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Reducing Sense of Isolation

California State University, Chico

Country’s Leading Art Educator Offers Unique Learning Alternatives with Wimba

On a stormy northern California evening in December 2007, a graduate student in Dr. Cris Guenter’s Computers & Instructional Media course at California State University, Chico who normally makes a six-hour round-trip drive to campus, reaped the benefits of Guenter’s innovative instruction. “We were hit with a lot of rain and snow, and one of our students who’s a librarian couldn’t get to campus because of a storm. It was ridiculous for her to get out and drive three hours to campus for our final class,” Guenter said. To accommodate her student, Guenter set up a Wimba Voice Board so her student could leave her final comments and thoughts and even have her classmates respond to it. “If Wimba hadn’t existed, she could have emailed her assignment but this way her classmates could hear her comments and respond back to her. She didn’t feel alone or isolated.”

“It wasn’t just a teaching issue; it was even a safety issue from the weather. It falls into the realm of using the technology in teaching,” Guenter added. “This was an Instructional Media & Technology class so it would have been hypocritical of me to tell her to get to class in the storm.”

CSU, Chico is located approximately 90 miles north of Sacramento, in the north-central valley of California. Because there are few towns between
Chico and the Oregon border 200 miles to the north, Chico’s service area is “about the size of Ohio” which therefore calls for some students to drive up to five hours one-way to attend a single class. Clearly situations like this scream for effective online education.

Though Guenter considered simply using live chat, she knew that chat rooms in big classes tend to break down into little phrases and have to be highly monitored. But with Wimba Voice, her student could clearly express her thoughts and her classmates could respond. And there’s a record of it. But this unique teaching situation is not an anomaly for Guenter. In fact, it’s the norm.

And in January 2008 she won the National Art Educator Award for her “exemplary contributions to the field of visual arts education.”

Guenter knows how to teach. As a professor in the Department of Education, she served as a high school art teacher in Pennsylvania and a gifted & talented coordinator and teacher in Wyoming before coming to CSU, Chico to teach teachers. Her 30 years of teaching art and education span the kindergarten-university spectrum. She specializes in teaching that focuses upon arts education, computer graphics and technology in education, creativity across the curriculum, and interdisciplinary education. She even serves as a consultant and contributor to Glencoe McGraw-Hill Publishers for its art education textbooks. She was named CSU, Chico’s Outstanding Teacher for 2000 and California’s Outstanding Visual Art Educator for 2001-2002 and is even a practicing artist who exhibits her paintings, prints, and photographs in local, regional, and national juried exhibitions. In light of Guenter’s impressive teaching and academic credentials, what’s even more impressive is that she has never been complacent when it comes to teaching. She has spent the better part of three decades evolving, learning how to improve her instructional methods – many of which now rely on Wimba.

Guenter is one of the world leaders when it comes to using Wimba to effectively teach online. She has been teaching live online with Wimba since 2000 to teach undergraduate and graduate students in Arts Education courses, Creativity Trends in Education, Arts Integration, and The Use of Computers in Instructional Media. Some of her classes meet face-to-face so she uses Wimba to complement her course material, while other classes of hers meet entirely online. But in both cases, she says her distance students excel specifically because she uses the Wimba Collaboration Suite.

“I’m using Wimba for the collaborative tools and the focused engagement,” Guenter says, “The interaction in my online classes is as good if not better than in face-to-face classes. And because everything can be documented, there’s a great deal of accountability.”

Guenter’s graduate students are K-12 teachers working toward their MA’s in Education, and because her students include high school teachers and middle school and elementary teachers, they expect the highest quality of education. They get this with Wimba. Guenter has seen tangible results via Wimba for years, and as a result she continues to experiment with it in all her classes. For instance, in her Spring 2008 Arts Integration course she’ll rely on the Wimba Podcaster to teach her students about radio plays.

