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Visual Design for Online Learning
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Anyone who has developed an online course knows how important the design of the course is. Poorly designed courses make the course navigation difficult, causing unnecessary frustration and limiting the ability of students to achieve learning outcomes. The author of this book understands these difficulties. Drawing upon her own negative experiences with initial online offerings, she provides readers with important lessons on designing effective online experiences for both teachers and students.
Davis suggests, rightly, that the reader should use the text like a workbook, drawing from the ideas presented in the text as the reader creates her/his own course in the platform the reader uses. She encourages readers to draw upon the backward course design model: begin with learning objectives, discern appropriate ways to assess those objectives, and then generate online learning activities that will enable success in the course. Such alignment will promote student success.
The author provides an acronym, L.I.T.E., for the design framework she encourages. Readers should be sure to create clickable links to external content (L), integrate well the multimedia included (I), use typography and white space to enhance the legibility of the course (T), and embed the content at the point of need (E). She identifies four types of content pages that should be part of the design: landing page, navigation page, instructional page, and assignment submission page. Of course, most learning platforms will provide these. The key, she contends, is to create them in a way that achieves the course objectives and is user-friendly for the student.
The remainder of the chapters illustrate how readers can develop the various components of a good online course, including images and videos, integrating multimedia, facilitating instruction and interaction, and the all-important assessment. Davis provides helpful hints regarding the tools included in software such as PowerPoint, like using it to download and edit images or to incorporate online media. She also points to a number of free online tools one can use to develop a course, such as the presentation tool Brainshark, and the interaction tool VoiceThread. At the same time, she cautions users not to incorporate too many technologies into the course. The focus should be on learning the content of the course, not on overwhelming students with too many technologies.
As with any text, there are some limitations. Parts of the book require knowledge of html language. Many faculty do not know html language because they use software to develop their courses that does this automatically. In addition, for a book that emphasizes visual design, many of the illustrations are difficult to read, leaving the reader to wonder how well the text follows its own advice on legibility. Yet over all, the text is a useful step-by-step guide for developing an online course or for improving the visual design of existing courses.
Creating Teacher Immediacy in Online Learning Environments
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2017
A key issue in distance education is how to establish a vital two-way, personal communication between learner and instructor. Borje Holmberg, among other theorists, argues that the primary role of an instructor is to empathize with the learner; imparting information is a secondary matter. What, then, are the most effective ways to form a dyadic alliance between a learner and instructor? This is the major question that D’Agustino’s Creating Teacher Intimacy in Online Learning Environments seeks to answer.
This is a reference work, so it can be read profitably article by article or completely. The volume begins with a helpful detailed table of contents that provides a brief synopsis of each chapter. There is also a useful foreword by Karen P. Kaun which underscores the importance of the human component in teaching and learning regardless of the instructional format. The preface speaks to the impact of the “interactive turn,” the “undesigned remainder,” and the “modelling function” in asynchronous learning. In addition, there is a brief description of each chapter that complements the summaries in the table of contents. Every chapter also starts with an abstract and an introduction.
Pedagogy, not technology, is the focus of each chapter. Therefore, this reference is valuable for course designers, media specialists, instructors, and researchers across a range of academic disciplines. That said, there are a few chapters that all will want to read and ponder.
Oliver Dreon’s “Building Teaching Presence in Online Classes,” for example, provides an overview of the main issues along with strategies that support learning and interaction. A list of design principles is included, suggestions for future research are indicated, and there is a concise paragraph of conclusions plus an extensive list of references. A central contention made by Dreon is that practices that contribute to high quality, traditional undergraduate instruction also apply to establishing meaningful instructor presence in online classes.
Many readers will also want to look closely at Caroline M. Crawford’s “Instructor Immediacy and Authenticity: Engaging in Cognitive Vulnerability within the Instructional Environment.” Often, learner success in an online course – synchronous or asynchronous – will largely depend on the instructor’s efforts to generate worthwhile interactive opportunities. These activities require that the instructor have a clear philosophical belief system united with an understanding of the learner’s cognitive vulnerability in an online environment. Crawford explores these core issues while calling for the development of a “talent propelled” instructional environment.
Neal Shambaugh’s “Interactivity and Immediacy in Online Academic Programs” addresses quality issues in higher education distance classes. This is an important theme because, as D’Agustino notes in the preface, “online learning still has a perceived lack of legitimacy” (xxiv). Shambaugh advocates interactivity as a method to counter this concern. He offers a list of best practices for creating and sustaining online immediacy. Then he sketches a series of recommendations for undergraduate, master’s, doctoral, and specialized programs, such as teacher education, certificates, and professional development.
There is an extensive compilation of references and notes about the contributors that conclude this collection. The references alone are an excellent guide for further research and course syllabi.
A conversation about the benefits, possibilities, and challenges of teaching online with Dr. Roger Nam of George Fox University, Dr. Eric Barreto of Luther Seminary, and Dr. Kate Blanchard of Alma College.
