Is your district considering moving courses to an online format? If you are considering online or blended courses, I would like to offer some tips and suggestions for best practices for transitioning a face to face course to an online course.
A Clear Purpose
Be sure to carefully examine why classes are going to be offered in an online format and what LMS (Learning Management System) will be used for delivery. Is it for credit recovery? Is it for students that want to take a heavy course load in a content area only offered face to face such as music? It's also important to take plenty of time to evaluate and test the various LMS tools that are available. Moodle, Blackboard, Edmodo, and Angel are some of the most popular used in K-12 education. They range in price from completely free to expensive so be sure to investigate them throughly by requesting webinars and demo environments to test out before making a choice.
What does teaching an online course look like? How do I make it engaging?
I'll come right out and tell you now that the purpose of an online course is not to digitize worksheets. An online or blended course is not a storage place for all your worksheets and PowerPoint presentations. Teaching a course face to face vs. online is very different not just from the teacher perspective but for students as well. Think about it this way: Every concept that is taught face to face has to be converted to an online format that still adequately teaches the concept or skill. When we think about it that way it feels like quite a daunting task. From a student perspective an online course might initially sound like it would be taking the "easy road". It's quite the opposite. Online courses require a very strong work ethic and a lot of self-discipline. Some great resources for students to self assess before embarking into online learning can be found here. This resource was put together by some of my colleagues when we were at the very beginning of online courses. We have found that not only do students find it beneficial, but counselors have used it as well when a student asks to be enrolled in an online course.
Developing an online course takes a considerable amount of time to organize and gather resources. My district has 3 fully online high school courses and an entire semester was spent to organize and develop the courses in an online format. Online courses need to be rich in multimedia and interactivity. This can happen by using the discussion board, journaling, having a virtual classroom session, video and audio resources, and interactive websites and simulations. There are also additional tools within an online course that lend themselves well to group projects and delivering assessments.
Since students in an online class aren't seeing each other and speaking to each other face to face, proper discussion skills need to be covered. It's one of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers that are teaching either an online or blended course. "I agree" is not an appropriate way to respond to one of your classmates in the discussion board. No, texting slang in the discussion board or emails isn't appropriate either. Each student needs to know proper "netiquette" for an online class. This is an essential 21st century skill that must be address before coursework begins. Look at how many colleges offer online courses; even complete degree programs are now offered online. I believe that students should have these experiences during their K-12 education long before year one of college.
What is the future of e-learning?
Where is e-learning going? What's going to be the next big thing? A fully online high school perhaps? Maybe at some point there will be the potential for a student to earn his/her high school diploma online. Is it really that far-fetched? There are already college degree programs that are 100% online. What would it be like to have classes with classmates you'll never see in person? I see tools like Skype working more in conjunction with e-learning. There could be some classmates that live down the street, and others that live on a different continent. E-learning is even now starting to go mobile. Blackboard has apps for iPhone and Blackberry for students to keep track of course assignments and deadlines while on the go.
I think it's exciting the way e-learning is taking off around the world. I am looking forward to seeing where it goes next. If I can be of any assistance to your district about moving courses into a blended or fully online format, please do not hesitate to contact me. As always I welcome your comments.