As an experienced online educator, I am confident that my students are not only learning but also excelling. Through our classroom activities and interactions, they are simultaneously mastering content and developing higher-order thinking strategies. Yet I am plagued with concerns that this is not enough.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Online Course Delivery and Instruction
Cynthia Schmitt, senior director of continuing education at Florida Institute of Technology, tries to make the online learning experience comfortable and efficient for students. Students want their courses to be convenient, easy to use, responsive, and accessible so that the technology does not get in the way of learning. Here are some ways Schmitt recommends achieving these goals:
Online instructors need to be intentional about creating a sense of presence in their courses so that students know that somebody is leading their educational experience. According to Larry Ragan, director of instructional design and development for Penn State’s World Campus, this sense of presence consists of three dimensions:
Teaching face-to-face and teaching online are both teaching, but they are qualitatively different. In comparison, driving a car and riding a motorcycle are both forms of transportation, but they have enough differences to warrant additional training and preparation when switching from one to the other. The same is true when faculty move from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. There are some things that the two have in common, but there are also plenty of differences. With this in mind, consider the following eight roles of an effective online teacher.
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!
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.
Almost 25 years have passed since Chickering and Gamson offered seven principles for good instructional practices in undergraduate education. While the state of undergraduate education has evolved to some degree over that time, I think the seven principles still have a place in today’s collegiate classroom. Originally written to communicate best practices for face-to-face instruction, the principles translate well to the online classroom and can help to provide guidance for those of us designing courses to be taught online.
Despite the tremendous growth of online education programs, student retention for online courses remains problematic. The attrition rate from online universities is often cited as 20% to 50% (Diaz, 2002). Studies also reveal that attrition from online programs can be as high as 70% to 80% (Dagger, Wade & Conlan, 2004).
Which online instructor characteristics help students succeed? It’s a rather basic question that has not been adequately answered. We did a literature search to find if anybody had done any research from the students’ perspective on what constitutes a quality online instructor. There were perhaps 10 articles by professors speculating about what they thought defined quality online instruction, but nobody had asked students.