Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Sample/Taster Classes - Should We Do This?

Last evening I delivered the second of two Information Sessions to potential students interested in studying Data Analytics on-line at NCI. Part of the session was a sample class of about 45 minutes to let these students taste the experience of what an online class was like. In this session, which is carried out via the Adobe Connect Virtual Classroom, participants will get a chance to see what the virtual classroom looks and feels like - it is important not only that a course is right for a student, but also that a student is right for a course. I'm not the only person to deliver sample/taster classes, but is is relatively new to me - this is only the second year I have done them, and all have been on-line versions. But is a Sample/Taster class a true reflection of what the leaning experience is going to be like?

So my question today is: "Should Colleges deliver sample classes as a taster for what the learning experience is going to be like"?

Some of the things I did in my sample class:
  • The content for the class was taken from one of my statistics classes that I have been teaching for several years - very familiar material
  • Despite above - I rehearsed this class several times before delivery 
  • I made full use of the range of interactivity tools to engage participants
  • I got students to perform a simple experiment (tossing a coin) and I provided a link to Google Sheets where they could insert their results which were then shared and discussed with the class
  • I asked students to give a status (Agree/Disagree with a statement)
  • I used a poll as a leading question to a section on probability
  • I shared an Excel file so that students could try out what I was covering on screen for themselves
  • Throughout we used the Chat section for Questions and Answers
  • I used The Beatles and the chances of winning the Lottery as content - interesting examples that should prompt most students to pay attention
In short - I tried to have a full range of activities using interesting topics. I was acting as a salesman for the course!

I do point out in the session that students will have different lecturers in each module that they have, and that the experience will not be the same. None of my classes will be like above all the time! Just as students have different learning styles, teachers/lecturers also have different teaching styles. There is also a mix of teaching experience, in some cases they will have a lecturer teaching a module for the first time, while others (like me), will have been teaching the module for a long time. Use of tools in the Adobe Connect environment will be different - in short again, each class will be a different learning experience.

Some Colleges may be tempted to roll out the "A Team" for sample/taster classes (I do not flatter myself that I am part of the "A Team" in NCI!). Well rehearsed taster classes from an experienced lecturer with a specially chosen topic, and with lots of interactivity, may give a misleading experience. While I feel that we should still deliver sample/taster classes, it is something to be careful about.

It all reminds of an old Salesman Heaven and Hell joke...

The Salesman Heaven and Hell Joke (

When a young salesman met his untimely end, he was informed that he had a choice about where he would spend his eternity: Heaven or Hell. He was allowed to visit both places, and then make his decision afterwards.

"I'll see Heaven first," said the salesman, and an angel led through the gates on a private tour. Inside it was very peaceful and serene, and all the people there were playing harps and eating grapes. It looked very nice, but the salesman was not about to make a decision that could very well condemn him to a life of musical produce.

"Can I see Hell now?" he asked. The angel pointed him to the elevator, and he went down to the Basement where he was greeted by one of Satan's loyal followers. For the next half hour, the salesman was led through a tour of what appeared to be the best night clubs he'd ever seen. People were partying loudly, and having a, if you'll pardon the expression, Hell of a time.

When the tour ended, he was sent back up where the angel asked him if he had reached a final decision.

"Yes, I have," he replied. "As great as Heaven looks and all, I have to admit that Hell was more of my kind of place. I've decided to spend my eternity down there."

The salesman was sent to hell, where he was immediately thrown into a cave and was chained to a wall, and he was subjected to various tortures. "When I came down here for the tour," he yelled with anger and pain, "I was shown a whole bunch of bars and parties and other great stuff! What happened?!"

The devil replied, "Oh, that! That was just the Sales Demo."

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