Archive for the ‘Online Education’ Category

Overcoming Eight Common Obstacles of Teaching Online

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Anyone who teaches online has run into problems within their courses. Some of these problems can be complicated and if not correctly resolved can do major damage to the online instructor’s reputation and opportunity for teaching future courses. This column tackles the worst of these.

Culled from hundreds of emails I have received over the years from online instructors, as well as from my 18 years of online teaching experience, the obstacles and their solutions that follow have come up more than any others. Yes, there are many left out—please add in the comment box any you feel deserve a place on this list.

  1. Losing all power and other related interruptions. We can control nearly all of our efforts in the online classroom, but not being able to interact with our course due to a power failure, a server issue, or a broken computer and/or piece of software on our end can throw the class into chaos. Not to worry, as long as there is a Plan B: the first day of class always ask students to send you their phone numbers and personal email addresses. If one of these problems occurs, you can still contact them. This way, you can always keep students in the loop.


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Eight Roles of an Effective Online Teacher

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Teaching face-to-face and teaching online are both teaching, but they are qualitatively different. In comparison, driving a car and riding a motorcycle are both forms of transportation, but they have enough differences to warrant additional training and preparation when switching from one to the other. The same is true when faculty move from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. There are some things that the two have in common, but there are also plenty of differences. With this in mind, consider the following eight roles of an effective online teacher.

  1. Tour Guide – A tour guide leads one or more people through a place or a series of places, usually revolving around some sort of common theme or subject. Similarly, the online teacher plays the role of guiding students through one or more online learning experiences. These experiences are most often designed and planned long before the course starts so that the teacher can devote more time to guiding the students and less time preparing lessons. Within this role, the teacher directs and redirects the attention of learners toward key concepts and ideas. A good tour guide doesn’t want anyone to miss out on the highlights of the tour.
  2. Cheerleader – As with all learning environments, learners often need some encouragement. Learning is hard work and studying online can sometimes feel isolating, confusing, or discouraging without this important role. As a result, the effective online teacher makes intentional efforts to communicate specific encouraging messages to individual learners and the group as a whole. Even when providing constructive feedback, the teacher as cheerleader finds a way to promote positive messages alongside the critiques, doing his or her best to maintain an overall positive morale in the class. At times, learners may fall into negative comments about themselves, the class, or their classmates (even the instructor, on occasion). The cheerleader strives to find ways to listen, respect the learner’s frustrations, but to also help them reframe the situation in ways that are more positive and productive.


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Learning in the digital age

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

WHO says that working adults don’t have time to pursue higher education?

With the internet, e-learning opportunities abound, especially for those who are interested in distance learning.

Asia e University is one of the first higher education institutions in Malaysia to practise an integrated e-learning approach in its teaching and learning process.

This approach in open and distance learning is a viable and complementary alternative to the traditional campus-based delivery mode in higher education.

It has enabled the varsity to contribute towards the country’s integrated education system and enrich one’s learning experience.

The varsity also has its own delivery mode in the areas of learning materials and assessments.

By employing self-study methods, learners can study independently at their own pace using course materials in digital format that are presented as self-instructional material.

Students will have access to a digital library and are encouraged to read materials online.

Virtual laboratories and online simulations are carried out as practice exercises and students can download audio or video clips of archived lectures.

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Designing and Teaching Online Courses with Adult Students in Mind

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Many of the learners in today’s online courses are adults who are returning to school to upgrade their qualifications. It’s worth considering what kinds of adult students are in your courses and what their needs are.

Some of the adults in your courses may be people who have lost jobs due to the recession and need to upgrade their skills. Others may be people who started degrees and never finished them but want or need to now. Others may want to change careers. There are as many reasons for adults seeking online degrees as there are adults seeking them. And understanding their needs puts you in a better position to tailor your strategies and help returning adults be as successful as possible.

Learner analysis
When designing training courses for organizations, one of the things instructional designers (like me) do to make sure the training fits the needs of the intended audience is an audience analysis. Some of the questions instructional designers might ask during a learner analysis for an online course include:

  • Who are the intended learners for this course?
  • What demographics should we be aware of?
  • Why are learners taking this course?
  • What do they already know about this topic?
  • What topics will be most difficult, and what extra support will they need?
  • What expectations will learners have?
  • What resources do learners need and have?
  • What experience do they have using course tools and technologies?
  • What is their level of computer literacy?
  • How fast an Internet connection do learners have?
  • What computer support will they need?


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Student Persistence in Online Courses: Understanding the Key Factors

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Who should be taking online courses? Are online courses equally appropriate for all students? Can any content be taught in an online format or do some kinds of material lend themselves to mastery in an electronic environment? Who should be teaching these courses? These are all good questions that institutions offering online courses — and instructors teaching them — should consider.

Most of these questions are being answered in stages by research inquiries that address smaller issues related to these larger questions. For example, Carolyn Hart has completed an integrative review of the research literature in the hopes of identifying those factors that positively affect a student’s persistence in an online course. Do we know what differentiates students who complete online courses from those who drop out?

Her review is based on 20 studies published since 1999. She found that researchers used a wide range of definitions for persistence. She opted for this straightforward description: persistence is “the ability to complete an online course despite obstacles or adverse circumstances.” (p. 30) The opposite of persistence is attrition, which she defined as “withdrawal from an online course.” (p. 30) Based on her review, she identified the following factors as being related to student persistence in online courses.

Satisfaction with online learning – Not surprising, students who are satisfied with online courses and programs persist.


