Online Teaching

The Final Frontier

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When designing an online course it is essential to understand the different types of online courses there are. I created an infographic to make it easier for me to understand. There are three essential questions when thinking about designing an online course one must take into consideration.

Why? What are the reasons to create an online course? It is to replace the face-to-face setting or to enhance an already given course to provide the students with an alternate learning environment and resources.

How? Then, you must think about how will this class be given, how will you communicate with the students? There are two different ways: Synchronous and Asynchronous. Synchronous means that there is a direct line of communication, feedback becomes immediate through tools  like Skype or google hangouts. Asynchronous  communication tools allow for feedback, but not as quick. Some tools would be email, the use of blogs and google docs. There are both pros and cons to each type of communication tools you wish to use. Asynchronous can allow a student to advance at their own pace, yet synchronous tools can foster partnership and a sense of community by having sessions in which all students meet to discuss a topic or work on a project.

When? When will the interactions occur? There are three moments: a web-facilitated course where the online setting works only as a platform for resources, a blended course which means that the learning and teaching are done both online as well as face-to-face and a completely online course.

It is very important to analyze one´s audience, their needs, resources and abilities in order to decide what type of course best suits them. I chose a blended course for several reasons:

1. Age: my students are fifth graders and I believed they needed times to touch base and check on their progress, doubts and to find out if they are understanding how to work in an online course. Since this would be their first time working in this setting.

2. Resources: Not all students can connect online on a daily basis. My school has a fully equipped computer lab and ipads which are available to them.

3. Time-management: Most of my students have very busy afternoons with activities, by having them work at school I am making sure that they have the allotted time for each lesson in the course.

The next step is choosing a CMS (Course Management System) otherwise known as an LMS (Learning Management System). There are many out there like Schoology, Moodle, Edmodo and you may also choose to you a website creator like Weebly, WordPress. Everything depends on the purpose of your course, the learning objectives and outcomes and the context of your students. This was a difficult decision for me. They are all so attractive, with different features and at the beginning you might get carried away with all the cool features and widgets of a CMS, but try to not get side tracked by the goals you have outlined for your students. In the end, you are the one providing and creating the learning environment for your students not the CMS. The key element is you, the teacher. A CMS is just a tool. Think about TPACK. Learning occurs right in the middle between the technology, pedagogy and the content. Not just the technology and the content.

I chose Weebly because my students had experience using Weebly and navigating through its websites. I also had experience with it and decided to spend my time designing the course than learning a new CMS. I also did not need other features like grading that other CMS provide, because in my school we must use Engrade. That is also why you must take into consideration your own school policies when choosing a CMS.

Design. This for me was the most difficult aspect of it all. How will I ensure my students learning? How do I know that learning is happening in my class? How do I make sure that my website is not just a dumping ground of content as the author of the article “Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems affect teaching” explains? The author, Lisa Lane, writes about the mistakes teachers make when designing an online course. She explains how the CMS becomes a platform for links to articles written by other people, websites, but it does not reflect the teachers´pedagogical skills or methodologies. In the beginning, I too was making this mistake. I then, included section where I wrote just how I would speak to my students in the classroom. Providing examples, comparisons, making a few jokes here and there. I added my own personality to the course.

Communication. It is important that students can see a clear path of the course. They must understand what is expected of them, how they will be working and how will they be graded. Communicating this can be difficult. I found that all written can be tedious for my students. I added a video in which I explain where to find things on the website and what the website contained. I decided to explain to them the difference between evaluation and assessment. I created a chart showing how a grade will be provided. I find that the younger students benefit from visual aids. You may also add podcasts or videos created by you explaining a topic. Let yourself translate into the course, let it be a reflection of who you are as a teacher.

Here you will find a step by step writing with my thinking and decision making process throughout the design of my course.

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