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Monthly Archives: June 2014

 

 

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Fostering instructional immediacy in online classrooms

 

How can we create online learning environments that are as dynamic, collaborative and successful as the best face-to-face classrooms? Is it even possible? My own experience in online graduate teaching over the past 12 years suggests an emphatic “yes”. Or, should I say, an emphatic “yes, but…”.

 

Just as there are multiple and diverse classroom-based teaching approaches (some more successful than others in engaging learners and mobilizing knowledge transfer), there are as many ways and means of online instructional approaches. All students, regardless of the learning platform, engage best when they experience high instructional immediacy. That is, a sense of warmth, caring, support and positive regard in the learning environment.

 

A recent book focused on online teaching in the health professions (Melrose, Park & Berry, 2013) offers tips on creating and maintaining instructional immediacy in online settings, and it’s validating to see many of my own approaches and strategies reflected.

 

Here are 10 tips for how online instructors can project warmth and likeability (instructional immediacy):

 

1. Post a positive and supportive welcome message to greet students the first time they log into the course and each week thereafter

 

2. Share online bios (pictures are a bonus) (students and instructor)

 

3. Create smaller sub-groups for online discussion and reflection on course materials and assignments (8-10 students is optimal in my experience)

 

4. Include short (< 5 minutes) videos introducing course topics and offering tips and key learning to personalize each week’s focus

 

5. Assign “learning buddies” among students in the course to structure collaboration and collegiality

 

6. Have early and ongoing online conversations about process (versus course content)

What is it like to be in this course?

What are you looking forward to, and what is one thing you are concerned about?

How can we challenge each-other in ways that foster debate and dialogue but still feels respectful and affirming?

How can I (instructor) help maximize your learning and value from this course?

 

7. Set clear expectations in the Course Syllabus about online participation (my expectation of students is at least one original post per week, and at least two replies to other students’ posts per week)

 

8. Offer targeted encouragement at points in the course where motivation may be flagging (e.g., right after Reading Week, towards the final weeks of the course)

 

9. Use intentional word choices in online communication with students:

 

 Thumbs down  Thumbs up
The focus of this course is… Our course will focus on…
You will be required to… We’ll be working together to accomplish…
Students’ feedback has indicated… The conversation in our group this week has highlighted…

 

10. End the course with an explicit call to action – How does the learning in this course fit into the bigger picture of students’ learning trajectories and career goals? (here’s an example)

 

 

Student course evaluations attest to the possibility of online learning as a fun, rigorous and enriching alternative to face-to-face contact. Here are some representative student comments from the course evaluations for the 2014 online course I taught, both positive and negative (but comments overwhelmingly slanted toward the positive):

The instruction was very clear and very intellectually stimulating. The video clips were very well presented and made the instruction seem not virtual at all.

I enjoyed the online format of the course. I feel the online discussion help my learning and I benefit more from these discussions than in-class ones.

I really didn’t like the fact this course is online. I feel that I could have learned a lot more by having a classroom environment and participating through talking instead of writing
weekly reflections just because I had to.

Excellent, the most involved and interactive online course I have ever taken. I felt very engaged and connected to the instructor, students and material.

 

 

As students increasingly orient themselves to rich digital communication and sharing, this teaching/learning platform is aligned with what our students are already doing in their day-to-day lives. Not every student, but lots of our students.

 

Related:

Much ado about online learning

The three most important tips for teaching online

6 tips for facilitating webinars 

 

 

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You’ve earned more than a piece of paper

 

Convocation ceremonies are always inspiring, and today’s was no exception. Many students opt to forego the pomp and speeches. But graduation represents an important transition, and one worth celebrating.

big time. Most things of value do. The financial costs are considerable, and so are the sacrifices along the way: family, free time, hobbies and interests, early mornings and late nights. And at the end of this particular journey comes the deep satisfaction of a thing completed.

There is always the next mountain to climb, but while all those other names are called out, after you’ve walked across the stage and shaken lots of hands, it’s a nice place to sit for awhile and enjoy the view. You’ve earned it.

 

 

Toy Circus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff it took me 20 years to learn – and I’m still trying to figure out

 

1. Learning is volitional. It cannot be mandated. We can teach, but each person decides for him- or herself what will be absorbed and integrated.

 

2. What’s taught in the classroom is only the starting point for knowledge-acquisition and skill mastery. Deep learning happens when class is over – the space for real world application and practice.

 

3. Motivation to learn influences how much work a person is willing to put into self-directed learning and mastery.

 

4. People are most motivated to learn things that are of direct interest and relevance.

 

5. Motivation is a state, not a trait. Motivation is largely a product of how we (instructors) engage students.

 

6. We can amplify students’ engagement by giving them an authentic and substantive voice in co-creating curricula.

 

7. Paragogy and heutagogy, emerging theories of teaching and learning, point to decentred learning, self-determination, and peer-to-peer learning as core to 21st Century education.

 

What might paragogical teaching look like in a post-secondary classroom? In this Acclaim interview with Maegan Stephens (Public Speaking as an “Interactive Democracy”), Professor Stephens describes how:

I give them a ballot of issues to vote on, including the content of the speeches they will give, how they will be graded, and class policies on cell phone use and on attendance. I also ask them if they would prefer to spend class time doing activities, watching speeches, hearing me lecture, or a combination.

I try to ask as more as more of a moderator and facilitator than as a lecturer. This kind of interaction, advances the aspects of debate and speaking oriented pedagogy on day one. It is not so much about flipping the classroom as it is about reversing the authority and changing the professor student dynamic, and encouraging my students to take more responsibility for their classroom.

 

 

Love it. Can’t wait to try it.

 

 

 

 

 

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