Key issues to consider when planning your online class
While the basic principles of curriculum preparation and development used in face-to-face classes are still applicable to online courses, online components add an extra layer of complexity. However, it also offers an opportunity for students to interact and learn in ways that traditional face-to-face teaching can’t offer.
How students learn in an online context is different to that of the face-to-face environment and careful consideration and planning are required to ensure a student’s online learning experience is effective, engaging and aligned with the learning outcomes for the class.
There are several issues to consider when planning your online class:
- Focusing on pedagogy over technology.
- Constructively aligning assessment with learning outcomes.
- Integrating digital literacy.
- Knowing who your learners are.
- Presenting your content.
- Using the resources you need
The importance of pedagogy over technology
There are many incorrect assumptions made about the benefits of using technology, which need to be considered by teachers when first planning an online course.
- Technology will not solve existing curriculum problems without rethinking the pedagogy.
- Existing face-to-face content and teaching strategies will usually not work equally successfully online context without adjustment or planning
- Online components are not more relevant to today’s students, and does not guarantee and increase student engagement.
- Students are not always familiar with using technology in their learning process, despite many having grown up in a digital world.
- The reasons for introducing technology into the learning environment, and the purpose that it is intended to serve, needs to be carefully considered and articulated as part of the planning of an online class.
- Technology should not be the main focus of the process, but rather a component which enhances the learning and teaching experience, and which is carefully integrated into the curriculum planning.
Create a natural critical learning environment.
According to Ken Bain, “natural” means answering questions and completing tasks that naturally matter most to learners interests. Learners make decisions, defend their choices, receive feedback, and try again when their answers are incomplete.“Critical” means thinking critically. Students learn to reason from evidence, examine the quality of their reasoning, make improvements, and ask probing and insightful questions. There are five essential elements that make up a natural critical learning environment.
- A natural critical learning environment begins with an intriguing question or problem.
- Often the most successful questions are highly provocative.
- Yet many teachers give students answers and never ask questions.
- Students are provided guidance to understand the significance of the question.
- Many teachers present intellectual problems but often focus only on the course subject and issues.
- In contrast, the best teachers tend to take the subjects and issues from the course and integrate them with broader concerns and issues, creating an interdisciplinary approach.
- They remind students how the current question relates to some larger issue that already interests them.
- Students are engaged in some higher-order intellectual activity where they are encouraged to compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize.
- They do not listen and remember!
- Students answer the question.
- The best teachers raise important questions but challenged students to develop their own answers and defend them.
- Finally, a good learning environment leaves students wondering:
- “What’s the next question?” and “What can we ask now?”
Develop fairminded thinkers
To think critically in the strong sense requires that we develop fairmindedness at the same time that we learn basic critical thinking skills and, thus, begin to “practice” fairmindedness in our thinking. If we do, we avoid using our skills to gain advantage over others. We treat all thinking by the same high standards. We expect good reasoning from those who support us as Well as those who oppose us. We subject our own reasoning to the same criteria. We apply to reasoning to which we are unsympathetic. We question our own purposes, evidence, conclusions, implications, and point of view with the same vigor we question those of others.
To think critically in the strong sense requires that we develop fairmindedness at the same time that we learn basic critical thinking skills and, thus, begin to “practice” fairmindedness in our thinking. If we do:
- We avoid using our skills to gain advantage over others.
- We treat all thinking by the same high Standards.
- We expect good reasoning from those who support us as well as those who oppose us.
- We subject our own reasoning to the same criteria.
- We apply to reasoning to which we are unsympathetic.
- We question our own purposes, evidence, conclusions, implications, and point of view with the same vigor We question those of others.
Developing fairminded thinkers try to see the actual strengths and weaknesses of any reasoning they assess. This is the kind of thinker we hope you and your student’s become.
Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life
Align assessment with learning outcomes
Online courses need to be ’constructively aligned’ to achieve maximum learning benefits and outcomes. Constructive alignment means that all aspects of your class – from learning outcomes, content, resources, activities and assessable projects – are all directly related to each other, and support a progressive (or scaffolded) system of learning throughout the duration of your course.
Assessment is typically a series of progressive activities that act as stepping-stones that allow students to gradually build, apply and evaluate knowledge, with each task directly relating to particular learning outcomes.
Integrating digital literacy
Integrating digital literacy is ‘the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate and create information and to understand and use this information in multiple formats. It includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments’.
