Remote-itis: Digesting the Strengths and Missed Opportunities of Online Ed

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Caution

My comments may sound critical of teachers, so I want to clarify that I am a higher ed instructor and this the community I strive to serve. I am also an instructional designer, user testing professional, and an unusually experienced student spanning decades of schooling. I've seen higher ed education trends from multiple perspectives for decades and I am committed to supporting teachers in using their influence to benefit students. I get that teaching is a huge calling and a tall order. 

Online, Oh My...

The recent rush to put courses online has caused a lot of confusion between calculated online courses by design and the emergency rush jobs of "how can we keep students busy..." when we haven't front-loaded technology access, set up devices for Canvas, user experience UX tested course navigation traps, fixed confusing file names, or aligned assessments, not to mention the hourly email questions. "Oh, I thought I told you that."

Art and Science

The art and science of online course creation has revealed some uncomfortable truths about traditional lecture/lab classroom courses too. 

  • We, teachers, love to believe we are scintillating and students grasp our every word because we are looking at them.  They don't.  
  • For every communication input we lose in online courses, we gain others--if we know how to use them and maximize the tools.
    • Example: You cannot see body language online, but you can read discussions and observe how well students grasp concepts when they speak to each other, not you. This requires well-crafted discussion question prompts, front-loaded netiquette and expectations (rubrics), and an engaged teacher who is reading for subtlety without controlling the conversation. 
  • We, teachers, have failed to learn what airline pilots know: The more times you repeat a process the more you need to commit to a checklist (lesson plan).
    • Example: You may have taught the course 100 times and could write a textbook. This is the exact reason you will forget to tell this group the key point that makes it all fall into place. That is why you will have a question on the quiz that your best students swear you didn't cover at all!
    • Solution: Modules really are your lesson plan whether you teach online, hybrid or classroom. 
  • You are hired to teach because of information that lives in your head.  Getting it into students' heads is not an automatic process. Some strategies work. Some fail.
    • Online design creatively unpacks the teacher's head before the class starts. It requires every bit as much creativity, and even more commitment and clarity, combined with an accurate anticipation of student needs and opportunities.
  • Being in the classroom may give the teacher a greater feeling of control, but it also encourages "winging it," assumptions, and defensiveness.
  • There is a strong temptation to confuse "academic freedom" with failing to teach content that meets the stated learning objectives. 
    • In a course that meets QM Quality Matters rubric standards for online courses, the objectives determine what is in the course. Every exam question and activity is traced to a clear purpose stated up front in the Syllabus.  No surprises. No bait-and-switch tactics.  

In online courses, creativity is built-in, not absent!  Furthermore, teachers are not absent from well-designed online courses.  In addition to continual creative interaction with online students through feedback and discussion, the teacher's vision and ethics can be infused into online content, multiplying their influence. (example below)

Teachers can be artists, and every artist is tormented by the flawless works that live in their heads. However, the artist can only display what they've committed to Canvas, so to speak. Even if an artist manages to "sell" an idea, a patron will lose patience unless something tangible arrives.  Then, the viewer or critic can evaluate what is committed to the physical world--which is what makes it hard to commit in the first place--but we can do it. We do it all the time. Yeah, yeah.

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See:  Design Challenge: Capturing the Essence and Ethics of Critical Topics 

For a view of my favorite online course design success story and how we did it!

About the Author
M.Ed. Educational Psychology Instructional Design & Educational Technologies Teacher, Facilitator, Trainer, Learner, Instructional Designer, UX strategist, Lifelong learner, and Education enthusiast!
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