Setting up an Online Learning Experience

As students, when considering taking an online course, we examine all the technologies that we will need and that are available. As an instructor, we must do the same. Knowing the basics or essentials of technology and the technologies that will be used in your classes is imperative. According to Boettcher and Conrad (2010), when designing a first course, one should keep it simple and design around using he essential tools of the course. Once you have those down, you can expand your technologies.

Some of the basics are being able to upload documents, setting up discussion boards, using the gradebook, assigning students to groups, and learning to use the course management system (Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, etc.) for your institution. If you are unsure of the CMS, ask your institution if they have online programs, workshops or tutorials so you may learn to use it properly (Boettcher and Conrad, 2010).
Several basic used are: email, announcements, audio/video lectures, blogs, and more.

Of the core learning principles, “Learners bring their own personalized and customizable knowledge, skills, and attitudes to the experience” (Boettcher and Conrad, 2010). Communication is key, especially in an online environment where there is little to no face to face interaction between students and instructor. If the information is given in a clear and concise manner, then there will be little room for ambiguity and miscommunication. “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 and Conrad, 2010).

Clarifying how this will work or not work will help to create a trusting learning environment. Other considerations that need to be taken into account when setting up an online learning environment are international time zones, cultures, and ELL students. The first issue can be worked around through the use of email, especially if the “office” hours do not coincide with decent contact times. The instructor and the student can work out their communications.

Other cultures may observe different holidays than the US and this will need to be taken into consideration. The third item on the list is English Language learners. Their grammar and syntax may not be perfect however, we can all learn from one another. Hopefully, they will ask for help if/when needed.

Reources

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

Online Learning Communities

Online learning is becoming more and more accepted, available, and expected in education from middle school to university levels. Online learning communities impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses. According to Pratt and Palloff (2010), students co-construct meaning, support one another, draw information from each other, professionally support, correct, and give feedback in an online environment.

An instructor is not only a facilitator, a guide, but also an integral part of the online community with the students. It is their responsibility to create a safe environment so students can be who and what they are and to be able to talk freely without stress or worry. In this environment, they can freely express their own opinions (Pratt and Palloff, 2010).

One of the essential elements of online community building is the People. Through an online discussion community, one can get a sense of another, a social presence, to interact / communicate with others in the community. A second element is Purpose. What are the rules of engagement? HOW will the learners engage? How often will student learners be expected to participate? For official purposes, how often does the institution expect learners to participate? A third element is Process. Traditional methods and strategies used in a brick and mortar environment just do not transfer over to an online environment. The Power in a learning community is the learner to learner engagement. It is empowering for students to be responsible for their own learning. As social constructivists they are transformed into scholar / practitioners (Pratt and Palloff, 2010).

Online communities can sustain themselves when the instructor is as an equal partner – everyone is engaged, involved and present. Other means are through dialog and reflection. Reflecting on the learning helps to deepen the learning.

The benefits of an online community model are student satisfaction, perception of learning, feeling part of something larger than oneself, and social pressure to succeed. Being actively engaged in one’s learning helps break down feelings of isolation.

Several of the things I learned about an online community and being an effective instructor are: make the course easy to navigate, make the class warm and inviting, visit the classroom several times a day for the first two weeks, post a bio and encourage the students to post a bio, welcome each student individually, model behavior for students, create an icebreaker activity – does not have to be mandatory nor graded, relate to students on a personal level, and be familiar with the technology used in the classroom. If the instructor becomes “real” and approachable, it helps put the student at ease and helps with satisfaction and retaining students.

References

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