It is often assumed that since the ‘Net Generation’ of students have grown up with ready access to technology, and are familiar with social networking, that they are comfortable and proficient in using technology in their learning.
However, this is often not true for many students. While many students use social media such as Facebook, many are less familiar with the use of other Web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter, Flickr, and Blogger for example, and often have minimal experience of using these in a learning (as opposed to social) context.
It is important therefore to firstly provide adequate training for your students and for you to know how to use these technologies, and to clarify how and why they will be used in your online course.
Who are your students?
We now know quite a lot about which kinds of student best learn online, and which find it difficult or a struggle. Here are some guidelines:
- Lifelong learners wanting further qualifications or upgrading.
- These are often working with families and really appreciate the flexibility of studying fully online. They often already have higher education qualifications such as a first degree, and therefore have learned how to study successfully.
- Independent learners.
- Online learning, particularly fully online, requires good self-discipline and good generic study skills. Independent learners can be found at any age, but it is a teachable skill, and we will discuss later in this post how to use online learning to move students from being dependent learners to independent learners.
- Full-time students needing flexibility.
- A surprisingly large proportion of online learners are full-time, campus based students.
- Remote and isolated students.
- It is the flexibility rather than the distance that matters to these learners, and really remote and isolated students may not have good study skills or broadband access.
Content or skills?
- Differentiate between content and skills when defining the desired learning outcomes from a course.
- Content covers facts, data, hypotheses, ideas, arguments, evidence, and description of things (for instance, showing or describing the parts of a piece of equipment and their relationship).
- Skills describe how content will be applied and practiced.
There are now many ways to deliver content online: text, graphics, audio, video and simulations.
Chunk your content
First, break down the content that must be delivered and decide how this can best be done online. What is NOT a good way to deliver content over the Internet is through recorded lectures.
Studying online is often done in short bursts of study, and providing materials in a modular form provides greater flexibility and more manageable learning ‘chunks’ to digest.
With online presentation you can include material that is more ‘authentic’ than students would get in a classroom lecture. Thus it is important to think through the content of a course and how best it can be delivered online. In most cases, content delivery will not be a major problem. It just needs to be presented through the best media available and properly organized.
Developing skills online can be more of a challenge, particularly if it requires manipulation of equipment and a ‘feel’ for how equipment works, or similar skills that require tactile sense.
Ask: if I can move most of my teaching online, what are the unique benefits of the campus experience that I need to bring into my face-to-face teaching? Why do students have to be here in front of me, and when they are here, am I using the time to best advantage?
Course design structure
When you move a face-to-face course the structure of the weekly content will often be defined by the topics in your face-to-face course. The main challenge will not be structuring the content but ensuring that learners have enough online activities.
Structure the course as weeks following the topics. This provides a clear timetable. Problem-based learning also allows for learners to have weekly activities.
It is important to ensure that the face-to-face content is moved in a way that is suitable for online learning. Powerpoint slides don’t work. You need to reorganize or redesign the content for online (the EMC instructional designers can help with this).
Designing online activities
There are a vast array of online technologies available that can help enhance learning activities. It is important however, to carefully select the ones that are most appropriate for your class learning outcomes. It is critical to remember the internet is part of our everyday life and has become integrated into contemporary society, and our teaching should reflect and acknowledge this.
Introducing an online activity to a class can offer many benefits to teachers and students. However success often relies on how appropriate the activity and the chosen technology are for the learning context, and how well both are integrated into the learning process.
For the online learning and teaching experience to be effective, it is important that there is strong alignment between the intended learning outcomes and the activities that will help develop students’ achievement of these outcomes. How you choose which activity and associated technology to use can depend on a number of factors:
- The intended learning outcomes for the course
- The student situation (location, access to internet, number of students in the class, etc)
- The learning experiences or technical requirements of the course content (eg inclusion of large graphic files, collaborative tools, live chat features, external guest lecturer access, file sharing, discussions, etc)
- The breadth and depth of the teacher’s previous online experience
Choosing appropriate technologies
The table below, based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, illustrates a range of types of learning outcomes and associated online activities that may help students develop the skills or knowledge in relation to each outcome
This is the most critical part of the online design process. Regular student activities are critical for keeping students engaged and on task.
