Spiralling the learning online
In the learning spirals our students will find themselves in when we meet them again soon, the online element of their learning will be a challenge. For some more than for others. We know it. Maybe they also know it. The thing is, what are we going to do about it?
Di and Jaggars (2014) already pointed at a good deal of literature that suggests "that online courses require students to assume greater responsibility for their learning; thus, a successful online student may need high levels of self-regulation, self-discipline, and a related suite of meta-cognitive skills, which often fall under the broad rubric of self-directed learning".
It has been widely discussed that “owning hardware and getting online are not enough for users to benefit from digital technology use” (Gonzales, Calarco, and Lynch, 2018). It is also known that men, younger students, and ethnic minority students "perform more poorly in online courses than do their peers" (Di and Jaggars, 2014) because gender, age, ethnicity, and education level play a role. So we have an issue of equity, which would need to be addressed. We would not want that the expansion of online teaching brings with it an increase of inequality.
But success has many faces. Since teaching success is in part still measured by the degree of student satisfaction and feedback on their learning experience, there could also be some self-interest in getting our online teaching practice responsive to these particular students' needs. Qualitative studies have already established that "students in online courses experience higher levels of dissatisfaction, interpersonal isolation, feelings of unclear direction and uncertainty, and a lack of engagement in the learning process" (Di and Jaggars, 2014). This cannot be ignored.
In essence, some of our students will arrive to our class lacking some essential skills to succeed online. This means that our teaching design would need to include some support to scaffold the development of those skills if we want our students to do well. It takes practice to learn online.
This brings us to the topic of online teaching skills, which we may need to hone and develop further as we settle in a new teaching landscape. Savery (2005) helps us by outlining the best practices for designing and teaching online. VOCAL is the acronym that contains the key elements of his proposed ideas. I will list them briefly.
V is for VISIBLE. This is to do with online "presence". As digital educators, teaching presence pivots around facilitation (encouraging and supporting) and direct instruction (presenting, summarising, etc.). Making announcements regularly and posting discussion questions to facilitate conversations will be linked to presence, which will increase affective learning. Providing timely feedback, offering virtual office hours and weekly synchronous teaching sessions will also feed into visibility.
O is for ORGANISED. To help learners become better at self-directed learning making your LMS easy to navigate and making content easy to find is crucial. Also clear objectives and directions on how to navigate your virtual learning environment will support self-directing in your students.
C is for COMPASSIONATE. There are a number of ways in which to build a good relationship with your students in virtual environments. Try to get to know them as individuals. This may involve making an online appointment to have a chat, responding to their emails timely and making adjustments and accommodations where needed.
A is for ANALYTICAL. Collecting and interpreting student data through formative assessments, student feedback and participation is a way to be analytical. This will help you to make adjustments to scaffold and support those who are struggling.
L is for LEADER-BY-EXAMPLE. It is down to the teacher to model behaviours and best practice. Our students learn from us in that way too. Student-teacher interactions are opportunities for you to set the tone early. That tones needs to be kept until the final seminar.
There are other authors that have put forward what counts as effective online pedagogy. One of those being Pelz (2004), with his bottom-line idea that students should be doing most of the work.
You need to establish how all these contributions can help you help your students. However, with the breath of ideas out there and the clarity we have about some of our students being potentially at risk of failing, the message today is very simple: taking an active and preventive role is our best offering. Your inspiration may come from different sources. I hope I could help you today sharing some of mine!
Gonzales, A. L., J. M. Calarco, and T. Lynch (2018). Technology Problems and Student Achievement Gaps: A Validation and Extension of the Technology Maintenance Construct. Communication Research. doi:10.1177/0093650218796366. [Crossref], [Google Scholar]
Pelz, W.(My) Three principles of effective online pedagogy. J ournal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 8(3): 33–46, 2004.
Savery, John R. (2005). BE VOCAL: characteristics of successful online instructors. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 4 (2), 141-152. 2.
Xu, Di and Shanna S. Jaggars (2014). Performance Gaps Between Online and Face-to-Face Courses: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas. The Journal of Higher Education, 85 (5), 633-659. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jhe.2014.0028.