Today's generation of students relies heavily on technology on a daily basis, is accustomed to computer-based instruction, and responds to opportunities that may preclude enrollment in full-time on-campus degree programs-students may, for example, be juggling a full-time clinical position while pursuing a higher degree. Therefore, the timing has never been better for institutions of higher education to take advantage of high-tech pedagogical options (e.g., Web-based instruction, simulation technologies) within their course offerings.
Other trends and policies in our field have also suggested the relevance of additional innovative pedagogical approaches. For example, ASHA's current Certification Standards require frequent and varied opportunities for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills required for clinical certification. One engaging and rewarding way to address the new standards is to include service-learning activities in course requirements. In this way, students can apply their knowledge and develop skills in authentic clinical contexts and can gain satisfaction from experiencing clinical work in our field.
Such re-engineering of teaching and learning practices is becoming increasingly common as evidence mounts to indicate the relevance of varied and innovative pedagogical approaches to clinical education. The University of Central Florida (UCF) is a large metropolitan institution that has taken a leadership role in the development of distributed and experiential learning practices and supports. Therefore, faculty in UCF's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) are fortunate to have excellent supports in place when re-engineering their classes. As a result, both faculty and students have reported favorable outcomes relating to the application of distributed and experiential pedagogy (e.g., Kent-Walsh, 2005). An overview of these applications follows.
Distributed learning involves: (a) a focus on the learner, (b) an emphasis on technology, and (c) delivery on demand (Dede, 1996). It is much more than "distance learning," since it encompasses student-centered interactive instruction that can be synchronous and/or asynchronous. Distributed learning can provide the learner with a great deal of control, extensive interaction with content, other learners, and the instructor, and can also counteract time and distance barriers.
One example of distributed learning that is widely used at the UCF is World Wide Web-based course delivery. Currently, UCF's CSD Department provides the option for students to obtain an undergraduate minor in CSD completely online and also offers a number of other courses with online components.
Faculty members have developed and offer these courses with the use of WebCT, an online course management software package. WebCT is used in the CSD Department at UCF for classes that are: (a) offered completely asynchronously online; (b) offered partially asynchronously online with reduced time in a face-to-face classroom environment; and (c) offered for the typical number of hours in a face-to-face classroom environment with supplemental Web-based enhancements.
In a WebCT environment, students can interact with course content (e.g., via traditional class notes, simulations, video review), hold synchronous and asynchronous discussions with each other and the instructor, complete and submit assignments, complete exams, check grades, and complete e-mail correspondence.
Faculty and students report many benefits of online instruction (Lee & Dziuban, 2002). Similar to much reported data, faculty and students in CSD at UCF value such online instructional aspects as: (a) flexibility of participation in courses (e.g., option of completing coursework on any day or at any time), (b) individualization of participation in courses (e.g., individualized instructor feedback to monitor progress in the course), (c) depth of knowledge achieved, (d) course organization (e.g., variety of activities, consistency of requirements), and (e) unique and applied learning opportunities provided in an online environment (e.g., simulation of the hearing mechanism, repeated viewings of video case studies, extensive and regular collaboration with classmates). Although faculty and students have also indicated that the time to prepare and participate in Web-based instruction can be extensive, most feedback reflects that the benefits far outweigh this potential barrier.
Another pedagogical approach that provides innovative educational opportunities is experiential learning, which involves direct experience as the source of learning and development (Kolb, 1984). Since we are in the business of educating future clinicians and it is necessary for university programs to track students' acquisition of clinical knowledge and skills, service learning presents itself as a particularly relevant form of the experiential approach.
In allowing students opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills they gain in a course to real-world problems (e.g., clinical cases) in the community, instructors can move beyond traditional learning and evaluation practices toward authentic assessment, standards-based education, development of critical thinking skills, and social responsibility-practices in line with current trends in research and education reform (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 1999). Furthermore, university programs have the opportunity to further partnerships with community agencies in a reciprocal context.
Undergraduate and graduate students at UCF have multiple opportunities to participate in service-learning activities as they work toward building the necessary skills and competencies to become proficient and certified clinicians. For example, undergraduate students have learned about various primary diagnoses by preparing and conducting presentations, materials, workshops, and camps in association with local nonprofit organizations and branches of national disability associations.
Similarly, graduate students have worked within local clinical facilities to conduct augmentative and alternative communication assessments and interventions. Service-learning activities are implemented in both face-to-face and Web-based classes and have yielded very authentic learning outcomes and positive feedback from students, faculty, clients, and community partners.
To meet the needs of today's students, dynamic learning environments must be created that afford greater involvement in and control of the learning process. Instituting pedagogical approaches as distributed learning and service learning can help faculty members and university programs to address these needs.
These approaches lend themselves to following the timeless Chinese proverb: "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand." This focus has allowed the CSD Department at UCF to effectively document student learning in the context of current ASHA standards and work for the betterment of teaching and learning overall.