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.


  1. I going to comment on your last paragraph, since the rest of your blog's comment closely aligned with Allie's and I just left my comments on her blog page.

    I am in agreement that digital technologies won't supplant traditional ones if you just try to copy what is being done in the face-to-face environment. What I have seen in the corporate world that is really innovative is too expensive and to specific to be useful in the K-12 environment. For examples that are applications that "follow" the user during their work process. When they get "stuck" the application has the ability to assess them in completing the task, even when there are multiple decision paths. There are other business applications that allow you to simulate product roll-outs for different situations (big data) to determine what should work best. Nothing like this exist for K-12 education.

    As long was we try to replicate the current methods of teaching in K-12 it will be, in my opinion, impossible to supplant the traditional ones. As you mentioned they can supplement, but not replace.

    What I am hoping to see in my lifetime is something disruptive in education along the lines of what industrialization did for work transforming the world from primary food production to product production.

    We need to start looking how how we can do something that is different, not replicating what has always been done with "enhancements".

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    1. Yep your comments align closely with Alli's, and I mentioned on her blog that I pretty much agree with her. So by default, I pretty much agree with you! The main caveat I'll throw out there, much like I did with Alli's blog, is the recognition that the "online learning environment" is its own monster, and we must intersect good teaching with the understanding of that environment.

      I'll give an example. In a face to face classroom, we can teach students with no computer technology. Thus, any technology problems are limited (maybe the lights will go out or air conditioning will stop working or something like that, but not anything that happens frequently). On the other hand, online technology messes up sooooo much no matter what we do. For instance, sharing a screen can be very tricky at times depending on the internet connection, the browser being used, and the online platform. All of these factors make computer technology pretty unpredictable (how many times has a presenter tried to show their PowerPoint and it didn't work? After all these years!)

      So when we bring our good teaching practices and mindset into the online space, in order to offer the best teaching within that space I think we have to do a greater job of allowing the environment's intentional AND uninvited interactions to intersect with our teaching. For instance, if there is a technical glitch, is there a way to turn it from a delay into a teaching opportunity?

  3. I agree that digital technologies cannot fully replace traditional teaching. But the supplement that you are talking about is a BIG supplement, don't you think? Also depending on the learner, the motivation, the content, it might be possible that in some cases replacing may also work ?

  4. I agree that digital technologies cannot fully replace traditional teaching. But the supplement that you are talking about is a BIG supplement, don't you think? Also depending on the learner, the motivation, the content, it might be possible that in some cases replacing may also work ?