When I took EDUI 6707, one of the required courses in the MS Program for Online Teaching and Learning at CSUH (California State University, Hayward) I thought I knew and was familiar with the basic theories, concepts and computer technologies for online teaching and learning. But I soon realized that there were lots of things I had not experienced about becoming a good, qualified online instructor, even an online learner. During the first four weeks of intensive practices of building and facilitating online community, I learned some important lessons on how to become a good online instructor from my own experience as a student and from the observations of my instructorâ€™s teaching practices.
The first lesson: Encourage Student Participation
We have discussed the advantages of online education compared with face-to-face education in my previous courses. We all agreed that frequent and supportive contacts are salient components in fostering student involvement, motivation, and course completion. If I could go back to face-to-face classes again I would be one of those students who do not ask or answer questions. There are a couple of reasons for this, such as: I donâ€™t want to interrupt the instructor, I donâ€™t want to be laughed at for asking silly questions, I am not sure if I know the answer to the question, and so on and on. But online classes make it easier. Online learning style allows students more time to find out the answer for themselves instead of asking. There is no time constraint to compose your answer, no lecture to interrupt, and no fear of being laughed at. Other than that, it is even easier and more convenient to discuss values and personal concerns in writing than orally. Therefore, through Email or discussion boards, students can receive much needed and prompt individual attention.
The second lesson: Give Prompt Feedback
In order to assess studentsâ€™ competence, keep them motivated and on task, and generally know how they are progressing, learners need frequent, prompt individual feedback. My classâ€™s weekly reflection is a very good practice to keep everyone on track. Without physical interaction, how to assess and measure student learning becomes even more critical. Therefore, it helps to gauge student participation by discussion board feedback and response. Also, Email, online evaluations, peer reviews and CMS tracking system are most commonly used for this purpose. Computer archiving of studentsâ€™ records can also help evaluate performance over time and aid in formative assessment.
The third lesson: Build an Online Learning Community
The online teaching and learning environment facilitates many collaborative activities, such as discussions of assignments, group projects, study groups, or peer responses among classmates in different locations and time zones. Such team interactions develop working relationships which form the foundation of an online learning community. If students feel they are part of the community, they are more willing to be motivated, to participate, to contribute, to seek solutions to their problems, and to succeed. This will help learners to understand ideas and concepts beyond the levels that could be attained alone. I still remember the hardest time I had in the beginning of the course. Since I am from China, and this is the first course I took in the US, I discovered a big difference between Eastern and Western education. I am used to the passive learning style. But after a few weeks of observation I tried to express my idea and joined the online discussion group. I found out that it was such a wonderful community to learn from peers and share with each other. It made me very excited about the online learning style. But I also found out that language and cultural background is the major barrier one has to face. Most of my classmates are native speakers of English, and sometimes they have some difficulties understanding my points because of my background and language. So I was trying to learn the native way to express my ideas and that worked. I was happy that I was not only learning my major but also improving my English. I think if you are watching the show from an audience seat, you never can be a good actor. Jump onto the stage, play your role, and you will contribute to the community. This was the best experience I had.
The three lessons all tell us that online education should focus on changing the learning style from passive learning to active learning. Utilizing the above teaching and learning practices, learners are able to be active and responsible participants, connecting new knowledge to past experiences, discussing, analyzing, critiquing and writing about what they are learning, as well as applying it to their life.