Thursday, December 23, 2010

To Online or Not to Online #3: Getting Started

Before you teach online,here is some advice from an old pro:

1. Understand fully how the system works. What system? First, the pay system, the release time system, the rewards system, etc. at your institution. Second, the learning management system, which leads to . . .

2. Get good tech training. Take advantage of whatever your institution provides. Now, to be honest, I taught myself a lot of what I learned, but I wasted a lot of time doing so.

3. Have a mentor/coach/helper/somebody who can and will patiently answer your questions because you will forget a lot of the tech training from the sessions you attend. We have an awesome instructional technologist at our college. No one else can have her!

4. Look at your class from the end backward, not as a day-to-day experience as you design the online section. And don't even think about teaching a class you haven't taught traditionally. It's possible, and I've done it, but it isn't wise because you have to create even more materials from scratch.

As to this point, Dee Fink's Creating Significant Learning Experiences is a must-read, because it is about backward design, or teaching for outcomes. And that is what you must ask as you design an online course: not, "how can I put what I do in the traditional class on a screen?" but "What is necessary to meet the learning outcomes of the course and how can I best create a learning environment and experiences for it (since you will not be physically present)?" You may find that what you do in the traditional class isn't really meeting learning outcomes either! We do a lot of things in class because we are comfortable with them and have held on to them, way past their usefulness.

This is in no way saying to dumb-down the online version. It is saying that some of your course and teaching will need to be rethought. The online environment is heavily text-oriented, while the traditional class can reach all modalities. Any way you can find to breach the text-only divide will help.

For example, I teach my traditional class in public speaking with a heavy emphasis on group and collaborative learning. I can't do that in the hybrid version. It is not, however, one of the learning outcomes of the class (as decided upon by our departmental faculty).

The next post will continue in this vein.

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