The phrase “desirable difficulties” was first coined in the nineties by psychologist Robert Bjork to describe learning conditions that introduced inconveniences to yield greater learner retention of material. According to the literature, the more work that is required to learn a concept, the greater the mastery (Sparks, 2011). To illustrate, a classical example of a desirable difficulty is found in the use of flashcards as study tools. Flashcards typically display only partial information, as a cue for the user to recall a more complete set of facts. When compared to lecture notes, flashcards require a student to work harder in recalling materials and are therefore especially effective study tools. As such, flashcards have been popular among students for decades.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
tips for online faculty
Courses with a great deal of technical content for application in practice such as law, business, or STEM courses are oftentimes designed in what amounts to an information delivery method. The professor provides the necessary information for students to memorize and repeat back in the course assessments.
As an online instructor, I require my students to engage in weekly discussion forums. In the online college environment, discussion forums are designed to simulate a professor and his or her students engaged in a traditional classroom discussion. Students respond to a question and then reply to the responses of their classmates. The point is to keep the discussion moving, keep students engaged in the topic for the week, and facilitate learning.
Online students need to feel an instructor presence in their classes. Thorough explanations and effective communication help fulfill this need and can transform a mediocre online course into a great one—and it all starts with the syllabus.
By now we’ve all heard about the importance of faculty engagement in online courses. A faculty member who properly engages in an online classroom can boost student success, improve satisfaction, and raise retention rates. Discussions about faculty engagement tend to focus on activities like interaction in discussion boards and frequency of posting announcements. Although these actions are important, what’s overlooked in these conversations is the need to ensure students are first comfortable and prepared to participate in their classes. Let’s face it, starting a new semester can be anxiety inducing for students and the situation can be exasperated in an online environment where students can’t ease their anxiety by walking to class with a friend or seeing a welcoming smile from their instructor as they enter a classroom.
Many faculty members express concern that discussion in their online courses is shallow or sparse. What is it that makes meaningful dialogue so elusive in online courses? Some practices in online course design and discussion facilitation can actually encourage superficial dialogue. Faculty grading and feedback that require too much formality of language can scare students into virtual silence, sticking to exactly what the text says or saying what they think the professor wants to hear. Focusing on lower-level writing issues, such as grammar, APA style, or academic language, takes students away from content issues toward format issues. Although faculty might expect students to use formal academic language in their essays and research papers, it is not ideal for discussion.
With the increase in online classes being offered by higher education institutions and the convenience and flexibility it affords (particularly for adult learners), it is important that institutions hire, train, and retain high-quality, student-centric online faculty. Just like on-ground students, online students need instructors who are passionate, organized, creative, and manage the (virtual) classroom effectively. Unfortunately, from time to time, online faculty can struggle with burnout, which may make them less effective instructors.
We all know the classic thought experiment involving a tree falling in the woods, but have you heard the one about online lecturing: If a faculty member posts a microlecture video to the LMS, and students view it, has learning occurred? While we may never know if a falling tree makes a sound, we can determine whether students are engaging with our microlectures by applying the principles of pause procedure.
A student’s initial introduction into higher education can be exciting and frustrating, especially when the student is enrolled in their first online class. This year I taught a newly created first-year experience course at a vocational based higher education institution.