Chemistry professor uses Skype to lecture offsite

Skype lectures
From left, Will Tucker, Kevin Luy and Mason English, junior molecular biology majors, connect to a WebEx session held by Brenda Peirson, professor of chemistry, for their biochemistry class Oct. 21. | Photo by Matt McDaniel
Skype lectures
From left, Will Tucker, Kevin Luy and Mason English, junior molecular biology majors, connect to a WebEx session held by Brenda Peirson, professor of chemistry, for their biochemistry class Oct. 21. | Photo by Matt McDaniel

The advancement of technology in today’s world is booming — so rampant, in fact, that it affects every part of our lives. The classroom is no exception.

Some educators have found alternative ways to teach other than just in a classroom setting. Some have found it beneficial to conduct lectures over Skype.

Chemistry professor Brenda Peirson conducts four of her classes over Skype: Fundamentals of Chemistry I, two sections of Biochemistry I and Medical Biochemistry for first-year pharmacy students.

After Peirson became engaged to her fiancé, who lives in Bedford, N.H., she knew she either had to continue the normal teaching process while living in Tennessee, or she could come up with an alternative route and still teach for Union but live in New Hampshire.

That is when she started conducting courses using Skype.

“After exploring several online options with the Information Technology Department, we decided on a webinar format called WebEx,” said Peirson. “It is a live video broadcast system in which participants can see my live video feed as well as my desktop, which usually means PowerPoint slides.”

At the beginning of each course for the undergraduate classes, Peirson sends email invitations for each class with a link to WebEx session. Each student has to log onto the program separately.

Some are by themselves in their dorm rooms while others meet in common areas, such as the Bowld Student Commons so they can watch the session on the big screen with their laptops close to them.

The students’ names pop-up on the screen as they enter in for each session. They are muted and are able to see the teacher’s video and PowerPoint slides.

The students can also ask questions by pushing a raised hand icon on the screen. If Peirson sees that one of the students has a question, she can un-mute them so they can ask their question and still be heard by the entire class.

“It is an amazingly smooth process, and I keep them honest by calling on them out of the blue from time to time just like I might do in a normal lecture class,” said Peirson.

“Anytime I would normally write on the board, I write on a piece of paper instead and hold it in front of the camera for my students to view on their screen, which also works very well for communicating over long distances.”

Although the majority of the lecture classes are done using the WebEx program throughout the week, Peirson flies into town once a month for a week at a time to have face-to-face lectures, review sessions and tests.

“It is a lot different since I am not in a classroom at all,” said April Coleson, freshman undeclared major. “Normally, I either sit in the library to listen to the lecture or I just stay in my dorm; however, for me, it is much more difficult to stay focused this way.”

On the other hand, the graduate-level class is handled a little differently.

All 61 of those students are in their normal classroom in Providence Hall.

For each lecture Peirson sends a WebEx invitation to Blake Watkins, a faculty member in the School of Pharmacy.

The session is shown on the big screen and is unmuted for the entire session.

Watkins has a wireless microphone that he takes around to the students if any of them has a question.

“I do not see the students during the WebEx sessions, but it did not take long to recognize voices,” said Peirson. “Of course, it is always great to visit campus and see my students in person. There are a lot more emails and phone conversations with this method, but as long as students can still communicate freely with me, it works well.”

Image courtesy of Cardinal & Cream|Cardinal & Cream