Online really can be better

When a skilled online facilitator teaches a well-written online course, the opportunities for learning are incredible, even better than traditional learning, also known as a face-to-face (f2f) class. This is the radical truth proposed here: that online education can be better than traditional classes.

This is the sentiment of Lehmann and Chaimberlin in their 2009 book Making the Move to e-learning. They believe that a well run e-learning course is able to engage students more, remain more current, more convenient, more flexible, etc. 

It seems that e-learning, or distance education, is able to result in learning that is deeper. Not because the student necessarily sat in a class listening to the lecture, but because they were given space to ponder, think, and then engage, as well as sitting and listening to a lecture as many times as they want.

It seems that e-learning, distance education, really can be better for students than traditional in class education. 

For a better description find this book somewhere (like EBSCO) and give it a read.


What makes a great place?

What makes a good public place?

From “Accuracy and Aesthetics”

Alright, so… this diagram isn’t actually referring to online education. However, as I look more intently at this I start to wonder how different the criteria for a great place really is.

  1. Is the online place easily accessible?
  2. Is it comfortable? How does it look and feel?
  3. Does it actually serve a purpose?
  4. Is there a good social environment?

Maybe these are things that we need to address organizationally and individually as we generate, and invite people to, our online learning spaces.

Finding a place in the distance

One of the things that we hear regularly is that we are nervous about students getting lost in the ether. We are afraid that as we move our educational experience out of the bricks and mortar and into the electronic environment we may lose some students.

I think that the truth is that we lose some students within our classrooms as well. The truth is that there is the possibility of students falling behind within any environment. We as people have a wonderful ability to “get lost in a crowd” to “hide in plain sight” and to basically just disengage from any environment that we find ourselves in.

An article that I discovered yesterday, written by Maria Northcote, really caught my attention. She provides some insightful literature studies and lessons learnt, all around the topic of creating a sense of place in distance education. This sense of space is critical for creating community and engagement.

A sense of place

She sets out a list of 6 things that we can do as educators in order to increase our students’ sense of space. These are:

  1. Humanisation: To humanise a course is to build in staff-student and student-student communication. It is especially valuable at the beginning of a module to incorporate personal one-on-one contact between the lecturer/tutor and each student. We need to think of ways to draw the students in, make contact, and begin to build human relationships. This is what makes the biggest difference when the learning gets a little hard.
  2. Socialisation Process: This is the process by which the students come into the environment, become comfortable in it, as well as become comfortable with the people who will be sharing the educational place with them. We need to build into our modules a way for students to learn to be real people who are engaging with one another in an online environment.
  3. Student Contributions: It is incredibly valuable for students to be involved in producing content within the learning environment. Giving students a sense of ownership and freedom to influence the module content also gives them a sense of value and worth.
  4. Teacher Presence: The role of the teacher is to “enhance the learning context”. Part of this role seems to be to that of leadership, even in self-directed modules. The teacher needs to be able to provide direction when students would otherwise feel lost and out of place.
  5. Graphic Tools: Visuals representations help to create a sense of place by creating a sense of playfulness, values, tolerance and guidance. Well thought out graphics are able to communicate the feel and personality of the module in a way that helps to build the students sense of being a part of something identifiable. Let us think about images that may give personality, guidance and reality to our modules.
  6. Guiding Structure: In short, we cannot just dump information on students and hope that they will succeed. We need to build some sort of structure that is able to support students in their learning without being to rigid for them to think creatively. How do we order our modules? How do we put things in place to make sure that students are aware of exactly what is required of them and when?

Access the article itself here if you want to read it in more depth. Otherwise come back in the next few weeks as I unpack some more of these lessons.

For now, let us continue to think about how we can generate community by creating a sense of place, and space. Let us continue to try to create spaces in which our students can feel engaged, valued, and stimulated.

The Best Resource: student generated content

If student generated content is the best learning resource then how can I support students in generating really good content.

My experience has been that the best learning moments in class have been when students have been in control of the learning environment. It has been when students have played with what they have learnt in class (or even better, outside of class) and have discovered learning, and shared that learning.

I consider the possibility children can teach themselves, when adults get out of the way, and that students are the only ones who can really integrate the content of the course into their real lives. I then think back to  things I have read (although for academic integrity’s sake I can’t find the resources now) that remind me of how the people who taught me best were not the experts, but were the people who had just learnt what I am struggling with. It is fellow students who have just grasped the concept who are best equipped to teach it to others.

For me as an educator the challenge is then to set up a learning environment in which students can 1) begin to grasp the ideas and concepts that they need to work with, 2) share that understanding with others, and 3) discover ways in which what they are learning actually makes sense in their day to day lives.

If the best learning materials are student generated, then how do we as educators support students in generating awesome learning materials?

We need to make space for students to engage with the subject matter. We need to make space for the subject matter to engage with real life. We need to get out of the way and let students who are beginning to understand the subject teach the students who are not.

Perhaps it is all about providing the right resources, providing the right space, and being present and willing to play with students as they struggle, engage and teach.

cool semi related paperWiki for student generated content; 3 reasons for student generated content