Setting up an Online Experience

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Have you ever thought about all the different steps that need to be taken when setting up an online course? For many, it seems like it is just to take the material from the face-to-face course and digitalize it, and then we have an online course. However, just as we need to plan the face-to-face course we need to do the same with an online course. There are differences that are essential and, therefore, need more work and preparation. Like the technology that we can use in an online course.

Something I claimed for a long time discussing online courses and technology, is that technology is tools that you can use. You do not have to use everything that is out there, you should use the technology that will help your teaching and enhance the learning for the students. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) also mention this when they say “…keep it simple. Focus on the essential tools, and build your first course around those tools.” To be able to focus on the essential tool, or to choose a tool that will help you and your students, you have to have knowledge of what is out there. I have loved the courses in this Master Program because now and then, and sometimes a lot, there are suggestions of different tools I have never heard of. I look into those suggestions, what they are for and what I could do with them, and then I add them to my toolbox (I try to gather the names of the tools) to bring out when I need them. I wish, however, that I had more time to try them out, play with them and be skillful in using them. Often that will happen during the use of the tool in a course.

Knowing what tools I will use will help me prepare and organize the online course, but then we also have the students that might or might not take an online course for the first time. What can they expect from me as the instructor and the course, but also what is expected from them? “Clear and unambiguous guidelines about what is expected of learners and what they should expect from an instructor make a significant contribution to ensuring understanding and satisfaction in an online course” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). The clearer we get the easier it is for the students to focus on the correct things, and learn more. It will also be easier for us teachers, since we avoid discussions about what is happening in the course and can focus on the teaching.

Besides making expectations clear and having knowledge of technology, the instructor needs to consider on how to create a presence in the online course. Presence is about “being there” in the online classroom as human beings.  Three different kinds of presence are needed and need to be planned. Social is about getting to know each other, and to build trust. It is only then “content discussions can be open and substantive” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Creating social presence can be done with an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the course.  Cognitive presence is about students’ willingness to take part in discussion and other activities, and be able to construct and confirm meaning.  To create cognitive presence is not easy since students might come with different reasons for taking the course, but what an instructor can do is to find out “what students know and how they know it” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). The way the course is organized can also be a help. Teaching presence consists of the material that is prepared before the course starts, but also the way the instructor ask and answers questions in forums, giving feedback on assignments and communicating what is going on in the course. This is also something that the instructor should plan and prepare before the course starts (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

The more preparation and planning we do as an instructor, the bigger the chance that the students will achieve a good experience of an online course.  It will also simplify the work during the course for the instructor since he/she will know what will happen when and can, therefore, focus on the students.

 

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

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Online Learning Communities

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This week in the course we learn about online learning communities, and it is apparent from the resources that this is something beneficial for both instructors and students. To start with, what is a learning community? According to Dr. Rena Palloff and Dr. Keith Pratt (Laureate Education, 2010) it is “a community of students and faculty who explore content together to construct meaning and knowledge about that content.”

The idea is that active students learn more, and students who are interacting with one another are active. I believe that we all recognize this. We might be searching for specific information in books and Internet, and in the process we learn several other things since we are reading the text to find the information. We might have a problem and we discuss it with our colleagues (peers) and in that discussions we get new knowledge that will help me solve the problem.

Learning communities is about learner-to-learner engagement. You get to know the other students and they get to know you, and then together we make meaning of the content in the course. One comment that Dr.Palloff and Dr. Pratt made was that it should “empower students to take responsibility of their own learning” and if it works at it supposed to, it will “transform students into scholar practitioners” (Laureate Education, 2010). Other positive changes are that students become reflective, increase the self-direction, reinforce their sense of presence, and break the isolation.

There are several elements of online community building; people, purpose, process, method, and social presence. All of them depends on another and play off one another. However, it is not just to bring those pieces together and then we have a learning community. It will not just happen!

Circles in a overlapping relations between the elements of community building

I believe we need to start with the purpose. Why would people come together to interact with each other? The answer to that is not always that they want to learn something, but creating a course with the target group and their needs is a good place to start. On that purpose we as instructor has to create the process, the way the course is designed to take a learner from the start to end, but also the way it is designed to engage the learners. In that process we have to add methods so learners are able to interact, and communicate, and connect with each other.  The process and methods are key to community building.

We have then created an environment where we now can invite people, the learners, into, and give them the opportunity to start develop presence.  We cannot expect everyone to be capable of developing a social presence immediately, therefore, it is important that we give instructions on what to do and when, to help the learners to get started.  Then it is everyone’s responsibility to participate and interact with each other, otherwise there will not be a successful learning community.

One issue that could exist is the lack of knowledge of technology and online study, which could result in loosing learners since they become overwhelmed with everything. Having new student orientation will help students to understand all this new things as well as getting to know each other before they start the actual course. If it is not possible to have that, we have to use the beginning of the course to help them understand and learn all this things.

The instructor of the course is the facilitator and need to be the one setting the tone in the classroom and make it a warm and inviting place to be. That person needs to be involved in the entire process, and slowly cultivating students into the communities.

One thought I got reading and listening to this week’s resources is that even if we are talking about online teaching, all of this can be applied to a class on campus, that we meet face-to-face.

 

Reference

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

New course, new knowledge

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Another course where I need to use the blog: Online Instructional Strategies. It will be interesting to learn the theory behind what we do online, as well as getting more tips of what to do to get students more active in courses.