SO YOU WANT TO TEACH ONLINE....

Congratulations! You have made a wise choice. There are however many issues to consider as one travels down this path:

INTRODUCTION

Online teaching and learning is not something that all teachers and learners will pursue, but it will more and more become a feature of the teaching landscape in the years to come. Here in TAFE SA we have adopted WebCT as our platform (course delivery software) to deliver our online content, and we have a number of modules available to assist staff gain the necessary skills to teach online with WebCT.

First it is necessary to determine what we mean by online learning. Originally it meant teaching to off campus students remotely via Internet connected computers. But it has become apparent over the last year or so that the preferred option for many staff and students is the mixed mode approach - campus based teaching supplemented by materials and communication via the Internet. This mixed mode approach has given rise to the term e-learning. WebCT is ideally suited to both modes of delivery. It is imperative I believe that ALL teachers should incorporate some degree of e-learning in their teaching. It is widely feared that the use of technology in teaching will displace teachers. What is more accurate is the fact that in all likelihood, teachers who don't use technology will be displaced by teachers who do.


WHAT IS ONLINE LEARNING?

Let's look at this question in more detail. Examine this table of learning activities.

Whether you got the right or wrong answers in this exercise is not that important. Every activity in this table is a legitimate activity that you may employ with your students. A multitude of factors will determine what is appropriate for you and your students. This table should also give you some idea of how you might start incorporating Internet technology into your teaching tomorrow!

Why go online? This Powerpoint presentation goes some way to answering this question. (especially good for TAFE SA staff)

What kinds of Internet activities could you use with your current classes?


So where to now?

LEARNING STYLES

Discerning teachers have always taken learning styles into account when planning learning activities for their students. In an online course teachers and students may never physically meet, and quite frankly online learners can get lonely and bored if the course is not engaging enough. It is essential therefore that one takes extra care to accomodate various learning styles and maximise the chances of engaging your learners and keeping your them on board.

What is your preferred learning style? Do you know? (It is likely that the learning style you prefer governs the way you teach!)

To discover your own learning style, try the following:

  1. Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  2. Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire
To see how learning styles can be applied in designing online courses see


INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

This whole question of how you present you course content, and what methodologies you employ comes under the heading of Instructional Design. Mostly when people talk about instructional design they are referring to the 'look and feel' of the course content, but instructional design DOES also involve methodology = PROCESS.

What is more important in teaching - content or process?

There is a wealth of resources about Instructional Design on the Internet.

  • Check out the site of the grandfather of web design - Jakob Nielsen.
  • And this article warns away from the 'bells and whistles' approach
    (What is the 'bells and whistles' approach? Read the article to find out!)
  • further resources and short Powerpoint presentation on Instructional Design issues for ESL teachers HERE


SKILLS AUDITS - are you ready?

In the early days of online learning it was assumed that many would jump into it. Early adopters certainly did, but it is an enormous leap. It requires a set of skills that most teachers and students do not have. To get an idea of the kinds of skills necessary for a successful transition to this environment,

  • see this readiness checklist.
  • To see how these skills can be gained in an extended project you might like to look at the program of a course run for ESL teachers in 1999.
  • Skills audits are a common way of assessing one's readiness for online teaching and learning. Check HERE for another example.


COMMUNICATION AND CREATING COMMUNITY

One of the most common perceptions of computer based learning is that it is impersonal. This may have been true before the advent of the Internet but the Internet is one huge network of connected computers that has been created by people, and it has allowed meaningful communication between people in a way that was not possible before. The tools that have allowed this wondrous development are email, bulletin boards, and chat.

The following two articles are from LearnScope - an Australian professional development project that houses resources on flexible delivery.

Keeping computer mediated instruction human has led to the popularity of the concept of online community.

Webheads is one such community that has been extant for about 3 years now. To see what the students themselves think about this community see this paper on Community building

FACILITATING ONLINE/INTERACTIVITY

To create a sense of community online teachers need new skills. The following article is from an email game where practitioners were asked for the best tips on increasing interactivity online.

The concept of facilitation and moderation has spawned an enormous amount of research and commentary. You would be well advised to browse the e-moderators homepage established by Zane Berge and Mauri Collins.


CONSTRUCTIVISM: there is another way!

Huh? Yes, constructivism! Remember back in your teacher training days how you read, thought, and dreamed about notions like student centred learning, collaborative or peer learning, self-paced learning, problem solving approaches, etc etc? All those wonderful strategies that promote critical/higher order thinking skills like synthesis and analysis that you were going to implement in your own classrooms when you finally got your own class. Then the real world set in and you had to meet deadlines and follow syllabi. Well the Internet has brought it all back. The Internet does it make it possible for learners to be more in control over their own learning.

This change is often referred to as the shift away from the dominant paradigm, or the transition from the teacher as "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side". This latter approach broadly fits under the category of constructivism. "Constructivism places the learner in an active position of learning which involves formulating various concepts in order to resolve a problem. This process enables the teacher to lead or coach while the student experiments in order to learn." (Vicki ReGina Vaughn, http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/eflt/cons.html)

A great set of resources for all things constructivist is at:

And this is an excellent example of how a constructivist course might work:

Incidentally, WebCT communication hubs are ideal for creating constructivist learning environments. From a recent conference abstract of mine:

WebCT was initially designed as a course delivery program. Built into the platform are several tools for computer mediated communication. As the number and quality of Internet based resources for education increases exponentially, there is a move towards using existing resources for online teaching, rather than develop bodies of new material with a specified start and end point. Some online facilitators are now preferring to exploit existing web based resources; there is an unrelated but concurrent trend towards forming online learning communities. WebCT hubs can facilitate the growth of such communities, function as a convenient resource repository, act as jumping off points for web based activity, and provide a sense of place on the Internet for teachers and students of all classes - online, adjunctive, and face to face - at all levels. This paper will outline the process that several TAFE SA workgroups have gone through in the evolution of teaching and learning hubs, with particular reference to low level literacy students and professional development for staff.


COPYRIGHT AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY


CHEATING

Many fear that studying on the Internet enables students to cheat more freely. There are many sites on the Net offering 'cheat services' for students. There are also sites that help teachers bust the cheats! The University of California at Berkeley has some very specific strategies for preventing academic dishonesty as well as definitions and examples of plagiarism.

Personally I feel the issue of cheating is blown out of proportion.

Who cares if people cheat? People have done it since the year dot and this medium in my opinion make no difference. If someone cheats is that my responsibility as the teacher? And good teachers have always been able to spot cheats - online is no different. Unless of course some bogus student takes the whole course and there is no f2f component. And if the cheat passes then *someone* has completed the course successfully and good luck to them. If you have a range of activities, collaborative learning, progressive assignments that require drafting and comment and analyis, I find it difficult to believe that someone could actually pull it off. But perhaps someone can prove me wrong? I read recently that teachers who use cheating as an objection to online learning are just using it as an excuse for not accepting change. I guess that's what I'd been thinking all along. The issue of cheating is a smokescreen. End of speech.

Another (new) Hot issue: Secrecy

I came across an interesting issue recently:

A colleague of mine is doing an online course and before the course got underway all students had to sign a statement that would not divulge anything about the content and methodology used in the course. Kind of makes a mockery of the sharing of learning, and the public spirit of the Internet. The motivation is doubtless commercial. I found myself thinking 'what would you do if someone began a f2f course like that!' Me - I'd walk out and think the teacher was mad.

Any thoughts on this kind of swearing to secrecy? Is it justifiable? How would you react if your online instructor began a course this way?


So there you have it. A quick Cook's tour of what's involved in the journey to being an online teacher. There are a host of other issues of course that I haven't touched on here. If you have any questions on anything presented here, or about online learning in general, email me at michaelc@tafe.sa.edu.au. Or if you visit my web site at http://www.chariot.net.au/~michaelc you'll find a great deal more information about online learning. (And about me!)

And if you'd like to take part in the Introduction to Online Learning (WebCT) module run by TAFE SA, register your interest HERE.

All the best on your journey.

Michael Coghlan
April 4th, 2001