Online education continues to grow exponentially on a daily basis. Over the last few years, paradigm shifts in education from behaviourism to constructivist modes of pedagogy are a definite aspect of this position. Constructivists place an emphasis on learner centered instruction. Meaning making is viewed as occurring within the individual, resulting from experience and social interaction with others. The teacher’s job is seen as one of understanding how the student thinks, so the teacher can create an environment and experience to further facilitate the student’s individual meaning making. Many online courses are self paced and use extensive lecture notes with traditional testing.
Ko and Rosseri (2004) defined online teaching a “teaching Online means conducting a course partially or entirely through the Internet”. A successful online teacher is one who promotes the achievement of learning objective by facilitating engagement to empower students as lifelong learners. The value and need for an engaged and learner centred approach to online education has been articulated by many researchers. (Conred and Donaldson ,2004; Salman,2002). Engagement is a critical component to keep students online. Learning is a social event and requires interaction with multiple individuals including peers, as the student moves through the knowledge construction process. The development of Higher Order Thinking skills is almost dependent on interactive teaching and learning. (Walker,2005).
Characteristics of Online teaching
As students begin to assume more responsibility for their own knowledge generation and overall learning experience, they become empowered to continually seek out new information and learning, and collaborate with peers and co-workers in problem solving and solution creations. This disposition is critical in today’s technologically advanced society where information and technology change on a daily basis and we become a more global based society.
Abdelraheem (2003) lists the characteristics of successful Web based learning environment as follows:
- Relevant and well designed challenging activities
- Adequate and timely feedback
- Active engagement in construction of knowledge with an easy to use and powerful navigation system
- Adequate and timely student to student interaction
- Deep learning encouraged through question design and links to thought provoking sources
- Student learning could be self paced to suit individual student needs
- Student autonomy encouraged since students are in charge of their own learning.
- Students can study various points of view through other online resources.
Effective online courses involve feedback, interaction and promote self learning as well as understanding of learning styles. They foster an open curriculum in which students learn from a variety of sources and are not limited to the scope and structure of the course. This is achieved through the use of various tools such as electronic presentation tools, online chart, white board conferencing, e-mail and web based resources.
Role of a teacher in online teaching
The teacher’s use of the tools must promote an interactive learning experience in order for the students to experience success. A successful teacher must determine which of these tools and what type of timing are going to be most effective for a particular group of students in a course, in order to promote maximum learning. In this section a number of questions to show the relevance of teacher in online teaching are asked and answers are sought. They are:
- What outcomes are you seeking?
- How can the online teacher support engagement in learning?
- Does a phased approach to promoting engagement and a potential paradigm shift in pedagogical orientation work?
Bloom’s Taxonomy provides key indicators in the cognitive domain involving knowledge and the development of intellectual skills. Identify the verbs in your outcomes as they determine the types of actions, and thus the types of tools we might potentially use to achieve outcomes. Consider what activities and online tools might help get you there in a way that engages and empower your students as individual meaning makers. As you gain experience with online teaching and the strengths and weaknesses of various tools, you will learn when and how to effectively use those tools as part of your overall instructional strategy.
Teachers must cultivate their own disposition towards student engagement. Palloff and Pratt (2001) agree that a successful online instructor must be willing to ‘let go’ of traditional teaching concepts and also give up some control in the virtual classroom in order to encourage a learning community that empowers the learner an essential characteristics of an online class environment.
Conrad and Donaldson (2004) propose four phases of online engagement for students that occur over the duration of a course:
Phase I – New comer – Teacher as a social negotiator – where the teacher establishes a tone for the class by setting norms for engagement, encouraging connections through introductions and inviting students to participate in goal seeking for the course.
Phase II – Co- operator – Teacher as a structural engineer. Here the teacher can begin to ask students to work in pairs and offer assignments that encourage peer cooperation, assessment, reflective thinking and collaboration. As an initial step, the instructor can request students to provide feedback using a structured rubric or set of questions. Another activity is to have students to interview a partner for a course assignment.
Phase III – Collaborator – Teacher as a facilitator. The students learn to become a collaborator, working in a small group to cooperatively complete an assignment. The teacher can assign a group leader or specific tasks to complete. Students can work in small group to complete a Web quest where they collaboratively research and write response to a given set of questions. Groups then compile their individual responses in a group report, edit and publish the report as group.
Phase IV – Initiator / partner – Teacher as a community member / Challenger. Here students become course leaders. They initiate and direct their own learning goals and activities with the instructor serving as a community member and support person. Students can work on a course project wherein the project goals, content and assessment are determined by the student while utilizing the instructor’s support and expertise.
Researchers report that teachers can experience a steep initial learning curve in pedagogical expertise. This occurs when teachers are offered substantial challenges to conceptions previously held about teaching and when those challenges are offered in such a way that “prior knowledge and processing” strategies were sufficiently influenced and anomalous data and alternative theories were appropriately introduced. Certainly online learning environment can be considered a substantial challenge in and of itself.
In the next few years it is predicted that context aware computer and augmented reality will begin to appear on the horizon. It is becoming obvious to all involved in education that the very nature of education is evolving at a rapid pace due to technological innovations and changing global society. Online education, in all its forms will continue to evolve at a rapid pace.
- Abdelreheem, A. Y (2003). Computerised learning environments: Problems, design, challenges and future promises. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 2 (2). Retrieved June 22, 2006 from www.nc
- Conrad, R and Donalson, J. (2004). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction: Jersey-Bass.
- Ko. S and Rossen. S, (2004). Teaching online: A practical guide: Houghton Miffin.
- Palloff, R M and Pratt, K (2001). Lessons from the cyber space classroom: The realities of online teaching: San Francisco: Jersey- Bass.
- Walker, G (2005). Critical thinking in asynchronous discussions: International journal of instructional technology and distance learning. 2 (6), 15-22. Retrieved June 22, 2006 from www.itdl.org/journal/june 05/ article 02htm.