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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.
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.
Character Formation in Online Education: A Guide for Instructors, Administrators, and Accrediting Agencies
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Joanne Jung’s overview of character formation in online education serves as an introductory resource for the topic. It is primarily intended to be a practical and accessible guide for faculty and administrators at religious institutions that offer online courses. Throughout the book Jung tackles the “skepticism among educators about character formation in online education” (15). The book examines various aspects of online learning and how it contributes to character formation.
In the beginning section, Jung addresses the purpose of online education alongside best practices for online pedagogy. She provides an overview of Learning Management Systems, which house online classes, as well as an overview of the course design process, which involves working as a team with a curriculum and instruction expert. The second section discusses best practices of pedagogy within online courses, focusing on a holistic view of human personhood that drives one’s approach to character formation. Jung discusses practical means for using discussion forums, hybrid classroom formats, and social media toward the end of character formation, including an important chapter on integrating faith and learning. The final section addresses assessment and improvements that administrators and faculty can make to online courses in order to achieve learning outcomes for character formation more consistently. Jung also includes an accessible and informative glossary of terms relevant to online education.
Faculty who are unfamiliar with teaching online courses will find this book a valuable help in beginning to teach and form character in online modalities. Administrators and accrediting agencies will find many sections useful for their purposes as well, especially chapter three on course design teams, chapter seven on the integration of faith and learning, and chapter nine on assessment. As Jung writes, her purpose in the book is to give “practical ideas for customizing your online courses and improving your pedagogical methodology, irrespective of your discipline” (9).
One concern with the text is its basic, introductory approach. For faculty and administration who are experienced with online education, the book will be primarily review, albeit with a clear focus on character formation. Chapter seven on the integration of faith and learning and chapter nine on assessment are important exceptions, and they present insights for any institution concerned with character formation in education. Additional studies could help supplement and add insight to some of the essential points that Jung makes, particularly studies that focus on the creation, delivery, and assessment of learning outcomes specifically designed for the purpose of character formation. Such studies could engage resources on moral or character education and focus on the application of character formation research to online modalities. If one is looking for an introductory guide to forming character in the world of online education, this book provides resourceful and insightful suggestions toward best practices.
In order to delve deeper into character formation for online education, there remains a need for further pedagogical study regarding the application of character formation research in general to online education in particular and regarding the means of facilitating character growth in the learning environments of online education.
Online Teaching in Education, Health and Human Services 1st Edition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The challenge of teaching an online course brings a measure of trepidation into the heart and mind of even the most experienced classroom instructor. The authors provide a resource for the online instructor to understand who online students are, how they learn, and how to help them achieve their educational goals online (vi). While they accomplish this objective in some senses, the constant repetition of themes detracts from its overall contribution and makes it difficult to recommend.
The opening chapter explains the pros and cons of traditional versus online learning, as well as differences and myths of online instruction. The second chapter covers critical issues in online education and then offers success strategies and best practices for instructors. A short explanation of synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid models and the pros and cons of each strategy, including the type of content best taught by each method, forms the third chapter. At this point, the reader is prepared to start delving into actual practices for online teaching but instead the authors repeat the content of the previous three chapters. Arguably they offer additional perspectives about online teaching and learning in the ensuing chapters, yet the material is so repetitious, one cannot remember the new focus because the text reads like a perpetual review of content. This practice continues for the next five chapters. The one exception is found in chapter 7 where the authors are more focused on specifics necessary for instructors to successfully begin a course with students – including examples of pre-course and early communication (130-131).
Chapter 9 continues the specific and valuable contribution chapter 7 begins by looking at specific activities and skills online instructors need for developing critical thinking skills in students, including teamwork practices, and how to assess such learning. The final chapter identifies various strategies that help instructors to manage time well when engaging the demands of teaching online courses. Though partially redundant, the addition of specific tactics and illustrations make the book a helpful contribution.
Overall, some helpful principles emerge clearly from the book to help a novice online instructor plan and prepare for a course. The samples provided are beneficial, though an experienced instructor may have been able to develop these on their own from the principles discussed. Unfortunately, in a few instances an example was given that was contrary to the summative advice given. For example, one of the communication tips, to avoid the use of all caps (135), was followed by sample messages to students that included all caps. While appreciating some concepts presented in this volume, this reader will continue to look for a better-organized and more step-by-step book for assisting online instructors.