Most online faculty know that discussion is one of the biggest advantages of online education. The increased think-time afforded by the asynchronous environment, coupled with the absence of public speaking fears, produces far deeper discussion than is usually found in face-to-face courses.
As we face the perpetual challenge of keeping each class session fresh and interactive, I suggest we consider an old idea that never really got stale. Inviting guest lecturers to your classroom has benefits for your learners, for you, and for the guest lecturers. Learners of all ages and experience levels are hungry for variety, and seeing a new face in front of the room can liven up the class; but there are also deeper pedagogical reasons for using guest lecturers. Here are a few to consider.
“Distance learning is here to stay. Educational institutions should have a vision for what type of distance learning programs they will implement and the standards they will hold to. Institutions will master distance learning, or in some cases, distance learning trends and demands will master the school.” This is the conclusion of Joseph McClary of Liberty University in his article, “Factors in High Quality Distance Learning Courses,” appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. In it, he examines the components of a high quality distance learning course and some of the barriers to their development.
“What is one of your pet peeves?” That question is among those I might ask my students at the start of nearly every class session as a way of taking attendance. Asking about pet peeves always elicits a lively, engaged discussion. Faces light up, and everyone wants to share their own personal irritants. This engagement never happens when taking attendance is nothing more than reading names from the roster with an answer of “Here” or “Present.”
Researchers Daniel Smith and Thomas Valentine begin by making an important point. At two-year colleges “the classroom serves as the epicenter of involvement.” (p. 134) The same could be said for commuter campuses as well. Students who attend two-year colleges often do so part-time and regularly do so combining school with work, family, and a host of other responsibilities. The same can increasingly be said of many students who commute to campus to take classes. At many institutions students now spend considerably less time on campus, and so if they are to be engaged with academic life, that involvement pretty much begins and ends in the classroom. So, are faculty using instructional techniques that do involve students in the classroom?
As a faculty member, I am always challenged with finding pedagogical techniques that allow my students to connect with course content, each other, and myself in new and interesting ways. Student presentations can help achieve this goal, but they require a wealth of time for each student to present and get immediate feedback from peers and the instructor. Some classes are so large that in-class presentations may not be feasible at all. Or, if you are a faculty member who is not on a block schedule, you would have to use several of your 50-minute class sessions to allow each student a chance to present his or her work. What’s more, some students have a difficult time listening to dozens of peer presentations in one sittings and may tune out after the first few presentations.
People text almost everywhere nowadays, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that students are doing it in class. In this study of almost 300 marketing majors at two different universities, 98 percent reported that they texted during class. They reported receiving just about as many texts as they sent. Perhaps most troubling in these findings were students’ attitudes about texting. Here’s a sample:
Are your students constantly updating their statuses on Facebook? Uploading selfies to Instagram at inappropriate times? Refreshing their Twitter feed every five seconds? Chances are the answer is “yes,” and if you’re like the majority of teachers, you find it mildly annoying at best, or a serious impediment to learning at worst.
The faculty members in the chemistry department are confused.
Last semester, the campus teaching center held a series of workshops to get faculty more familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool that the university adopted and linked into everyone’s online course environment. The teaching center showed everyone who attended the training sessions 51 ways that they could help to catch cheaters, based on research conducted by two researchers at the University of Texas’ Telecampus (McNabb and Anderson, 2009). But the 51 strategies are not why the chemistry faculty are confused.
Andy Stanfield, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Florida Institute of Technology, is a proponent of using Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning to improve instructional design.
This theory posits the following: