Teaching an online course can be very different than teaching a traditional course. Most often, pedagogical changes must occur to make the online teaching/learning experience a positive one. Chickering and Gamson (1991) provide seven principles for good teaching practice that apply to both traditional in-class instruction and online instruction. The principles can serve as a guide while developing materials and learning exercises. The principles are:
While these principles can guide curricular decisions, more specific information is needed to implement them. For example, "Encourage contact" can be achieved by requiring that students participate in online discussions. As the instructor, it is up to you to guide this communication. Having students post 2-3 responses, questions, or comments to a reading assignment or to a question posed by you is more focused than simply requiring that students post 2-3 times to the discussion each week. Klemm (2001) offers other ideas for implementing these principles and for getting students engaged using online communication.
Initial benefits to online learning were believed to be cost effectiveness and access to new learners unable to attend traditional classes. It is generally agreed that the initial cost associated with developing an online course is much higher than the sustained cost of teaching the course once it is developed but that cost effectiveness benefits are not immediate. It is obvious that the flexibility of scheduling available with online learning enables many nontraditional students to acquire an education. Furthermore, the use of online information for teaching provides more immediacy than traditional textbooks. While there are truly a number of advantages to online teaching and learning, there are new challenges as well.
Factors to consider when developing a partial or completely online course include:
A study done at the State University of New York (cited in Mayadas, Bourne and Moore, 2002) revealed that:
There are a number of technologies that can be used with online instruction to facilitate communication among students and the instructor. Knowing some characteristics of these tools enables an instructor to adopt the best tool for his or her purpose. The figure below categorizes commonly used communication technologies into a quadrant depicting tools for synchronous (same time) or asynchronous (time delayed) and for one-to-many or one-to-one communications.
WebCT and MIX both provide several useful communication tools that can be used to enhance your course. Additionally there are a number of free and commercial applications that can be used for course-based communications. These tools are both synchronous (chat and instant messages) and asynchronous (course-based email and bulletin board/discussions). It may be helpful to experiment with these tools by "test driving" them if they are new to you.
Asynchronous Communication (Bulletin Board / Discussion Forums / Email / Listserv)
Most asynchronous communication tools are one-to-many approaches involving a user (e.g., instructor) posting a message and responses from other users being posted at a later time (bulletin board, discussion, listserv). That is, a single person's message is read by multiple other people engaging in this activity at different times. Although often overlooked because it is used so commonly, asynchronous communication can also be one-to-one (Email). Inherently, one-to-many and one-to-one asynchronous communication allows the learner more time to reflect on the topic at hand before sending or posting a message. Additionally, with one-to-many communications the effect of audience typically generates more effort in message composition.
Synchronous Communication (Chat / Instant Messages)
Many learners are accustomed to using chat for recreational purposes which is often very informal and quickly composed without reflection (e.g., AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, iChat, etc.). Effectively adopting chat for academic purposes requires structure and effective moderation of the discussion. As a synchronous tool, chat is usually one-to-many and involves all participants being online simultaneously and often has them interacting at the same time. Without time for reflection, some instructors have found it effective to prepare students in advance with specific questions or content for them to mull over before engaging in dialogue. As a one-to-one tool, many instructors are finding instant messaging to be an effective tool for conducting virtual office hours and for providing more responsiveness to student requests. Here are some additional "tips" for effectively using chat for academic purposes:
There are a number of other technologies used for online learning that go beyond communication tools. Most web-based course management solutions (like WebCT) offer quizzes, course information, calendars, and a number of other features. Not only can student participation be increased with such tools, but the administration of the course can be somewhat simplified as well. If you are new to online learning and are looking for some general guiding principles for distance teaching and learning, the American Distance Education Consortium provides such a list. Please consult the ADEC Guiding Principles for Distance Teaching and Learning site for more information.
We have collected the following tips from discussions and interactions with instructors who teach online:
Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1991). Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. 47, Fall 1991. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Klemm, W. Eight Ways to get students more involved in online conferences. 21 August 2001. http://www.cvm.tamu.edu/wklemm/Eight%20Ways/8waystoengage.htm 11 September 2002
Mayadas, F., Bourne, J., & Moore, J. (2002). Introduction. In J. Bourne & J. Moore (Eds.), Elements of quality online education (p. 9). Needham, MA: Sloan-C.