Microeconomics Online

As more universities venture into online distance education, instructors will be faced with either developing a course from scratch or adopting a pre-packaged course. Obviously, adopting software that has been designed, developed, and distributed by a publisher or multimedia company can save the instructor a great deal of start-up time. But d'es such a product limit the creativity a teacher can bring to the course? At Dakota State University, one professor found that using Archipelago's Micr'economics package offered him both time savings and customizability.

Daniel Talley, assistant professor of economics at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, decided to try the Archipelago product as an experiment in alternative content delivery. The product, published by Harcourt e-Learning, combines CD-ROM courseware and Web-based lessons, replacing the printed textbook he had been assigning in the course.

Talley used Archipelago Micr'economics for his summer course. Because it enrolls only 30 students, Talley was able to devote extra time to helping them with the technical aspects. Once they were up and running, students responded favorably. "The graphics and visuals were terrific ways to explain economics concepts, which are often best expressed graphically," Talley says, noting that the abstract nature of economics lends itself to teaching with multimedia. And because the Archipelago content encouraged students to experiment with data and test variables, it better reflected the actual work of economists than most print materials.

Surprisingly, many of Talley's students preferred listening to the text being read to reading it themselves. "They thought it was easier to absorb the meaning that way," he says. While some students commented that they missed the portability of a paper textbook, at Dakota State, dorm rooms, classrooms, library, labs, and even the cafeteria have computer terminals, so students could access the course from almost anywhere.

The Archipelago product kit includes two CDs, one that installs the product and one or more course content disks. Along with the software, the instructor receives a manual, which is tied to course content, as well as a user guide, which explains the ins and outs of the course Web site, creating multimedia lessons, managing the course, and editing lessons. Talley reports that installing the software is a bit tricky and requires very close attention to the instructions.

Archipelago is used on some campuses as a completely freestanding online course, with no face-to-face meetings between students and instructor. Talley, however, sees it as supporting material for his lectures, much as a textbook would be used. Archipelago gave the students "two views of the same material—mine and the author's," he says. Students could discern the meaning of concepts better by drawing from both "voices." Says Talley, "The ability to customize the content is definitely one of Archipelago's strengths."

For more information contact Daniel Talley at Daniel.Talley@DSU.edu.

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