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Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days
Date Reviewed: April 2, 2018
As a twenty-plus year veteran professor in a face-to-face classroom environment, I know to expect adjustments due to technological advances. These adjustments typically include learning to use new technologies and including them in your established and comfortable pedagogical practices. These adjustments are additions to your teaching norm. Now, with entire programs being converted to online interface, the norm shifts continually. With shifting norms in mind, I chose to review this book and actually apply its approach while converting one of my own classes to online delivery.
The brevity of Jump-Start Your Online Classroom should not be underestimated. Based on practical application of the content and concepts, its organization contains helpful hints on various aspects of successfully constructing a learner-centered, virtual classroom experience. The organization of the book is its greatest strength. Its five-day approach is based on five challenges: (1) Making the transition to online teaching, (2) Building online spaces for learning, (3) Preparing students for online learning, (4) Managing and facilitating the online classroom, and (5) Assessing learner outcomes.
One to three chapters are devoted to each of the five tasks and guide in confronting, conquering, and mastering each challenge. Embedded in the chapters are the almost clairvoyant voices of novice online instructors as well as online learners. Additionally, each chapter includes highlighted “Points to Remember” and ends with a section “For Reflection.” This reflection portion, if done in depth, makes the five-consecutive-day plan less realistic. The reflections may include assignments such as developing a communication or time management plan, an assessment of technology tools, or a careful consideration of your own teaching philosophy or pedagogical approach.
The fourth challenge, on classroom management, was especially helpful, as it contemplates interpersonal interaction and community building with people that may never meet. The section on teaching presence was especially helpful and thought-provoking. The authors use the analogy of the working parts of a car. For example, teaching presence is described as the “transmission component that allows us to set the pace, sequence, and activities that support and encourage students to work with materials and build their understanding of the content,” and also as the “timing belt that helps us manage learners, the dialogue, and the conditions for learning” (78). I understood those analogous functions even though I could not pick out either of those parts on an actual car! Challenge four also looks at dealing with group work and disgruntled students. The perspective of the novice online instructor underscored the importance of modeling the behavior that is required of the students.
Although this book is marketed toward the novice online instructor, its approach, organization, and content make it a foundational tool that could have long-term value in troubleshooting and future course design.
Time and time again, I find that successful online students are those with skills of self-direction, self-regulation, and time-management. Self-directed learners determine their learning needs, set learning goals, locate and access suitable resources for learning, manage their learning activities, monitor and evaluate their performance, and reflect on and reassess their ...
Social Presence in Online Learning - Multiple Perspectives on Practice and Research
Date Reviewed: December 12, 2017
As post-secondary institutions, theological schools continue to participate in various forms of online learning, and the criticism (or question), “It’s not really the same as being in a classroom with a real instructor” is commonly heard. The simple reply to this concern is the concept of social presence. Starting with the initial definition of social presence from Short, Williams, and Christies (1976), this compilation of articles attempts to summarize the historical perspectives and present the current state of discussion, recognizing the constant updating of online course options.
The authors successfully present the historical perspectives, grouping them in three broad categories – as technologically facilitated, as learners’ perceptions, and as critical literacy. However, the chronological and developmental approach leaves the reader realizing the earlier chapters have minimal application to current teachers and learners since the understanding of social presence and the technology used have changed so dramatically. The initial discussions about social presence whether through computer-mediated communication or later within the community of inquiry framework were informative, but the reader quickly realizes that the later frameworks and models have improved. Thus the earlier discussions in the book are of little value for today’s teaching-learning environment. In essence, only the last section is relevant, except as historical background.
The editors demonstrate their breadth of knowledge of the literature and are involved with and connected to the latest research in social presence. A useful chapter (11), “Cultural Perspectives in Social Presence,” provides valuable guidelines for communicating effectively in a multi-cultural learning context. Multiple examples explain how one subset of students find an online learning activity contributes positively to social presence while those of another culture find it impacts social presence negatively. Variations in anonymity, informal chat, self-disclosure, trust building, and conflict resolution are considered. The chapter concludes with useful tips for monitoring and mediating communication which could be misunderstood because of cultural differences.
Likewise, various practices for building social presence into discussions, feedback, and interactions are shared throughout the book. The literature reviewed includes a range of educational levels from K-12 and post-secondary as well as a range of disciplines. The final section provides interesting chapters (17 and 18) about the future of online learning and incorporates social presence into various models of instruction. They suggest social media tools enable instructors to incorporate cohesive and affective elements into courses to enhance social presence. The authors conclude, “Never stop learning because life never stops teaching” (210).
The information shared is relevant for any faculty member teaching online, including theological and religious studies professors. While the final chapters contain valuable tips as noted above, I cannot recommend the book as a whole since it is predominantly a historical overview of the concept of social presence. Though it contains various up-to-date strategies in the closing chapters, it was tedious for the reader to sift through the detailed literature for meaningful insights.
Best Practices in Online Teaching
Online Teaching: Best Practices (8:52)
This video summarizes 10 Best Practices for online teaching. What distinguishes the presenter’s approach is that she provides multiple ways to employ each individual practice.
How to Design Your Online Course (5:43)
Detailed discussion of how to apply 3 key principles of backward design to online teaching: Identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence (assessment), plan learning experiences and facilitation.
Online Classes: Tips for Success (10:48)
Engaging summary of what students like about online courses, why distraction challenges student learning online, factors that detract or contribute to online learning, and some ways to increase odds of success. Recommended for prospective online students as well as teachers.
Evaluating Discussion Boards (6:39)
Three professors describe the rubrics they use for grading contributions to discussion boards.
Using Blogs in Online Classes as a Learning Tool (10:52)
Why and how to use collaborative and “individual writing network” blogs as an alternative to discussion boards. The presenter suggests guidelines for integrating blogs into online teaching and enumerates the benefits she’s observed.
Creating an Interactive and Personal Course (8:22)
What student posts in discussion boards tell teachers and how to use this knowledge in “announcement links” to interact with the class. Other purposes of general comments from the instructor through these links are outlined as well. Presenter discusses the advantage of blogs over discussion boards for personal interaction with individual students.
VoiceThread in Online Courses (15:39)
A thorough introduction to using VoiceThread: what it is, benefits of using it, challenges it presents, and how to overcome them.
How Students Cheat (8:13)
Situates student behavior along a “continuum of cheating” and explains forms of cheating less commonly classified as such in order that professors can take steps to minimize these behaviors.
Using Weekly Video in Your Online Course (7:06)
A professor’s musings on why weekly video posts to students enhance online teaching and learning.
Group Discussions in Online Classes (6:23)
Strategies for stimulating online small-group discussion of readings and presentations.
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.