After reviewing my first concept map, I realized that most of my thoughts concerning online courses revolved around what I had to do: the content I had to teach, my professional responsibilities, the expectations of both the institution and the state conveyed through an excess of policies and directives. This was a shocking observation because I often advise other teachers to consider students at the center of their work in the classroom. Clearly, I do not follow my own advice! As such, designing and teaching online courses has previously been a fulfilling but exhausting endeavor. It is difficult to try to please all stakeholders simultaneously. By the end of each semester, I never feel as though I have done enough. There is this persistent, nagging feeling that I should have designed or managed the course better. I end up carrying that feeling through each semester despite making changes and adaptations to the courses for a better design and learning experience. What I have realized throughout this course is that online design becomes more manageable if one considers students and their needs primarily. By adopting students as a central focus, I think all of the other aspects I used to primarily consider will fall into place.
So, when redesigning my concept map, I placed the students at the center. Then I considered their needs as related to the information I learned in class. I also simplified the concept map to include essential elements. The concept map is designed to indicate the process of planning by first considering a student’s profile and then using that information to determine their needs as learners and in relation to the content. I felt as though student characteristics, available resources (both content and tools), the content, and andragogy principles were the central components for designing a course to meet student needs. While presence is an important consideration when developing the course, I felt as though it is something that must be considered beyond the design process into the actual management of the course, which is why it appears towards the left of the planning process. This concept map is still a work in progress, but I at least have a better conceptualization of how to begin planning and developing future online courses.
I am still planning on implementing the Diigo primary source assignment with students in the future. I also want to share the primary source professional development module with my history teachers this year. Both will require a bit more planning and adaptation, but I have done most of the hard work already in class this summer!
Over the past two weeks, we have been developing an online unit as a means of practicing the concepts being studied this summer. I chose to create a professional development module on using primary source documents in lieu of a traditional lesson for two reasons. First, I wanted to develop something that I could use with the teachers I coach this year. Using primary sources in the classroom is always a challenging thing to convince teachers to implement if they aren’t already doing so of other own accord. Secondly, I wanted to experiment with the differences between the online structure of a professional development course versus a traditional course (i.e. my history classes). What resulted from this experiment was my constant comparison and reflection between traditional and continuing education (professional development) courses. I had to reconsider the purpose and intended outcomes of each course element when designing this PD course. This depth of thought has undoubtedly helped me to reconsider both the way I develop professional development (traditional and online) as well as my traditional history courses. This was not an outcome I anticipated.
I found trying to manipulate the environment within Moodle to be the most difficult aspect of the assignment. In the past, I have taught in Blackboard (several versions) as well as Canvas. However, Moodle seems to be a bit more complicated to manipulate and adapt. In several instances, I had to search Google and sift through the Moodle documentation to figure out how to do something – this is something I almost never have to do in Blackboard or Canvas. The other thing which was relatively difficult was trying to determine how much work is appropriate. I love sharing lots of resources and ideas which can overwhelm first time online learners or those not well versed in the content. Forcing myself to scale back on the resources being shared and the activities assigned was something I really focused on during this unit.
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
This post is my first reflection for EdTech 522. During Module 1, we have considered a number of topics including andragogy, the demographics and characteristics of online learners, and challenges faced by adult online learners. This reflection will occur in two parts. The first part will focus on the theory of andragogy (since it was my favorite part of the module this week) and the second will feature a concept map of online learning along with an explanation.
Part One: What is andragogy and how does andragogy relate to online teaching and learning?
Andragogy, in its simplest form, refers to adult learning. A meta-analysis conducted by Taylor and Kroth (2009) indicated that the study of andragogy considers the different processes of learning for adults as well as the instructional methods which best meet these needs. Stavredes (2011) defines the concept as an adult, learner-focused theory. The adult learner determines their own goals and plans for meeting them as opposed to the traditional practice of the instructor doing so for them. The literature indicates that andragogy has incredible value for its philosophical insights in teaching adult learners. However, this theory lacks empirical evidence and consequently it may not provide enough definitive direction for practice in the classroom (Taylor & Kroth, 2009).
