This week, the readings focused on tools intended to help students engage with others as well as the content in online courses. For many, the tools and how to use them are the primary considerations when designing a course. However, both Stavredes (2011) and Ko and Rossen (2010) make it apparent that the good online instructor has far more to consider than choice of tools implemented in their online course. Implementing tools in an online course comes with a number of potential problems if not completely considered by the instructor. First and foremost, special attention must be paid to issues of presence in order to determine if a tool is a good fit for the intended activity, objectives, and students within a course. Undoubtedly, presence has an important role in determining the satisfaction experienced by students in a course. As such, when planning an assignment, it is important to consider the types of interaction students will need to have in order to complete the assignment. If the wrong tool is chosen, presence can be affected as a consequence. For example, if a discussion forum is the only tool for a group of students to collaboratively plan and develop a class presentation, their interactions will likely become restricted due to the limited functionality of forums. This restriction may lead to frustration and negative cognitive and social presence experiences among the students in a group. Clearly, the choice of tools is not as simple as selection based on mere usability or features.
Additionally, just because a tool is implemented in an online classroom does not guarantee that students will automatically know how to use it or interact within it in an academically appropriate way, as indicated in the literature this week (Hsu, Ching, & Grabowski, 2014). Guiding students through the process of learning about the tools and using them is a crucial task for the online instructor. Without instructor presence in these types of online activities, students may not meet the intended objectives in a manner that is beneficial for all parties. This presents a unique challenge in my own teaching as an adjunct. Because I work a full time job and am also working on my doctorate, being consistently present, monitoring email, giving feedback, grading assignments, and keeping up with my other responsibilities has become a great challenge. As such, any choice of tools must be purposeful and well planned to be effective.
Planning activities and tool usage is also a difficult task for the online instructor. Coming up with a set of best practices for tools used in an online course is frequently a trial and error process where the instructor learns from their own mistakes as well as student behavior within the course and then makes improvements for the next semester. This process can be a rigorous and lonely one for an instructor without a strong support network or opportunities to observe others. I frequently find myself yearning for the chance to explore the ways others have implemented these tools into their own classrooms. While I feel that I do some innovative things in my classroom, there are always ways to improve by observing the practices of others. Observation is an educator practice that is relatively common in traditional, face to face settings. However, it is much more difficulty to “observe” others in an online course. This constitutes a major problem within the practice of online education and future research as well as professional development will have to address this issue in order for instructional practices to improve. More teachers are going to have to begin publishing and sharing their practices, either through blogs or professional publications, in order to initiate this conversation amongst online practitioners. Ultimately, I believe that by sharing one’s activities, instructions, choice of tools (and associated decision-making process), objectives, rubrics, and student feedback would make such a big difference in the practices of others. It is something that I hope to begin doing this year by pairing what I’ve learned in this class with my past and present experiences teaching online.
Hsu, Y. C., Ching, Y. H., & Grabowski, B. L. (2014). Web 2.0 applications and practices for learning through collaboration. In J. M. Spector et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 747 – 758). Doi:10.1007/978-1-4614- 3185-5_60
Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Lim, W. Y., So, H. J., & Tan, S. C. (2010). eLearning 2.0 and new literacies: Are social practices lagging behind? Interactive Learning Environments, 18(3), 203-218. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2010.500507
Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching. Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass