This is an article I never thought I would ever write. I was never a proponent of online learning – I have enrolled in and dropped out of several online courses. The anonymity and lack of engagement would lead to boredom and eventual dropout. Each summer I teach a graduate course on tech integration at Boston University. One of my former students has been nudging me to convert it to an online class so it could reach more people. I love and enjoy face-to-face teaching, and both the students and I thoroughly enjoy the learning experience. Given my own disappointments with online learning, I couldn’t imagine replicating the face-to-face learning to the virtual space . As expected, I resisted the prodding for a few years. However, the growing pressures on my time during the summer made me reluctantly consider online teaching. This past spring I embarked on a journey to take my graduate course into the virtual space. What an experience! I learned much more than I expected. I share here some of my takeaways and reflections from this spring and summer.
Constructivism — The only medium I had was the web. It was the main link with my students. There was no other medium. And I wasn’t going to have any visual cues as guides to gauge the effectiveness of my teaching. So I had to figure out a way to use the web creatively to produce an interactive, engaging, intellectually stimulating, asynchronous learning experience! As I played around with online tools and explored ways to convert my face-to-face teaching lessons, I began replacing the lectures with activities for students to learn and understand the material. I soon realized that the only successful role for a teacher in an online course is that of a facilitator in a constructivist learning environment. It’s what the technology use had triggered. Once again I was witnessing the power of technology to support constructivist teaching and learning!
It’s a lot of work! — Yes, it takes quite a bit of time to design and develop an online class. I spent many weekend hours meticulously planning and listing out every aspect of the course in detail to avoid miscommunication. Every lecture/lesson had to be written out into a document with clearly written instructions for each assignment. Once the course started, I would log on a few times a week to respond to discussions, evaluate assignments, and answer any questions.
Online Conversations — I had heard my colleagues at ASB advocate the power of discussions. Through the online course, I experienced first hand the difference in the level of classroom discourse. All students had to share their thoughts and ideas with each other in writing. A student couldn’t sit quietly and not engage. The asynchronous nature of the conversations allowed students to think through their responses before posting. The quality of the responses were deeper, more refined, and often more creative. Interestingly, as the course progressed, each student’s responses helped create a personality that I began to recognize in the writings and online conversations.
Web resources — As the web was my main link with my students, I intentionally modeled the seamless integration of a range of web tools in my instruction.
Introduction videos – Instead of introducing themselves to the class through written text, all students had to introduce themselves through a video. For some, this was the first time they were successfully creating, editing, and uploading a video!
Diigo – All articles and readings were online and shared using a social bookmarking tool, Diigo. Students were invited to join a group created for the course. They also used the group to share articles and bookmarks with the rest of the class.
Youtube channel – I leveraged the power of Youtube instead of creating my own screencasts to teach students how to set up their Diigo accounts and learn about Diigo. I set up my own Youtube channel with playlists for several online tools that I wanted them to learn.
Google Docs — Students submitted their papers or lessons as links to google docs instead of as attachments. Providing feedback was easy. They were also able to edit their papers easily. There were a few assignments where students had to collaboratively design rubrics in google docs. This allowed them to experience the collaboration potential of google docs.
Adobe Connect – Converting powerpoints into multimedia experiences complete with narration and interactivity was easy using Adobe Presenter. The presentation could then be integrated with Adobe Connect for the students’ access.
Other tools I used — Discussion forums, Wikis, Blogs
(I also created screencasts using CamStudio. While this didn’t directly use the web, the video was easy to embed as a link into Blackboard Vista.)
Yes, online classes are labor intensive, requiring a lot more work on the front end when setting up the course. But converting a face-to-face course into an online class made me rethink and evaluate all my course materials and assessments. I was forced to transform pedagogy. Is this something that all teachers should try once — transform a face-to-face class to an online class?