“Using the Wimba Podcaster, we’re going to feature drama in one of my course modules. We will listen to selected radio dramas from the 1930s. The students, who are in a 100% online setting, will be asked to make a full radio drama a la Orson Wells. I’m curious to see the students’ comfort levels. With a radio drama, they can do group work and use the technology to stay really engaged. Some students still say to me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could do so much with voice.’”

Guenter’s teaching goes beyond Wimba Voice. She began teaching with Wimba Classroom (then called ‘HorizonLive’) in 2000 and has used Wimba Classroom every semester since. In the Spring 2008 semester, Guenter uses Wimba Classroom every two weeks to broadcast live to her students.  She leads assignments, virtual field trips to different museums, as well as to a variety of other arts-related websites.

“I really like the fact that Wimba offers the ability for students to actively engage and participate together in a 100% online class,” she says. “Interaction doesn’t have to be limited to synchronous. Wimba Voice allows students to respond back-and-forth and build on conversations; it becomes powerful when students reflect on their thoughts. The students will say a few lines and as they get going they make longer posts and become more reflective. The technology becomes as meaningful a tool as it should be.”

The Wimba Collaboration Suite is seamlessly integrated within Chico’s Blackboard Vista course management system (CMS), which makes it very easy for instructors like Guenter to access their collaborative course tools. “The integration has been absolutely useful and it makes things extremely efficient. With one click the students can launch Wimba directly out of their normal courses. Just being able to set that up from within our CMS makes things very efficient.” But besides the ease-of-use that makes Guenter’s online classes successful, it’s also the smart instructional design created by such an innovative user.

Guenter constantly tries to address the issue of having students compare and contrast creative practices. For instance, using the Wimba Voice Presenter tool, she finds three websites and puts together a Voice Presentation to discuss each of the three sites and then in class reviews each of them. Her students compare and contrast each of the three websites within the Voice Presentation boards. She continues to push the online instructional envelope and creates novel means of engaging her students each semester.

And the results speak for themselves.

“My students’ responses are very clear, concise, and articulate,” Guenter says. “In the results I’m seeing in their final exams, they’re citing each other’s comments! Wimba allows my students to drill down deeper and anchor their thoughts. It’s fun for them because they can truly hear what classmates have to say. Wimba keeps the instruction personal and brings my courses to life.”


All graduate level courses

Spring 2007:

  • Computer Graphics and Presentation in the K12 Curriculum (15-20 students)
  • Arts Integration (15-20 students)
  • Curriculum Development and Theory in the Arts (35 students)

Fall 2007:

  • Creativity Trends in Education (15-20 students)
  • Use of Computers in Instructional Media (15-20 students)
  • Curriculum Development and Theory in the Arts (35 students)
  • Some student-teacher supervision

“Having the links right inside our WebCT, Blackboard combo I haven’t had a single problem whatsoever.” “They were in their WebCT classes in the initial VP pilot.  When they got in front of the microphone there was some hesitation and some heavy breathing.  I said use your best NPR voice and it’ll be educational.  Saying that made them laugh but it has really helped them express themselves clearly.  You can tell they’re reading and thought out their material.

Recommends they write their key points down and use those as guidelines.  Some students though still hear the word ‘presentation’ and think it’s a presentation so they formally prepare everything.


Example 1:

With Voice Presentations in Creativity Trends in Education, I’ve constantly tried to address the issue of having students compare and contrast creative practices.  i.e using creative assessments.  How to equally assess divergent results.  Using VP I found 3 different websites that discuss assessment.  I put together a voice presentation to discuss each of the 3 sites and then in class we reviewed each of these.  They then compared and contrasted each of the 3 sites within the VP boards.  Their responses were very clear, concise and articulate.  In the results of I’m seeing in their final exams, they’re citing each other’s comments!  It allowed the students to drill down deeper and anchor their thoughts.  It was fun for them because they could hear their classmates.