Research other examples
When you are new to online teaching the large number of available technologies and their possibilities available can be quite overwhelming. It is often difficult to know where to start, how to determine which technology would be appropriate, and how best to use it in your teaching. In this situation it can be useful to first do some research by speaking to colleagues; reviewing similar case studies or scenarios; researching online and professional blogs that feature the use of these technologies or strategies in teaching; and checking with the EMC’s instructional designers for advice, information on training.
If you are new to online teaching or do not have much experience, consider the following:
Stick to the basics: While it is tempting to use every new tool and feature in your activity, start slowly and build up your experience and confidence. It is better to introduce one component, use it appropriately, evaluate its success, and then adjust your teaching where necessary. Slowly introduce more components once you and your students are more comfortable with the technology
- Use technologies that you are comfortable with: Select technologies that you are already using, that are easy use , or that the EMC provides training and support for.
- Ensure that you are familiar with the technology before the semester starts: This allows you to foresee any potential problems, adjust any content or tasks accordingly, and answer any questions promptly that students may have when they start using the technology.
- Limit the number of technologies used overall in any one class: Using too many online components can be at first overwhelming and frustrating for the students and can distract from the learning experience. Use only what technology is essential for facilitating your online activity effectively.
The importance of supporting and training your students
While many students are aware of the benefits of using technology in their daily lives for communication, socializing, banking, shopping and so forth, they may not always be as familiar or comfortable with using it for learning. As a teacher, it is important for you to:
- Explain why you have introduced an online activity: At the beginning of the semester describe the purpose of the technology, your reasons for selecting it, how it will benefit their learning, and what the expected learning outcomes are from using it.
- Provide briefing sessions and supporting material: Don’t assume that students are familiar with the technology. Provide training sessions at the start for students and any additional teachers, as well as supporting documentation that they can refer to when they need help.
- Support students throughout the semester: Answer any technical questions promptly, introduce a Q&A thread online, provide a list of FAQ, and respond to any queries promptly to ensure that the technology does not hinder or frustrate the students’ learning.
- Ask students to help one another: Where appropriate, allow students to respond to one another’s questions, and to share their technical expertise with the class. This can greatly cut down on the time a student has to wait to get help from their teacher.
There are many activities that can devise to keep learners engaged. All activities need to be clearly linked to the stated learning outcomes for the course and prepare learners for any formal assessment. If learning outcomes are focused on skill development, then the activities should be designed to give students opportunities to develop or practice such skills. Activities need to be regularly spaced and have an accurate estimate of the time learners will need to complete the activities. You need to make hard decisions about the balance between ‘content’ and ‘activities’.
Online students must have enough time to do regular activities each week or their risk of dropping out or failing the course will increase dramatically. In particular learners need timely feedback or comments on their activities, from the instructor and from other students. When you design your course take account your workload as well as the students’. Most Leeward courses are overstuffed with content and not enough consideration is given to what students need to do to absorb, apply and evaluate such content. Developing an appropriate structure and learning activities is a key step to achieving quality in online courses.
Online learners need clarity about what they are supposed to do each week. It is essential that learners do not procrastinate online.
A good workman needs the right tools and the necessary time to do a good job. The same is true for online teaching. So let’s look at the resources you need to support a move to online learning.
- Your time.
- This is the most precious resource of all. Time to learn how to do online teaching is especially important. There is a steep learning curve and the first time you do it will take much longer than subsequent online courses. Instructor workload is a function of course design. Well designed online courses should require less rather than more work from an instructor.
- The Educational Media Center instructional designers.
- Use the Educational Media Center for faculty development and training, instructional design and web design. We are often qualified in both educational sciences and computer technology. We have unique knowledge and skills that can make your life much easier when teaching online.
- Use Laulima
- Laulima has enough flexibility to allow you teach in the way you would like to teach, at least at the start. Laulima will give you a structure and format to follow to get you started quickly.
- Colleagues experienced in online teaching.
- It really helps if you have experienced colleagues in your department who understand the subject discipline and have done some online teaching. They will perhaps even have some materials already developed, such as graphics, that they will be willing to share with you.
The extent to which you use these resources will determine how well your online course meets quality standards.
- Learning to Teach Online – UNSW Australia –Learning to Teach Online by Simon McIntyre, Dr Negin Mirriahi
- Tony Bates Decide on what kind of online course.
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Essential Question: How do you plan an online course?