strategies while it counts.”
The EMS lab assists faculty throughout WSU develop multimedia and interactive courseware for their classes. Other virtual fall term offerings are one in thermal and fluids engineering, an interdisciplinary course in plasma engineering or chip filming that allows co-teaching at both the University of Idaho and WSU, web support for third-year engineering courses for students at Puget Sound community colleges, and a timber design course in structural engineering taught simultaneously to WSU and the University of Oklahoma. EMS also has developed agriculture technology instructional materials, virtual dietetics modules, and other self-paced training modules and auto-tutorials.

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Reporters: Phone numbers and e-mail addresses for sources are provided: Wayne Joerding, 509/335-6468, wjoerding@wsu.edu; Jayne Brahler, 509/335-4053, brahler@wsu.edu; Susan Pierson, Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation, 425/453-1940, susanp@vnw.com. Check out some of WSU’s online courses at .