Issues in Distance Education (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 173)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Distance education is a growing component of higher education. Whether students combine distance courses with traditional classroom hours or focus entirely on distance learning, the presence of distance education in major colleges and universities in America continues to expand. Hybrid courses, which combine face-to-face learning with a digital component, are becoming very popular options for students. Most college graduates in the class of 2020, for example, will have received some of their credit hours online.
The essays collected by Maureen Snow Andrade for Issues in Distance Education address each of these phenomena and more. The initial essay, “Issues in Distance Education: A Primer for Higher Education Decision Makers” by Michael Beaudoin, provides an overview of the development of distance learning in higher education. This is a very useful chapter, particularly for administrators and prospective instructors who are looking for a short introduction to how distance education became such a prominent feature of American higher education and some of the resistance it has encountered. Beaudoin refers to distance learning as a disruptive technology, which is an apt description of the kind of impact it has had on administrators, faculty, and students.
Disruptive technology requires transformative leadership in order to make the best use
of what is logistically possible. Farhad Saba’s discussion, “Theories of Distance Education: Why They Matter,” analyzes various theories of distance learning and links the theories to future institutional policies and practices. Saba advocates a community of inquiry model that combines a social, cognitive, and teaching presence that makes the best use of new technologies and flexible learning schedules.
Andrade’s essay, “Effective Organizational Structures and Processes: Addressing Issues of Change,” explores both macro and micro level structural models for distance education. She proposes four interconnected leadership frameworks for both creating and managing change. The strengths and weaknesses of each model, such as environmental and stakeholder issues, are also discussed along with a set of guiding questions for institutional change.
These first three essays provide a core of information and key questions that will serve readers well. Each of the six chapters which follow focuses on a related issue that the initial essays prompt. For instance, how can a development plan contribute to course consistency and quality? Is a team approach to course development desirable? What sort of faculty support is essential for high level learning outcomes? How can distance learning be successfully offered on a global scale? What sort of strategic planning will facilitate all of this?
This compact volume does not attempt to settle all of the issues that it raises. It does provide an excellent starting point for discussions about innovative methods for teaching theology and religion as well as the attendant policies, costs, infrastructure, and support necessary to sustain them.
Culture and Online Learning: Global Perspectives and Research
Date Reviewed: September 7, 2016
This helpful collection of seventeen essays addresses two important concerns within religious and theological studies: culture and online learning. Scholars of religion are giving increasing consideration to culture. (A search of Amazon for books on “religion and culture” yielded a hundred pages of “hits.” The first four books were simply entitled Religion and Culture.) Furthermore, more and more courses in religion and theology are offered online. Surprisingly, little research has been done in culture and online learning, and this book seeks to address this lack.
Authors in this collection hail from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. (Unfortunately, none are from Africa.) The book appears as the third in a series, Online Learning and Distance Education. Editors Jung (from Japan) and Gunawardena (from Sri Lanka, teaching in the U.S.) write solely or collaboratively in eleven of the seven essays. The essays are grouped around eight themes: (1) learners, learning, and learner support, (2) non-native speakers, (3) facilitating learning, mentoring, and professional development, (4) learning design, identity, gender, and technology, (5) visual culture, (6) leadership, (7) quality, and (8) research.
Many of the authors wrestle with a definition of culture. In the first essay, “Perspectives on Culture and Online Learning,” the editors write, “Culture impacts every facet of online learning, from course to interface design, to communication in a socio-cultural space, and to the negotiation of meaning and social construction of knowledge; thus a definition of culture that is flexible, dynamic, and negotiable is more appropriate to understand the online learning context” (1).
Interesting insights are scattered through this collection. In “Online Identity and Interaction,” Gunawardena notes that students from Sri Lanka and Morocco “look to the online medium as a liberating environment that equalizes status differences” (35). In “Emerging Visual Culture in Online Learning Environments,” Ilju Rha (South Korea) urges online educators to integrate more visuals in their online courses. In “Accounting for Culture in Instructional Design,” Gunawardena, Casey Frechette (US), and Lumila Layne (Venezuela) introduce the Wisdom Communities instructional design model (WisCom), which “was developed to inform the design of collaborative online learning experiences” (57). (For more about WisCom, see https://prezi.com/1unppl6dh2a-/new-model-new-strategiesinstructional-design-for-buildingonline-wisdom-communities/.)
In “Transformative Learning through Cultural Exchanges in Online Foreign Language Teaching,” Kerrin Ann Barrett (US) includes tips for instructors, such as “remember to breathe,” and tips for learners, such as “show your creative side in activities (asynchronous and synchronous)” (146). In “International Interpretations of Icons and Images Used in North American Academic Websites,” Eliot Knight (US), Gunawardena, Elena Barberà (Spain), and Cengiz Hakan Aydin (Turkey) write, “Many of the images and icons used in online environments depend on the meanings, concepts, metaphors, objects, and so on that are bound to the particular cultural context in which they were designed” (149).
Just as neither religion nor culture is monolithic, neither is online learning. This stimulating collection from around the world will help online teachers to negotiate better the various cultural divides and thus offer our students better online learning experiences.