Monday, March 28, 2016

Teaching and Learning Online: A Reflection

I am sometimes troubled when I hear people disparaging online learning as somehow being automatically inferior to face-to-face (f2f) learning. I admit, learning online is often different from learning f2f...but different does not mean it is inferior.

Some people seem to think that online courses are automatically less work or less rigorous than their f2f counterparts. Having conducted doctoral studies in the field of Educational Technology entirely online over the past three years, I can assure you that these courses require plenty of work (I average at least 10 hours per week per course) and they are extremely rigorous (I have been stretched incredibly over the past three years, and I have learned so much about my field, both through the readings, writing, and discussion that is part of the course work as well as tacit learning from learning in the online environment.) I'm sure that there are online courses that are less work, or less rigorous...but to assume that all online courses take this path is naive.

I mean, really: are we going to honestly suggest that every f2f course is rigorous and challenging? That every f2f course demands higher-order thinking, excellent writing, and demonstration of deep understanding of the content?

Come on...has every f2f course you've ever taken been amazing? I would argue that statistically, at least half of them have been awful. Some of them were probably fantastic...but not all of them, right? The same is true of online courses: there are probably some really good ones, and some real stinkers, and quite a lot that land somewhere in between.

Speaking as an online instructor, I think it's important to remember that there are many different ways to teach online. We don't assume that all f2f courses are taught in exactly the same fashion, right? Some instructors lecture, others use socratic seminar, others use case studies, others use field-based learning, and still others use collaborative learning. Some instructors use video, others have students read extensively, others place a premium on writing, while others have students discuss topics to make sense of them. Some instructors use deductive, didactic approaches, while others use inductive, inquiring approaches. Some instructors focus on memorization and rote learning, while others strive to have students develop deeper understanding of the concepts being studied, while still others demand students apply their learning to novel situations, analyze complex situations and issues, evaluate the work of others, or even create their own innovative products to solve real problems or otherwise demonstrate their learning.

There are many different ways to teach a f2f course, and the savvy instructor matches his or her teaching methods to the needs of the students, the needs of the content, the needs of the program, the needs of the institution, etc. The instructor makes all kinds of decisions about the methods employed, hopefully in the intent of creating the strongest course possible to result in meaningful learning for the students.

Teaching and learning online--ideally--is no different.

My dog often keeps me company while I am doing my (online) homework.
Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Monday, March 21, 2016

Online Teaching is Still Teaching

I am facilitating a workshop for a group of my colleagues right now entitled "Introduction to Blended and Online Learning and Teaching." I have led this workshop five times previously--that seems like a lot when I write it down that way! The workshop is designed as an online course with a few face-to-face meetings; this is deliberate: I want my colleagues who may be teaching blended or online courses to have a sense of the uncertainly, the tentative nature, the fear that some online learners have getting started with a course. For some of the participants, this is the first time they have ever taken an online course before...not unlike some of the college students they teach.

So here's the nasty part: in the first module of the course, I deliberately chose BAD PEDAGOGY. I was nebulous about some of the requirements and expectations. I started with a soft open--a general "we will start class on Tuesday" announcement was all I gave them, with no explanation of what that really means. I had a (lengthy!) syllabus, and a (lengthy!) introductory video to give a rambling personal introduction and some expectations for their participation. I even contradicted myself at a few points between the different things I had posted about due dates and times. Oh, and the greatest faux pas of them all: "All of your work is due by midnight on Monday." (Begging the classic question: Wait...does that mean just after 11:59pm on Sunday night? Or just after 11:59pm on Monday night??)

As I say, this was all deliberate. Isn't that horrible? Call it tacit learning: I made it explicit later (I hope!) but I wanted them to have the experience of being unsure if they are "doing it right" as a learner.

Because here's the thing: online teaching is still teaching. We can't be sloppy or doing it half-way, just because we don't have a physical classroom. We still need to be careful, thoughtful, welcoming, encouraging, just as we would in a face-to-face first-day-of-class. And, perhaps even more-so in the online-only classroom environment: we need to be very, very clear about what we mean, and what we expect.

I hope the lesson was taken well by the participants. I promise that I'll make module 2 a better learning experience for them.

"WE" are learning together!
Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Are Your Students Olfactory Learners?

I recently read this piece: Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum. It's a compelling piece of journalism! (It is from The Onion, so take it for what it is, okay?) :-)

This has me thinking about learning styles again. The basic idea: because every student is unique, they all have unique learning styles, and if teachers tailor their teaching to use students strongest styles, in theory, they should learn more.

Image by eltpics [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Is nasal learning a thing? Should we strive to make our classrooms a space welcoming to olfactory learners? For students who are strongly in tune with the odorous cues in the classroom, shouldn't we capitalize on these strengths? What are the repercussions of not teaching a child through his or her strongest learning style? Would such a child be able to learn anything at all in the classroom??

Monday, March 7, 2016

Your Worksheet Isn't Doing What You Think It's Doing

A certain middle schooler I know, somewhat disgruntled about doing his homework some time ago, snapped this picture and texted it to me:

This was part of a lesson in his English book about effective and ineffective summarizing strategies. While not a reading assignment, exactly, it prompted a conversation.

His argument went something like this:

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Education Design Research - Analysis and Exploration

Image by Charlottes Photo Gallery [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
I am currently taking a course entitled "Design-Based Research." Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how to best create a design-based research project that is both realistic in scope and also helpful for my current role as a teacher educator. Also, I am working on a sort of guided study project concurrently, and I am finding much overlap between these two projects. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my mind right now, so as I am reflecting on my work over the past few weeks, I will try to distill them into a few key themes.