On the instructor side, it was very easy for me to focus on specific online content that addressed the needs of both my course goals and the students in my course.  I have international students in my course too so I needed things to be clear and specific.  Using VP I could visually show and discuss what were talking about.  They could even then go back and listen and review again and again.


Example 2:

Instructional Media & Technology.
Years ago they used address 35 mm cameras and ditto machines.  It went a while and is now back full force but addresses wikis, blogs, podcasts, etc.  Our service area is the size of Ohio..students live 5 hours north of here in the Cali/Oregon border.  “We’ve been hit with a lot of rain and snow, and one of our students who’s a librarian couldn’t get out because of a storm.  It was ridiculous for her to get out and drive 3 hours to campus for our final class this week.” Guenter set up a Voice Board so she could leave her final comments and thoughts and even had her classmates respond to it.  “If this hadn’t existed, she could have emailed it but this way her classmates could hear her comments and respond back to her.  She didn’t feel alone. It wasn’t just a teaching issue; it was even a safety issue from the weather.  It falls into the realm of using the technology in teaching.  It would have been hypocritical of me to tell her to get to class in the storm.”

Some people could say we could have used a chat room instead.  But when you have a big class the chat rooms tend to break down into little phrases and they have to be highly monitored.  But with Voice Boards she could clearly express her thoughts and students could respond.  And there’s a record of it.

This student actually offered the suggestion.  This class wasn’t 100% online and she came up with a technology solution.  “This met our needs for what we needed with almost no lead time. It didn’t require extra set up by other entities on campus on short notice.” Her participation was just as good as if she had been in the face-to-face class.  She was able to complete her assignment just as efficiently as if she had come to campus.


Example 3:

A student had eye surgery.  She completed her assignment in advance before her surgery.  While recovering her classmates left her comments to which she could then respond upon her recovery.

“The integration has been absolutely useful and it makes things extremely efficient.  With one click the student can be launch a VB or VP tool directly out of their normal course.” Just being able to set that up from within our CMS makes things very efficient.


Example 4:

Radio Dramas!  In Arts Integration.  15 graduate students per class.
Students are teachers taking their MA’s in Education.  Students include high school arts teachers, middle school and elementary teachers who view the arts as a core part of any curriculum.  If you have a strong arts = strong school because it deals with the cognitive core.

Using the Podcaster we’re going have a Drama course listen to radio dramas.  I’m going to put my students in a 100% online course make a full radio drama.  A la Orson Wells.  I’m curious to see how the students’ comfortable level.  With a radio drama, they can do group work and use the technology to stay really engaged.  “Wow, I didn’t know you can do so much with voice.  I have a few students who didn’t know that radio dramas ever existed.”

Every two weeks uses Wimba Classroom to broadcast live to them.  She pushes assignments, virtual field trips to different museums and different sites, and Wimba allows us to do this.  That part I’ve been using since I piloted this back in 2000.

”The word is out that this is how we teach these classes and we get a lot of takers.”

When a class is 100% online the students pick up the use of Wimba because they need to.  When a class is face-to-face the students will not pick up as fast unless the instructor requires it.

I really like the fact that Wimba offers the ability for students to actively engage and participate together in a 100% online class.  It does not always shave to be asynchronous.  And if it is asynchronous and they can respond back and forth and build on it, it becomes powerful and they can reflect on their thoughts which is so powerful.  The students will say a few lines and as they get going they make longer posts and become more reflective.  The technology becomes a meaningful tool as it should be.

The course deals with arts integration.  If they can learn more about the folio artists they can take any part of the curriculum and learn how to put it into a podcast for their own students.

“If I were doing these classes face-to-face, I think the initial prep I do for each of my classes….I’d be in the classroom, show them the site, get the equipment, etc.  But since it’s online, the software has the tools to show these resources as I’m doing them.  These are the tools they have so let’s use them.”

”I’m using the Wimba tools for the collaborative tools and the focused engagement.”

“The interaction and in the online classes is as good if not better than in face-to-face classes.” And it’s documented so there’s a lot of accountability.

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