Saturday, May 4, 2013

Virtual Education....Can I Make the Grade?

As I have been preparing for the possibility of teaching some online courses I have had to take a hard look at my practices as both a teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school as well as my habits as an online student.  I can see that there are many area I need to work on improving.  In fact, for many reasons, I would say that I am not prepared to be a virtual instructor at this time.I felt this question is a good place for me to begin my reflection. 
"Consider the areas you struggle with in the traditional classroom. How can you better prepare yourself so you will struggle less with this in the online environment?"
When reflecting on my classroom practice, I would say that the area I struggle with the most is in planning the appropriate amount of content. I suffer from the affliction of wanting to do it all and wanting students to experience it all. So, instead of choosing one or two significant activities or lessons per topic, I over-plan and over prepare, Frequently we do not have enough time to finish an activity before it is either time to clean up for the day, or move on to the next topic. This leaves me feeling frustrated. At times it has even led to short changing different subject areas because our lesson will run over into another subject period and, not wanting to abandon our project it will take up that period as well.
In an online course, if I was to over-plan, it could cause extreme frustration in students who will most definitely struggle to complete the course. It could lead to students dropping from the course or receiving an incomplete grade.  Students may leave the course disillusioned about online education and reluctant to take another online course even when it is in their best interest to do so.
I think the best way to prepare myself for this would be to decide up front how much time per week I expect my students to devote to coursework. Then I need to set realistic expectations for the number of assignments that can be completed in that time. Because online courses utilize the internet, it would be wise for me to exaggerate the amount of time needed, even if just slightly. The reason is because as students are working online, attention can be drawn off topic as one explores all the resources available. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Allowing students more time to explore internet content may allow them the time needed to put a topic into a personal context that makes it more understandable. I will also need to closely monitor student’s completion rates and make adjustments when necessary.

However, all of my professional habits are not negative and in fact some are very relevant to the experience of online work. In the article "WhatMakes a Successful Online Facilitator" there are seven criteria of successful online instruction listed. The one that resonates the most with my teaching style is:
#5. The person should be able to subscribe to the value of introducing critical thinking into the learning process.
For me, the internet is a wonderful laboratory of learning tools that encompass every learning style. Information is constantly updated and it seems new web tools are being developed every day. Students can dig deeper into a subject than easier than they ever have before using libraries with magazine articles and books.
I find this to be terribly exciting. With a few clicks of a mouse, students can access information in textual, auditory or visual formats on just about every topic imaginable. Just about every learning style can be accomodated. 
Then with a few more clicks, students can experience wonderful real life applications of this knowledge in a way that can bring about more meaning and understanding than any lecture could ever. Students can launch new ideas in a public forum and get immediate and varied feedback from countless sources. In fact, students are free from limitations. 
How wonderful to be a student in the 21st Century!

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