Meg Gorzycki, Ed.D.
Effective teaching and learning takes place under many different conditions. Like in-class instruction, the efficacy of teaching is evidenced by evidence that students have improved their knowledge, understanding, procedural and cogntive skills as a result of the learning experiences. Online courses present challneges that traditional in-class instruction does not present. The following tutorial will address:
Over one half of colleges nationally report that on-line learning is an essential component of their program offerings (Carlson, 2004), and hybrid courses—often regarded as the “best of both worlds,” have the fastest growing enrollment in higher education, and are lauded for their convenience and capacity to facilitate interaction (Poirier, 2010). Technology enriches independent learning by allowing for mass and instant communication and research that taps millions of sources via search engines. Online courses remain controversial as some question whether the quality of instruction in hybrid courses is the same as that found in face-to-face courses (Benhunan-Fich & Arbaugh, 2006; Robinson & Hullinger, 2008).
Distance learning has many strengths and limitations (Astani, Ready, & Duplaga, 2010; Guidera, 2003; Grandzol & Grandzol, 2010; Jackson and Helms, 2008; Meyer, 2003; Robinson and Hullinger, 2008; Rourke & Kanuka, 2007).
- Ease of communication between students and peers and professors
- Ease of networking for future employment
- Immediacy of on-line formats
- Students generally believe online courses are just as robust and satisfying as face-to-face
- More opportunity to participate in class discussions
- Prompt feedback on student work
- Students do not get to know either their peers or their instructors as well as they do in face-to-face classes
- More communication problems and misunderstandings
- Limited instructor’s insights to the material and examples or complex ideas
- Teacher-student interaction is limited in courses with large enrollment
- Difficulty understanding tone and attitude of what is posted in forums
- Some find hybrids lack sufficient structure and thus lack clear expectations
Instructors bear a great deal of responsibility for student learning, which means instructors are obligated to do more than deliver vast quantities of declarative knowledge to students, they are also called upon to engage students in activities likely to build cognitive and technical skills, prompt deep reflection on the meaning and significance of learning, and apply knowledge to given problems, tasks, or conditions (Bain, 2010; Barr & Tagg, 1995; Fink, 2002; Laurillard, 2002). Technology supports student engagement, but the richness and value of opportunities to engage is determined largely by choices instructors make when designing courses.
As with face-to-face courses, the quality of online instruction is determined to a large extent on the quality of planning and course design (Laurillard, 2002). Students who have reported negative experiences with hybrid and on-line courses have cited technical problems, poor teaching organization and planning, and inaccessibility as reasons for their disappointment (Tallent-Runnels, Thomas, Lan, Cooper, et. al. 2006).
Many instructors are comfortable with technology, but lack the pedagogical skills necessary to create effective learning experiences, and so require training on how to design courses with high-impact practices in mind (Dillon, 1989; Dillon & Walsh, 1998; McBrien, Chen, and Jones, 2009; McKenzie, Mims, Bennett, & Waugh, 2000; Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). Student-centered teaching focused on development and skill-building challenges instructors to undertake course revision that is often labor intensive (Barr and Tagg, 1995; Gardiner, 1998), but need not be overwhelming; here are some suggestions:
- Avoid rushing the task of designing on-line and hybrid courses to ensure that the design meets the needs and pedagogical and technical standards of the department
- Work with colleagues and curriculum experts to develop courses and to critique the design with particular student needs in mind
- Consider the students’ voice in the design as students may provide insights about what works and what does not work, and may also reveal some things about how instruction might specifically address their developmental needs and responsibility for learning
- Invite curriculum experts to facilitate workshops on the topic of course design and ensure that the sessions allow ample time for instructors to explore examples and produce some ideas that apply the principles of effective course design
- Determine the level of thinking the course ought to target and the specific ways that students will articulate or demonstrate these levels of thinking
- Structure activities and provide materials in ways that are accessible to all students
Establish clear expectations and rules regarding communication, such those addressing the frequency and immediacy of student-teacher communication and the tone of all communication
The engaged student is one who is immersed in writing, critical reading, problem-solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, field work, debate, analysis, dialogue, research, composition, personal reflection, and/or project development. Because declarative knowledge is a vital component of students’ work in the field, synthesis of ideas, evaluation of claims and ideas, critical reading, and problem-solving, student engagement may also be conceptualized as behaviors that reinforce students understanding and recall of declarative knowledge.
A review of 20 studies of online courses indicates that student persistence and satisfaction with courses are linked to students’ sense of connection with others in the class (Hart, 2012; Moore (1993). The challenge of sustaining a sense of connection is to maximize dialogue that is focused on course substance and that sustains deep thinking (Chen & Willits, 1999; Jung, 2001).
Examples of Engaging Activities
- Nursing students will conduct a survey of 30 people designed to explore public attitudes towards the health care industry, document their findings, post their findings in the online venue, and participate in discussion about the meaning and significance of their findings and their relevance to their role as nurses.
- Students enrolled in a course on economics will read two articles representing opposing views on a serious economic issue and respond to questions posted by the instructor. The instructor and the students will then have a given amount of time to respond to postings. The instructor will then assign a short essay in which students will report their thoughts about the issue and about what they learned about scholarly discourse from the online discussion.
- Students of history will view a YouTube documentary and critique the film with an eye to bias and use of evidence. They will post their findings online. The instructor will participate by responding to student findings and raising salient questions. This exercise will be one of several like it, and these will form the basis of the final paper students must compose on the topic of historiography.
- Students studying environmental science will select a geographic area of the Bay Area of not more than one square half mile and conduct a study of the location that documents sanitation, industrial impact on air, soil, and water, and access local residents have to health care and health education. This culminating project requires students to conduct research and use municipal, county and state documents, information gathered from residents and business owners, and other research. Students will submit their findings on a PowerPoint which must be no more than ten slides in length, and which must contain photos of the area, at least three graphic representations, such as a chart, table, diagram, or graph, and must include references. The objective is to describe the quality of life in a given neighborhood and address what might be done to improve it.
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Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Psychology Press.
McBrien, J. L., Cheng, R., & Jones, P. (2009). Virtual spaces: Employing a synchronous online classroom to facilitate student engagement in online learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).
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Rourke, L., & Kanuka, H. (2007). Barriers to online critical discourse. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 2(1), 105-126.
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- Affordable Learning Solutions [CSU initiative to offer low cost digital course materials to students]
- California State University Quality Online Learning and Teaching Program
- San Francisco State Academic Technology's Course Stream
- San Francisco State Academic Technology iLearn Course Management
- San Francisco State University's Digital Collections
- San Francisco State ePortfolios
- Using Mobile Devices for Instruction [Merlot library of Apps]
- Huron Consulting Group (2013). Best practices in social media [Summary of findings from the fourth comprehensive study of social media use by schools, colleges and universities]
- Seven Tips for On-Line Instruction