Distance education makes up a huge part of modern higher education, impacting students, teachers, and administrators alike, and transforming the way we as a society think about how we teach and learn, how we share and process information. Online classrooms are virtually omnipresent. 64% of full-time faculty at community colleges teach distance ed courses. (Source) Even faculty who teach in traditional classrooms now use many online media or other technological tools to enhance their students’ learning experience in and beyond the classroom setting.
Distance education is also a huge part of the subject matter of our books here at Atwood Publishing. We have a whole section of our online bookshelf devoted to titles dealing with online learning and teaching, synchronous technology, and how best to design, manage, and teach a distance education course. Now to whet your appetite for this fascinating and pivotal topic, we present some timely tips culled from some of our favorite of those books:
From Essential Elements: Prepare, Design, and Teach Your Online Course, by Bonnie Elbaum, Cynthia McIntyre, and Alese Smith:
Essential Element 8: Design a learning community that is collaborative, engaging, and inclusive.
A community is a necessary and integral part of a functional learning group. Students need to bond in a community in order to have a sense of trust with each other and respect each other’s ideas. With this level of common trust and value—so that students openly share their thoughts and feelings with each other and respect the viewpoints of their peers—students construct knowledge together as a group. This is where real learning happens.
Achieving a strong community doesn’t just happen, however; instructors need to build in the structure and activities to offer this “coming together” opportunity to the students. Here, we explore ways to help build community online.
From 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups, by Donald E. Hanna, Michelle Glowacki-Dudka, and Simone Conceição-Runlee:
26. Expect learners to be present online and to avoid passively observing.
One of the great advantages of online learning, especially in an asynchronous mode, is that there is no competition for “airtime” during the class. Each learner can contribute his or her ideas at a comfortable pace. Some learners are more comfortable communicating verbally; others communicate more easily in writing. You, as the teacher, should discuss these preferences at the beginning of the course and indicate your initial expectations for participation, which may include logging in to the class, reading what others have said during discussion, and responding to those ideas. After a week or two, you might revisit your expectations during class briefly, and ask for agreement with or modification of your initial expectations.
And from 147 Practical Tips for Synchronous and Blended Technology Teaching and Learning, by Rosemary M. Lehman and Richard A. Berg:
142. Evaluate the technology.
Evaluation of the technology used for the course is critical. In the ideal situation, technology should be transparent. Knowing that we do not live in an ideal world, we need to identify and troubleshoot any problems that arose during the course. This assessment should be a regular part of the ongoing feedback and also a part of the overall evaluation at the end of the course. You will want to know: Was there an adequate orientation to the use of the technology? Was the audio/visual quality clear? Were there any technical problems at the site? Were there any technical problems on the bridge? Was there an immediate response from the Help Desk? Was there followup on the problems? How were the problems resolved?
Instructional Technology Council. 2010. Distance Education Survey Results. Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges.