8 Tasks of Online Education

Online education is not easy. I know that I often don’t feel like I am doing the job that I think I should be doing for my students. Part of my trouble is that I often just don’t feel like I have enough time  to do the job that I want to do for my students. But sometimes it is more about not knowing exactly what I should be doing.

Here are eight tasks that we maybe need to try and fulfill in our modules.

  1. Tour guide
    Teachers guide students through the learning experience
  2. Cheer leader
    Encourage students to keep doing what they are doing, or to get more involved in the module.
  3. Learning coach
    Teachers should give students opportunities to experience and practice skills under guidance.
  4. Individual and group mirror
    Students need feedback on how they are doing.
  5. Social butterfly
    Like a great party host, teachers need to facilitate social interactions in the online space.
  6. Big brother
    Check up on students who are not engaging with the course, or who have missed important pages.
  7. Valve control
    Control the pace at which students are able to access and engage with work.
  8. Co-learner
    Teachers should never stop learning

(For a video to perhaps hold in tension with this, see Sugata Mitra speaking on the future of education, and a pedagogy that relies in some ways on the absence of the teacher)

What would happen if we were to take these functions and put them into a marking rubric for ourselves? How would we score as online educators? Take a few moments to think about your personal style and workload in class. Maybe score yourself on a scale of 0 – 5 for the above 8 tasks. How happy are you with your self-assessment?


The value of quizzes: weekly or by-weekly

In some conversations that I have had there has been a resistance to multiple choice quizzes.

  • They do not test deep understanding
  • It is difficult to test for application
  • It is easy to cheat in an online environment

Feel free to add your own issues to the list. I must admit that I am a skeptic, and have taken shortcuts on my fare share of online multiple choice quizzes. However, looking back I can see how the well set tests achieved the results set out in the arguements for quizzes set out below.

Use quizzes to:

  1. Set the pace at which students are working
  2. Direct students to what they should be focusing on in the readings.
  3. Reinforce the learning that has been done.
  4. Provide immediate feedback.
  5. Save time for the instructor.
  6. Give students a chance to re-learn their work and improve their grade.

Quizzes can be a valuable learning tool, if teachers put the required prep work into them. There are a few things that we can do to set effective quizzes that save us time, evaluate effectively and are good learning tools.

  1. We can place a time limit on quizzes
    This will force students to do their readings before coming to the quiz.
  2. We can randomize both the order of questions and the order of answers. We can also set more questions that the test needs, and then allow Sakai to randomly choose from the pool.
  3. We are able to allow multiple attempts
    This encourages students to go back to their work to learn the answers that they didn’t get the first time, or re-read their work because they realized that they just didn’t learn it well enough the first time.
  4. Therefore, we can set 30 questions on a reading, set Sakai to randomly choose 15 questions, allow students 20 minutes to complete the quiz, and give 3 attempts. We can be almost 100% sure that students who want to improve their marks will not still get original questions on the third attempt.
  5. We can include on or two paragraph questions, slotted in between multiple choice questions to test for deeper understanding.

What I learnt while making movies

Ok, so I wasn’t really making movies. What I have been doing was making videos. I have learnt a few good lessons here.

The idea is that we want to make instructional videos that are engaging for students. I want to make sure that students feel like they are being spoken to, that they feel like this video is made with them in mind. I also want to make sure that they see the need for this video that I am making.

So, understanding that I don’t feel like I have achieved this yet, here are a few lessons that I have learnt.

1) Keep it short and simple.

Unless your video is AMAZING, students will not be able to stay focused for very long. So make sure that you only include the essential aspects of this video in this video. It is very easy for us to keep rambling on. If you need a follow up video, then make a short potent follow up video. Students then have control over what they watch when, keeping them more focused and more engaged.

2) Be well prepared.

Sometimes you can get away with being a little unprepared in a classroom. When you have students in front of you then in conversation you can work with them, you can correct yourself, etc. A video is less forgiving. Know what you want to say before you start. Know how you want to say it. Maybe even know what facial expressions you want to use at what parts. If you want to use pictures or slides, then make sure that you have them prepared beforehand.

Practice what you are going to do and say beforehand so that when you get to doing it you know the flow well, you can then focus on connecting with the students on the other side of the camera.

3) Have a script.

Part of the preparation process is writing a script. This, firstly, helps to make sure that you stay on track and say what you want to say in the best possible way. A script also helps video editors to do their job quickly and effectively. You will be able to know exactly where you made a mistake and you will be able to go back to the exact point where you went wrong. You will be more likely to get your grammar correct and you will be more likely to say those key phrases that you want to say.

Practice then allows you to work through your script in a way that is fluid and natural.

4) Be friendly towards any tech guys that you are working with.

If you make their jobs pleasant and easy then they will make you look as good as they can. A video editor will do his job for a person that is difficult to work with, but they are likely to go above and beyond for a person who is good to work with. They will be happier doing the work, they will then do better work, and finally you and your students will be happier.

5) Have fun.

For more insights see the follow resource, or find your own and post them in a comment.
Best practices for using video in e-learning

PS. Watch what you wear.

  • Stripes don’t tend to work so well.
  • Big swinging jewelry also doesn’t work so well.

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