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A Better Way to Talk with Faculty about Teaching Online

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Addressing faculty perceptions of distance learning has been a matter of intense concern since the beginnings of online course delivery. Many articles have been written discussing the reasons that faculty may be disinclined to participate in an online course and how to persuade them to change their minds.

For Bernard Bull, assistance professor of educational design and technology and director of the Instructional Design Center at Concordia University in Wisconsin, it is time to move away from administrative desire to mold attitudes and move toward a discussion that takes into account faculty experience. “This is not a sales pitch,” he says. “Dialogue is beneficial even if it slows down the process. It is not always about achieving consensus.”

Bull offers six ideas about how to think differently about faculty perceptions of distance education by encouraging discussion, always remaining mindful that every person and every program brings a unique point of view to the table.

1. Move from propaganda to academic discourse – “Beware of the hard sell. There are benefits and limitations to anything,” Bull says. He encourages administrators and faculty to become familiar with literature and discussion that raise both positive and negative points about distance learning. “While one may fear that doing so simply provides ammunition for opponents of distance learning, this is the spirit of academic discourse. It is a dialogue that welcomes, even finds benefit in diverse perspective, the ability to test and critique ideas and efforts,” he says. Making this move is the first step in allowing all members of the discussion to feel heard, and this is critical to avoiding the hard sell.


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Three Ways to Change up Your Online Discussion Board Prompts

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Are you having trouble getting students to participate in online discussions? Consider using other types of prompts in addition to the typical open-ended question. Maria Ammar, assistant English professor at Frederick Community College, uses the following prompts in her English as a second language course and recommends them for other types of courses:

  1. Articles—Post an article in the discussion board and have students do an activity related to its content. This gives students more content on which to comment than a typical prompt that consists solely of a question.
  2. Audio—Post an audio prompt. Listening is an integral part of learning a language. It also is a medium that students are comfortable with and find interesting. Ammar has students post their notes on radio broadcasts in a threaded discussion. “Even though everybody is listening to the same [content], they may catch different things,” Ammar says.
  3. Video—Even more engaging is video. Simply post a link to a YouTube video (or one from another source), and ask students to comment or answer an open-ended questions about it.

In courses that are intended to develop students’ writing skills, the discussion board can be an excellent way to get students to write on a regular basis. However, one of the obstacles to students’ full participation in this type of learning is some students’ reluctance to share things that they consider too personal.

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Who Are You? Putting Faces on Virtual Learners

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

One of the first and most difficult tasks an online instructor faces is how to establish the presence of a learning community. Learning in isolation may be possible, but it’s neither enjoyable nor complete, and many online students end up quitting or failing the course simply because they miss the classmate support that is readily available in face-to-face classes. To ignore the importance of peer learning and personal connection in any classroom, including those in which participants might not physically meet, is to deny the significance of social interaction in learning.

Teachers in physical classrooms understand this well and use the basic human wish for connection to instill learning through team assignments, peer review, classroom dialogue, and other methods. The online teacher faces a considerable challenge, especially when a certain percentage of students have chosen an online class, in part, because they believe they will learn more quickly without classmates who might “waste time” with too many questions and comments. These students begin the class having no desire to recognize or collaborate with other students.

Establishing the presence of co-learners is essential from the beginning. Online students may already perceive that they are in this alone and for those without online experience, the academically unsure, and those who are readily confused, this marks the first moment of learning anxiety.

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The Most Overlooked Items That Can Help Keep Online Students Engaged

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Student engagement is a popular topic and the overwhelming majority of the information on this topic is concentrated on the big issues of keeping students engaged, such as the importance of faculty presence in the classroom, adhering to deadlines and responding to students in a timely manner, and giving thorough feedback on assignments.

Yet there are other equally important facets of student engagement that are often overlooked or forgotten, such as the following:

Don’t be pedantic and ostentatious in your writings to students. Academic writing can be boring, over the heads of many students, and better suited to a scholarly journal than to most online courses. But what students don’t want or need is an online instructor who appears to write down to them and does not take into account their level of vocabulary and sentence structure understanding. Sure, it’s OK to push them a bit so they can become better—in fact, this is crucial—but overall, always adjust your writing so students can easily understand all you are offering. A bonus: the more they understand, the less they need ask you for clarification.


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Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice to the Online Classroom

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Almost 25 years have passed since Chickering and Gamson offered seven principles for good instructional practices in undergraduate education. While the state of undergraduate education has evolved to some degree over that time, I think the seven principles still have a place in today’s collegiate classroom. Originally written to communicate best practices for face-to-face instruction, the principles translate well to the online classroom and can help to provide guidance for those of us designing courses to be taught online.

1. Encourage contact between students and faculty. Students need to know how to contact their online instructors and should be encouraged to communicate with us when needed. In my online courses, I identify multiple means of contacting me (email, Skype, Twitter, etc) and clearly post times when I’ll be available to chat during online office hours. While few students utilize the online office hours I provide, offering this time communicates to students that I am available if they need assistance and that I value this interaction.

2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students. For those of us who believe that people learn through socially constructing their understanding based on their experiences, this principle is critical. Online courses should not be independent study classes. Online instructors need to build collaborative structures into their courses to promote student-to-student interaction. In my experience, I find that students who feel isolated in an online course have difficulty being successful. In my online courses, I incorporate collaborative and interactive ventures early on. I also try to foster discussions where students communicate with one another, share ideas, and debate concepts. While interacting with the instructor is important in an online class, it is also important that students have a space where they can discuss concepts with one another as well.


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