New solution for virtual interaction emerges for online courses

Emma Stuck
March 30, 2015

An instructional technology pilot program at Penn State Berks allows online students to view their peers and instructor as though they were interacting face-to-face.

The pilot of the Web-based platform YouSeeU is possible through Penn State Berks’s Center for Learning & Teaching and the Office of Academic Affairs, according to Mary Ann Mengel, instructional multimedia designer at the Center for Learning & Teaching. This opportunity, along with a pilot of the robotic video capture solution Swivl, is being offered to selected faculty members who submitted proposals in December for potential use of the technology in their classrooms.

According to its website, YouSeeU is a Web-based tool that captures video through a Mac or PC computer’s built-in webcam and microphone. It works as an extension of a learning management system to help facilitate speeches, presentations, and oral exams for both online and hybrid courses.

Senior Lecturer Jennifer Dareneau is participating in the YouSeeU pilot this semester for her three online sections of ENGL 202D (GWS) Effective Writing: Business Writing.

"I was doing online classes, and I have taught them for several years now, and it was a component that I thought was missing - that sort of face-to-face element," Dareneau explained about why she decided to participate in the pilot. "I knew from a lot of other people that they are doing interviews through things like Skype or they're doing video recordings or links, and that wasn't a skill that my students were being taught."

Dareneau was trained to use YouSeeU over the holiday break and began using it in her course during the third week of the spring semester as a way for her students to record, share, and upload presentations. Dareneau said she plans to use the platform five or six times throughout the semester to facilitate group discussions. Previously, she utilized discussion forums in ANGEL, but students were not as interactive as she had hoped.

"They have a better sense of community because they can see each other,” Dareneau said. “Before, they were sort of isolated in their little spaces. But this has allowed them to actually view the other people in the class, so it makes them like they are real people instead of just people that are writing."

According to Dareneau, students’ learning has improved since they began recording and uploading their own videos via YouSeeU. The first assignment required students to record a LinkedIn-type presentation where they introduced themselves and explained the types of networking connections they were interested in. Dareneau said she had her students do a written version the previous week, and it was interesting to see how they were more mindful of their physical presentation.

"Everyone seems to be participating - they're giving really good feedback to each other about the videos, which is nice,” Dareneau said. “I think the quality of their presentations, even though they're short -- seems to be improving each time they have to use the platform."

The one key benefit of using the platform is the ability to tap into another source of communication, Dareneau said. YouSeeU has proven to be a dynamic way for her to give students extra training in becoming not only good writers, but good speakers. Another benefit to the instructor is the ability to see what her online students look like.

Dareneau said she has yet to use all the activities through YouSeeU, but will have a better sense of how effective it is once her students do longer presentations and have to load slides to accompany their videos. In the future, she plans to use it again in her business writing classes and possibly in ENGL 015 (GWS) Rhetoric and Composition.

A recent assignment involved timed interview questions, where students had 10 seconds to think about a question on the screen, and one minute to answer before the next question appeared on the screen. Dareneau said she might be interested in doing a similar assignment in some of her other courses.

Student feedback to the platform has been positive, as some students have really appreciated the virtual interaction with their peers.

One student who said she appreciates the virtual interaction is Mikell Holmes, a sophomore sociology major. She said seeing her fellow students via YouSeeU has helped her put a face to the responses within the group discussions and gives more context to the creative ideas that are discussed.

“As a student, I think the key benefits to using this site would be that you can communicate online with other students and receive feedback, but the videos are prerecorded and it is not a live feed so it does not make me feel stressed out at all,” said Sydni Jordan, a sophomore marketing major.

Sophomore Anna Lau, an accounting and business major, said she found the platform to be easy to use and appreciated gaining feedback from both Dareneau and her fellow students on her strengths and areas of improvement.

“At first I did not like YouSeeU because of the unfamiliarity, but after completing more activities on it, I found the platform to be helpful in improving my verbal skills and self-presentation,” Lau said.

Tyler Nunes, a sophomore finance major, said that the key benefit is the ability to develop speaking skills. He said the only issue was the lack of ability within the platform to edit the videos before posting them.

“I think it provides a less stressful way to deliver presentations, especially because you can have more than one attempt,” said Bruce Schorschinsky, a sophomore finance major. “Not to mention being able to deliver presentations on my own time, wherever and whenever I want.”

  • Jennifer Dareneau

    Jennifer Dareneau, senior instructor in English at Penn State Berks.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 31, 2015