The theory of andragogy applies directly to online teaching and learning because of the demographic characteristics of online learners. According to Stavredes (2011), the average online learner is aged approximately 25-44. Additionally, online learners frequently have families, careers, or both. These factors meet the definitions of an adult set forth in the Taylor and Kroth article (2009). Thus, one can safely deduce that adults comprise of a majority of students enrolled in online courses. This means that andragogy, as defined above, has direct relevance for online instructors, at least in terms of its philosophical value.
Online instructors can gain many insights from the study of andragogy. This information can be used adapt instruction to better meet the needs of adult learners. Knowles’ six assumptions on adult learners provides important clues to engage students in the learning tasks of a course. Although empirical evidence is lacking for andragogy, as mentioned previously, instructors can take information about these assumptions and combine them with their course content.
For example, I teach introductory U.S. History courses to incoming freshmen, seasoned undergraduates, and dual credit (high school) students. After learning about Knowles’ six assumptions for adult learners, I might choose to redesign my course to meet these students needs. Rather than presenting the story of history as a series of facts, people, and events to be memorized, I might present a series of modules that pose problems for students to solve. Instead of studying the foreign policy endeavors of the United States, era by era, I might ask students to determine an answer to the question “Why do other countries despise the United States so much?” or “Why does the United States behave as the world’s police?” This format would better meet an adult learner’s orientation to learn (problem-centered), their motivation to learn (because we are addressing a current event issue through the context of the past), or even a student’s readiness to learn (again, due to the current event connection).
This process of implementing andragogical principles into a course may vary for each online instructor depending upon the demographics of their student population, their course content, resources available, and institutional or state requirements.
Part Two: Concept Map of Online Teaching & Adult Learners
My concept map is broken into two parts. The five topics on the left side reflect things that I have worried about in the past when teaching online. These topics include history content, course objectives, assessment, student readiness, and presence/interaction. The topics on the right side of the map reflect things that I learned about through this course materials this week. They include institutional resources, persistence, social styles, demographics, and andragogy. As I completed this map, I realized two things about my past thought processes on eLearning and my future processes going forward. First, much of my attention was focused on things directly related to the courses I teach. I am largely concerned with the history content, how students will learn it, what tools we will use to communicate and assess, whether or not students are prepared for the coursework, and the whether my course meets the various objectives of the stakeholders involved. Most of these concerns do not factor in some of the more foundational or fundamental topics which we discussed this week in Module 1.
After considering the mind map as I had created it, I realized that I need to change my thought process concerning my own online courses. Perhaps by considering some of these foundational ideas studied in Module 1, some of the issues I have experienced teaching online may be resolved easier. To begin this process, I decided to map connections from the new content (on the right) to my existing concerns (on the left). These connections are displayed in yellow in the image above. I felt that andragogy related to all of my concerns on the left. By knowing a bit more about what students hope to learn or want to know in my course, I may be able to adjust my own objectives, assessments, and practice. By knowing about a student’s ranking in terms of persistence, I may be able to prevent issues of student readiness that may arise during the semester.
For example, I like to have students fill out a basic survey at the beginning of each course concerning things like ideal times to meet virtually, use of tools such as Google Chat or Twitter, and their access to internet at home. This survey could be adapted to provide additional information such as a student’s social learning style, their readiness\orientation\motivation to learn, basic demographic information, and a bit on their concerns (relating to persistence). By having this information at my disposal in the beginning of a semester, I could adapt the course to better meet my adult learners needs each semester.
Undoubtedly, I still have much to learn about adult learners in online courses. By knowing more about my student population, I can ensure that the design of my courses and their experiences improve.
M Smith. (2010). Andragogy: What is it and does it help thinking about adult learning? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/andragogy-what-is-it-and-does-it-help-thinking-about-adult-learning/
Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative. (2007). Adult learning theory and principles. Retrieved from http://www.qotfc.edu.au/resource/?page=65375
Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Taylor, B., & Kroth, M. (2009). Andragogy’s transition into the future: Meta-analysis of andragogy and its search for a measurable instrument. Journal of Adult Education, 38(1), 1-11.