Anita Pincas Senior Lecturer, Institute of Education, University of London
Course director: Online Education and Training (OET),
10 weeks by distance (January 28 2005)
4 weeks by blended mode (April 25 2005).
Full details and application form are at:
Online Education and Training
Pincas, A. & Saunders, G. (2003) Online learning on campus Learning Partners, UK
Saunders, G. (2000) Getting Started with online Learning Learning Partners, UK
School of Lifelong Education and International Development
Teaching tips for Online Education and Training
Technology, and especially Information and Communications Technology [ICT], has often been hailed as a catalyst for change, but that change need not be radical. You can incorporate some helpful ICT in easy, well planned ways, drawing on practices and strategies known to be effective. I suggest using widely available technologies combined with familiar teaching and learning approaches - not alarmingly sophisticated tools. Taking small exploratory steps in common sense ways is the safest and easiest. If you are on a campus and have not yet made a significant use of ICT then this paper (and the course I refer to) may spur you to try out a varying level of online activities along side your normal face-to-face teaching, and thus use "blended" learning methods.
Several typical teaching and learning activities that might usefully be transferred from the classroom to online mode are described briefly here.
1. Most often, it is necessary to lead learners through important information, knowledge or key issues since you as teacher are instigating the students’ process of learning by conveying something to them: e.g. facts, a controversy, a history, a challenge, or an opportunity for them to design their own learning activities. The simplest transition from the live class to use of the computer is placing supporting text for a lecture, or slides or accompanying handouts, on a public web page for all students to find. This is now routinely done for many campus courses, either to help students who have missed the lecture or lost their handouts, or as a preliminary or follow-up support to learning. We have found that 100s of people on our Online Education and Training course confirm that they started by just doing something simple like this.
You can then move on to support your text with images, or perhaps just your Powerpoint presentation. Even better, you might video your lecture and send them a videotape, CD-Rom or put the video on the web. You could also consider simple audio recordings sent out on audiotape, CD-Rom or the web. On the OET course I send out CDs with PointPoint slides alongside videos or audios of lectures, because streaming video is still not suitable for all but the fastest computers and internet connections. We prepare them very simply indeed with the free Microsoft Producer software and a cheapish digital camera. A useful supplement is some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or short answer quizzes.
The use of audio or audio/video can lead to significant changes mainly because they free up the teacher’s time for interaction with the students. But they can also be a much livelier stimulus than text, e.g: Historical speeches/presentations, Showing relevant real life activity, Demonstrations of laboratory/workshop experiments and equipment, Recordings of disasters or experiments gone wrong, Illustration of processes impossible to re-create on campus, Client/human case studies, Fieldwork and field trips, Development of student presentation skills.
2. There are three main types of learning processes that learners can engage in via computer. As described in detail in Pincas and Saunders (2003), these are human interaction or collaboration, interactive exercises, and modelling.
Human interaction and collaboration can be done by online discussions that are linked to classes - often good alternative to live workshops for students too busy to meet often. Most common ways are by e-mail or bulletin/discussion boards or synchronous chat or videoconferencing, or mobile texting. On the OET course, our group discussions and debate are very lively. There are specific ways of managing online discussions, and clear rules, as in a game, are essential. These include good use of subject headers, defining everyone's roles, including the teacher's, and politeness online, ie "netiquette".
Group work online gives everyone more time to reflect and research, keeps a useful record of the discussions and can involve everyone in a way that is often difficult with timetabled classes. An instance would be if a group needs to find solutions to a problem but individual students have to research separate aspects of the problem and let the others know.
In interactive exercises, students interact with a computer, but have some control over how they deal with what is presented to them. They can use hypertext or other resources to move or select items on a page, e.g. join up lines in a picture, or link a word with its definition, or observe small differences in drawings, and so on. Many of these are done using Flash software, which is quite simple to learn.
In modelling, learners try out their solutions to a task, in a ‘What if’? approach. Changing the prices of goods on an Excel chart to see how this affects profits is an example. But so are simulations, e.g. of a sales presentation or a job interview or a public debate. These can be done in text form online, but when you feel ready you may wish to move on films or video conferencing. You will be surprised how simulations can be challenging and informative on the internet. I know that some people on my OET course use them instead of real fieldwork thus overcoming weather problems!
3. Assessment is commonly done by email, multiple choice software, asking students to post case studies on the WWW, or presentations in PowerPoint, by audio, video (especially for art, design, media studies) for both formative and summative feedback to learners. These methods can considerably ease a teachers’ burden.
I would emphasise that the function of online methods is definitely not to increase the tutor's work. If the tutor needs to come online frequently to answer questions, sort out roles, settle disputes, provide information, keep the discussion on track, and so forth, little will have been gained, and much student independence will have been lost. A quick rule of procedure is for one student [on a rota] to have the responsibility of communicating with you when the group is not able to solve its problems.
Students always value private social contact away from the tutor. It is now universal to have an online area called 'Social Chat', 'Cafe', 'Bar' or 'Common Room' for them only. In our online trainer course, the evidence of 12 years clearly shows that such online communications develop into rich and personal interactions among strangers from many countries who have never met (and are not even likely to). I recommend this for campus‑based students in the current climate where so many students lack time to relax and chat with each other.
In the kind of mixed mode approach I have advocated, ICT is but a part of the overall course delivery. But if you start with very simple methods, I hope you will see ICT’s potential to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and in fact lighten your load rather than increase it. Finally, I would emphasise the importance of you yourself taking part as a learner in a course that uses it - there is nothing as good as having tried it yourself.
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