This article is about creating online learning activities, but parts of it can be easily applied to any materials creation and, in fact, all kinds of task-setting in a lesson. How do you make sure that your learners don’t focus on finishing faster, but take the slow path and achieve more learning? John Allan, the author of the article, suggests ten solutions, from limiting easy question types like True/False to making questions that are impossible to answer without listening or reading the input again. Seems common sense, but it’s also something we tend to forget about 🙂
The final post in my Online Teaching series has certainly been long in coming! As always, I feel I have barely scratched the surface, but it’s time to stop reading and start working.
There are still myths and misconceptions regarding online teaching, whichever its form (the synchronous virtual classroom has been my main focus, but some ideas are equally applicable to asynchronous forms). And yet, there are a lot of teachers, trainers and researchers all over the world who see online teaching as a new exciting tool, an opportunity to engage students in a new way and reach new audiences.
At the very least, online teaching is always better than no teaching at all; if planned and done right, it can provide unique opportunities to students to study in a relaxed home environment without distractions, to develop their soft skills and knowledge and even to work around their shyness. Online teaching can be at the same time cooperative and differentiated, emotionally engaging and factually informative.
To benefit from it, students simply need to have ‘good transportation’ to class (a metaphor I borrowed from a book by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen about online teaching at universities I read this week): broadband connectivity and reliable equipment, as well as basic skills of using teleconferencing software.
To make sure students get the most out of online classes, teachers first and foremost need to be good teachers. In fact, the same book by Ko and Rossen says: “Techies” don’t necessarily make the best online instructors. An interest in teaching should come first, technology second.
That said, some preparation can’t hurt:
- be confident about the technology you need to use
- plan lessons carefully
- adapt activities and materials to online use
- incorporate more visuals
- build in reflection and feedback activities
- modify your teaching behaviour for the webcam
- read more articles (anything by Nicky Hockly is a great start!), blogs, books (e.g. Teaching Online: Tools and Techniques, Options and Opportunities by Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield or Teaching Online: a Practical Guide by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen)
- take courses (e.g. Coursera or FutureLearn courses on online teaching)
- … and practise!
I think I’ve found several weeks’ worth of reading material about online teaching: the website of the Online Learning Consortium looks very promising. For example, this report on Virtual Classroom training focuses on the components a good training programme for instructors should have – and what it usually includes in reality. Apparently, too little attention is given to the real experience in the virtual classroom (as a student and as a trainer) and too much to the technological side of things. The authors also urge to pay more attention to the pedagogy of online synchronous learning and how it – and the materials – should be adapted to the new medium. Interesting!
P.S. Note that the materials there are behind a registration form; so far it hasn’t turned into a paywall, but I have opened only a few reports.
Here is another interesting research article you should definitely read, even though it’s not related to language learning. It’s written in very accessible language, by the way, and reads like a story – a rare treat. The author (Dilani S. P. Gedera) from a university in New Zealand explored how meetings via Adobe Connect had affected the learning process of a remote group of students. It seems that lack of familiarity with the technology and connection issues were the biggest constraints, yet the affordances the virtual classroom offered were very useful for the learners: they had a chance to engage with each other and with the material that they wouldn’t have had in the asynchronous mode.
Perhaps this is the key outcome for me so far – do not compare online and face-to-face learning, compare online learning with no learning at all.
I’ve started digging through Google Scholar results, so here is the best article I have found so far: Exploring the Virtual Classroom: What Students Need to Know (and Teachers Should Consider). Definitely recommended for finding out what exactly learners need to benefit from the virtual classroom. According to the researcher, Garry Falloon, the impact of student ‘knowledge’ on the quality of their learning experience is considerable. The learners should have technical knowledge (how to use the conferencing software), procedural knowledge (what conventions of the classroom should be observed) and operational knowledge (how to use the available communication tools). Without it, it’s harder for them to transfer their face-to-face experience to the online environment. Definitely something to consider!
Now, this article is not exactly scientific, but the author at least refers to educational research and suggests how it can be taken into account to make online teaching and learning more effective. There are references to cooperative and project-based learning, differentiated instruction and self-paced learning, as well as practical suggestions on how to increase learner interaction and engagement. A good transition to more serious reading!
My journey through articles on online teaching would be incomplete without more critical views on the subject. So, here is a blog post by Amanda Johnson which lays out several arguments about how online interaction will never replace face-to-face. For example, the author states that even though the teacher and the students are ‘real’, the atmosphere isn’t. There is less spontaneity in student-teacher interaction, students can only speak one at a time, there’s lack of emotion and connection – and teachers cannot get the full training and experience that they need to do their work.
Well, what do you think: yea or nay?