Because online courses have fewer opportunities for the spontaneous, real-time exchanges of the face-to-face classroom, online instruction requires a deliberate approach to design and facilitation. As Bethany Simunich says, “Online, learning doesn’t happen by chance.” In an interview with Online Classroom, Simunich, associate director of online learning at Kent State University, offered the following techniques to improve an online course:
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
engaging online students
Consideration of convenience and flexibility typically leads instructors and instructional designers to favor asynchronous over synchronous learning. But given the potential benefits of synchronous communication, perhaps it’s time to rethink the 100 percent asynchronous course.
If you’re having trouble getting students to engage in the discussion forum, perhaps it’s time to rethink how you use this tool. “Think of it as a place to foster interaction between the students through a variety of means rather than just asking them questions, although that’s great too,” says Chris Laney, professor of history and geography at Berkshire Community College.
When looking to improve your online course, you may be tempted to do a complete redesign—start over and change nearly everything. Before you do that, consider an incremental approach that uses action research to continuously improve your course. This will enable you to make progress without discarding effective course elements or taking on the inordinate amount of work involved in a redesign.
The majority of us teach the way we were taught growing up (Southern Regional Education Board, 2009). This presents a challenge for online faculty, who most likely received their education in a traditional, brick and mortar school. Online instruction is much different from face-to-face instruction. Over the past nine years, I have discovered four basic elements that contribute to being an effective online teacher.
As an online instructor, I can fulfill the minimum requirements of the university regarding interacting with students, or I can create a learning environment that facilitates student engagement in the classroom. Students enroll in online classes because of the need for scheduling flexibility, work-life-school balance, costs, and convenience. Although online learning holds many advantages, the potential drawbacks revolve around the lack of personal interaction between the instructor and student, as well as the student-to-student contact. Keeping students engaged in the course is a vital function of an effective instructor.
You’ve been assigned your first online class to teach and you feel like you’re ready. You’ve done your homework and learned the ins and outs of the institution’s course management system. You’ve structured your content in purposeful ways and developed thoughtful guiding questions to situate student learning and motivate them. When the class starts, however, you realize that while everything is technically functioning correctly, many of the students are not engaged. While you were looking forward to teaching online and interacting with students, the students are approaching your course as if it’s an independent study. This wasn’t what you anticipated when you agreed to teach online!
Understanding learners’ experiences in the online classroom can help you improve your courses for current and future students and help build a strong learning community. Jill Schiefelbein, owner of Impromptu Guru, a company focused on helping individuals and groups improve communication in both face-to-face and online environments, recommends using a reciprocal feedback process to elicit this valuable information from students.
One of the first and most difficult tasks an online instructor faces is how to establish the presence of a learning community. Learning in isolation may be possible, but it’s neither enjoyable nor complete, and many online students end up quitting or failing the course simply because they miss the classmate support that is readily available in face-to-face classes. To ignore the importance of peer learning and personal connection in any classroom, including those in which participants might not physically meet, is to deny the significance of social interaction in learning.