Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nuts & Bolts of Online Teaching

After reading a chapter from Kristin Kipp's book on online and blended learning, I couldn't help but think, "why didn't we read this weeks ago?". The chapter provided some very grounded suggestions in creating a syllabus, managing student information, and how to maintain teacher presence. All of which were exciting to read, but I felt much too late in the sequence of readings. This chapter, and maybe more chapters from her book, could have been used to ground some of the other more theoretical readings. Don't get me wrong, I love reading about learning theory. I really do find it an interesting subject! I just wish we had tried to create more of a bridge between theory and practice. 

That said, what I mostly got out of Kipp's chapter was that online instructors must put a lot of thought into their course design. But, face-to-face teachers should put a lot of effort into their course designs also. In an online or blended format, teachers also need to consider how the user interface could affect how students engage with the course content. Well, face-to-face teachers should probably consider those things too. How does the classroom environment influence what and how students will engage with the content. Teachers should think about the environments in which their students will learn whether online or blended or face-to-face? Yup.

Actually, that there isn't really that much difference between high quality face-to-face teaching and online teaching is pretty much the same take-away I had from DiPietro et al's piece on best practices in online teaching. (As an aside, I think it was on Twitter this week that someone criticized the term "best practices" because it encourages copying the technique without analyzing its affordances and constraints and thus effectively shuts down innovation.) Their extremely detailed and extensively descriptive table of findings was interesting. While reading through it, I just kept thinking, "shouldn't all teachers be doing these things?". The medium is obviously different in online teaching, but the actions and intentions of the teacher aren't that different. Good teaching looks like good teaching whether in an online or blended or face-to-face format? Yup.

This entire semester hasn't really convinced me that digital technologies can supplant traditional ones. Supplement? Yes! Replace? Not sure. There's some research that suggests that writing notes by hand is better than typing on a computer. However students who need help visualizing some of the more esoteric and/or abstract mathematical concepts can reap huge rewards because of what digital technologies can do. Form should follow function. First we need to figure out what students are supposed to learn then we can choose the appropriate technologies.