Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Excellence in online teaching - what is it?

What actually makes an excellent teacher? The past couple of weeks have been filled with celebrations of my winning the supreme excellence in teaching award and caused me to think again about what excellence in teaching is about. In particular, the role of technology in learning. If technology is a tool, how do we use it in a manner that enhances excellent teaching?

One of the fears tutors have when they put their material online, is that they might loose that element of having their personality shine through. The lack of immediate feedback on whether the students understand the concepts being delivered makes it difficult for online tutors to gauge the progress of their students. Some beginning online tutors also find that they loose that ‘buzz’ that they get from teaching f2f students. I have been through all of these scenarios as an online tutor and see if again and again when I support tutors putting their courses online.

I must admit that teaching online is less satisfying in some ways. However, I am lucky to have only a small number of students and I have been able to build up a good rapport with them via email and phone conversations. Excellence in online teaching requires a different focus from f2f teaching. In particular, the way in which online content is structured and presented is important. This is the main interface the student has with a topic whereas with f2f, it is often the tutor that is the main interface. Therefore, the content has to be well thought through and the strategies that need to be used to help students engage with the content and relate to the material is paramount.

There are many ways to structure online content. My belief and learning from experience is that each subject tends to have ‘set’ ways of introducing novices to concepts important in the practice or application of that subject. However, it pays to have a good look at the content and see if it is actually the best way to approach the subject. Having a non-subject expert who understands good pedagogy is one way to take a fresh view of the subject to be converted from f2f to online delivery. I have had the privilege of being able to contribute in this way as elearning facilitator. However, the subject tutor needs to also be amenable to trying new approaches, otherwise, there is no commitment to carrying the process through. I have found that small changes need to be made over a period of time. It is less intimidating to the tutor who is converting from f2f to online teaching. As far as the students are concerned, they become accustomed to the course as it stands. As most have little experience with online learning, student evaluations tend to concentrate on the amount of content rather than the online learning experience.

I plan to transfer my existing online courses from the Blackboard platform to Moodle over the next 6 months. I have also completed a conversion of online content from elearning to mlearning delivery. Both of these present opportunities to improve on the way the current content is structured and presented. With the move to Moodle, I plan to restructure each course so that each ‘learning module’ is a ‘concept capture area’. Several of these ‘concept captures’ can then be linked together for a learning module on ‘application’. In my case, it will be to apply the theory of baking to what happens in the bakery. An example would be to have concepts like ‘ingredient functions’, ‘recipe balance’, ‘processing methods’ etc. all linked to an application ‘to produce a ‘new’ or healthier or firmer / softer / crispier etc. product.


Derek said...

You say: "I must admit that teaching online is less satisfying in some ways"

What ways? - Derek

bronwyn said...

congratulations on winning the teaching award Selena. I have been meaning to email you and couldn't find an email link on your blog. You have demonstrated what makes an excellent teacher - a willingness to keep changing your approach and to be creative with your students.

I also wanted to reply to you about the comment you made on my blog about PLEs. I can relate to the situation you describe there about colleagues being reluctant to post ideas on blogs and wikis "There is a preference to get things done at meetings rather than for individuals to mull things over, dicuss over a set time frame & then have things brought together at the 'end' of the process. I have been frustrated over the years that meetings do not bring up the real feel for the item under discussion, there is usually more fervour & passion shown in the staff room on the topic AFTER the meeting than during it!"

less meetings and more reflection and online mulling - but people have to communicate with each other regularly that way for it to work.