This resource offers a general overview and guidance of the effctive use of online teaching.
We would like to acknowledge and thank The University of Newcastle, Australia and their team in Educational Resources Support and Development for the permission to use their Teaching in the Online Environment resource, elements of which have been included and adapted for inclusion in this resource.
Experiences in using technology for teaching can vary understandly from one course of study to the next. What will work for effectively for one may not work out as effective for another. The key is to understand principally what the tool or ‘space’ can do this will allow you to make decisions on its appropriateness as you know what parameters you are working with. It is important to realise that others’ successes may not have started out as grand designs but through experimentation, reflection, analysing student engagement and obtaining feedback they may have re-modelled and tailored their approaches so that the learning activity supported by the technology achieves its objective.
Enhancing student-to-student and faculty-to-student communication
Online forums, discussion boards and chat rooms, provide public areas to post information. Each student can view another student’s answers and learn through the exposure to different perspectives. This benefits students because they can combine new opinions with their own, and develop a solid foundation for learning. Research has demonstrated that “as learners become aware of the variations in interpretation and construction of meaning among a range of people [they] construct an individual meaning, ” (Alexander, 1995).
Another benefit to using web-based communication tools is to give all students a reinforced sense of equality. Each individual has the same opportunity to “speak up” by posting messages without typical distractions such as seating arrangements, volume of student voices, gender and other (unconscious or conscious) biases. Shy and anxious students feel more comfortable expressing ideas and backing up facts when posting online instead of speaking in a lecture room. Studies demonstrate that online discussions provoke more confrontational and direct communication between students.
For example: Instructors can use a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to post all sorts of support documents for students, including handouts, audio clips, videos, images, slide presentations, and lecture notes that can be enhanced with multimedia content. With this information being available to the students in an online environment, they can access content and review it at a self-determined pace. This provides increased opportunities for students to view and review course elements in their own time.
An instructor can also present these materials in many formats to accommodate different types of learning styles. For example, by an instructor putting both lecture notes and slides online, students who prefer to focus on “listening” and “watching” during lecture do not have to worry that they are missing important concepts while scrambling to take copious notes. They can focus on understanding the material and concepts as they are presented. Students with attention difficulties or those who get overwhelmed by organizational tasks also benefit, because materials provided show how the instructor has grouped and prepared materials in the handouts, and indicate what items are most important.
Instructors can also provide increased opportunity for student exploration and active learning by embedding links to related Web sites and other web content into the online learning environment. When instructors reference these types of Web sites, content reinforcement is provided as students can see how course material is utilized in “real world” situations. It also is a mechanism for encouraging, supporting and facilitating ‘independent study’.
Additional benefits for those who “learn by doing” occur when students participate in online discussions, as students are exposed to an extra period of information rehearsal. Typically, students rehearse information when they study for exams or complete assignments. However, they also rehearse information when formulating thoughts into sentences and typing those thoughts into the computer. When instructors post discussion questions or short essay assignments in the online portion of a course, students must attend to and reflect on the subject matter before responding. This results in reflection and articulation of content, as the very process of reporting and writing about what they have learned engages students in an active learning experience.
Some students work best in the morning, some in the evening. Some students learn at a distance. Some are having to fit their studies around work commitments. When course content and activities are provided online, students no longer need to worry about accessing course materials. Students can complete assignments during their most productive times. Busy students can choose to download readings or take practice exams whenever it is most convenient, in the evening after kids are put to bed, or at 4 a.m. during a bout of insomnia. Continual access to course documents also insures students can obtain materials at any time, removing the opportunity for frustrations such as “The library was closed,” “All the copies of reserve readings were checked out,” or “I missed that handout during your lecture.”
In traditional education, students working on group projects must coordinate schedules. In distance learning environments, this may not even be possible, forcing participants to work independently. When web-based collaborative tools are available, coordination is no longer an issue. Providing students with with asynchronous discussions and online group tasks students can work in groups without the constraints of meeting together at a certain date, time, and location.
For example: One student group has a member named George who works nights. Unfortunately George can’t make the scheduled group meetings at 9:30am. When using an online group communication tool, George can complete his part of the assignment and post it to his group. This way, even if he is not physically present at the meeting, group members can access and edit his work.
For example: An instructor assigns students to watch a political debate on television at 8 p.m. on Sunday night. She wants to assess students’ opinion of the issue to discuss during Monday’s lecture. The instructor creates a short online survey. After the show, students log in and complete the survey. The results are tallied automatically and available for the instructor in plenty of time for the lecture.
Web-based test/quiz features also have pedagogical benefits. From the student viewpoint, frequent assessment provides concept reinforcement and increases motivation. Instructors can post practice exams and end-of-chapter reviews without worrying about finding the time and resources to analyze results. Students can access these assessments at any time, privately and in the comfort of their home. Since grading is computerized, students receive immediate feedback. This may also help students who suffer from test anxiety, to relax and may help minimize the negative effects of test anxiety.
Kubala, Tom. (1998) Addressing Student Needs: Teaching and Learning on the Internet. THE Online Journal. March 1998. http://thejournal.com/Articles/1998/03/01/Addressing-Student-Needs-Teaching-on-the-Internet.aspx [Accessed – 01/2013]
Alexander, Shirley. (1995) Teaching and Learning on the World Wide Web. http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw95/education2/alexander/ [Accesssed – 01/2013]