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eCompanion Technology Enhances Classroom Learning

February 12th, 2010

By David Halbrook

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

Professor of Rhetoric, Dr. James Tallmon, lectures in a face-to-face classroom

As the blizzard winds and record snowfall of February’s “Snowmaggedon" raged across Northern Virginia, shuttering schools, classrooms, and businesses in its path, Dr. Tallmon’s Argumentation and Debate class at PHC soldiered on with some semblance of normalcy. Though the College itself had cancelled classes during the whiteout, PHC’s Professor of Rhetoric turned to the recently-integrated eCompanion portal to carry on a live “ClassLive Pro”classroom chat, allowing his class to stay on track at a crucial point in the semester.

“We didn’t have to let a little old blizzard stop us from getting together,” he recalled. “We were discussing a speech they were going to give on the Great Books of Western Civilization and wrapping up a discussion of how to use knowledge of fallacies to point out faulty arguments. I would not have been able to carry on during the snowstorm if all I had was face-to-face teaching. eCompanion’s online tools transcend brick-and-mortar.”

“Our class has a large amount of camaraderie” said Jeremy Siblerud, who participated in the blizzard-chat. “Because of that, and how much we enjoy our class, we all decided to attend our class even during the "Snow-Apocalypse." It was a big help.”
A product of Pearson eCollege, PHC’s new Distance Learning (DL) platform, eCompanion is a timely technology designed to help PHC professors deliver content to students more effectively and interactively while remaining true to the College’s classical curriculum and methodology.

“It’s highly interactive,” says Tallmon, “and provides a blended experience in terms of utilizing components of the DL platform, so that when they’re reading late at night students can post a question instead of holding on to it until morning.  Chances are by morning they’ll have their answer.

“It engages students in asynchronous environment,” he continues, “which means I can give them a quiz, and they can take it at their convenience. I recently gave a quiz and told the students to take it on eCompanion, which freed up class time to discuss more important things.”

Students on their laptops could be in a class session either face-to-face or via the Internet

The College entered into the world of eCollege this past spring through its relationship with Spectrum Pacific Learning (SPL), an e-learning solutions provider that helps colleges like PHC customize their online learning programs. Eight professors are currently working with Spectrum to customize online content for their on-campus courses, and are meeting regularly to discuss creative ways to utilize the new technology. Dr. Tallmon, for example, masterminded a multimedia “Speechbuilder’s Emporium” to communicate key concepts to his Rhetoric students.

The College has also merged technology and classical education in unique applications in other developing projects, such as electronic student portfolios, that bolster the College’s efforts to develop new programs, demonstrate classroom achievement and document the fulfillment of course, program, and institutional objectives. Faculty will be piloting “ePortfolios” with a small group of students this spring, which they hope will prompt students to reflect purposefully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly on the "big picture" aims of their classical liberal arts education. Built on the framework of the trivium, the ePortfolio pilot encourages students to see how individual assignments and activities weave together to enhance their development as individuals within the PHC community.

Adds Naomi Harralson, Associate Director, Office of Institutional Effectiveness & Strategic Initiatives: “In the current environment of increasing demands for robust, authentic assessment of student learning outcomes, our challenge is to find meaningful assessments that reflect the ‘coherent rationale’ of the PHC curriculum as defined in the College’s Philosophy of Education. ePortfolios are beautifully suited to meet this challenge to provide a more fully-rounded picture of student development.”

“It will allow us to show coherent connection between student outcomes, institutional objectives, and what’s going on in our classes,” notes Tallmon. It will also allow students, in building portfolios, “to showcase all different kinds of formats, such as links to movies they’ve produced, web pages they’ve designed, or exceptional papers they’ve written. When they graduate, they’ll have a ready portfolio to show employers.”

The possibilities seem endless, enriching students’ classroom experience with new interactive online features, while enhancing key areas of PHC’s institutional effectiveness. And if another snowstorm or some other emergency occurs, the learning experience doesn’t have to suffer.

“In the event of catastrophic event,” Tallmon concludes, “it doesn’t shut us down completely. There are myriad ways one can enhance experience for a student so that quality of learning is enriched. In the case of last week’s ‘snowpocalypse,’ I used the technology to keep moving forward so we didn’t fall behind in class.”