Where is a new online instructor to start?

English: no original description

Starting line, Indianapolis Speedway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, where to begin when introducing novice instructors to online teaching & learning?

To continue the theme from my previous post, I would suggest that it is key to introduce the notion of iteration, or redesign. The language of “course conversion” has always bugged me, because to me it implies a kind of mechanical, one-time translation process from in-person to online, without really rethinking (iterating) the design of the course for the new environment. In fact, Ko & Rossen say “if you’re converting an existing course into an online version, your basic approach need not change.” (p. 12) I think that could send the wrong message, though if I read that in context, the “basic approach” they refer to is not the approach of teaching the course, it is the approach to designing the course – considering goals, objectives, tasks, assignments, etc. The challenge is to get faculty to reconsider all of those things as they account for the “opportunities afforded by the new online environment.”

Ko & Rossen go on to say some important things about their ideals for what happens as faculty engage in online course design:

You will fashion tasks and exercises that emphasize student collaboration and de-emphasize the traditional role of the instructor (p. 14)

[Teaching online] makes them better teachers — not only online, but also in their face-to-face classes … We find that the instructional design process becomes less implicit and more of a deliberate enterprise. (p. 19)

So I appreciate the reflective intent of the Where the Hell Do I Start exercise and its introduction of a more deliberate approach to course design. But I also wonder if it moves a little too quickly forward without raising some more fundamental questions and prompts for instructors to consider changes in their curriculum and/or their teaching. [Full disclosure: my score on the pedagogy Questionnaire when I force myself to make selections is a 7 – very much at the student-centered/constructivist end of the spectrum.]

So for me, the Getting Started Chart would do well to raise a few more questions, especially to those who score at the higher end of the questionnaire. Should you really just  jump into creating online lectures galore? And not to give a free pass to those at the other end of the spectrum, if you are great at doing groupwork in person, how well will that really translate to the online environment? Do you provide sufficient instructions and structure, or are you just really good at facilitating, explaining, and sorting out issues on the fly in the classroom?

But even more than that, we are getting to instructional methods right off the bat. Shouldn’t we be first doing some thinking about course outcomes, and aligning outcomes with content, activities, and assessment? Things that are a bit bigger picture? I think this is what Ko & Rossen are suggesting as the “basic approach” that doesn’t change when going online. I know the SLOs and Course Outlines of Record are fixed in CA community colleges – it’s not like you’re going to completely reinvent the course. But there could be a lot of attention given to rethinking how those SLOs have historically been taught and assessed, what has worked well, what could be improved, etc. For instructors elsewhere, there may be even more latitude to completely reconsider the fundamental outcomes of your class. And upon rethinking outcomes, and how you plan to assess student learning, you may come up with some very different thoughts about the content, assignments, and other activities that will best help students to get there, than if you begin the course design process by thinking about the instructional methods you prefer.

So for me the initial questions should be questions of inquiry:

  • into my own ideals & practice as an educator
  • into the effectiveness of the current course curriculum & design in helping students succeed
  • into the teaching & learning opportunities afforded with online technologies
  • into the challenges that an online version of the course will present to students
  • into the effective practices for online teaching & learning employed locally as well as solidly grounded “in the literature”

And these questions should be viewed not as being asked one time, but repeatedly.

What questions do you find helpful in prompting your growth as an educator? What questions would you find insulting or patronizing? What are the hard questions that should be asked, but rarely are?

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6 thoughts on “Where is a new online instructor to start?

  1. The issue of comfort is being underrated here. Since not everyone who will be teaching online lives in the online world, or has had a chance to even explore their own pedagogy, it was a conscious decision to start with identifying and building upon ones self-identified pattern, which implies an area of strength and comfort. The list of initial questions you present are exciting to me, but are like drinking from a firehose for many.

    The questions that do need to be raised can (and will) be raised repeatedly in the iterative process of going through the class and continuing with work. But a comfortable base is one place to start.

  2. The question of the relationship between onsite and online teaching structures fascinates me. I find myself constantly thinking about how to bring what I like best about onsite teaching to online settings, but I am just as interested in the opposite: bringing what’s best about online to onsite teaching.

    • Jim — I have that same interest — and couldn’t have expressed it better. How can I bring my ‘favorites’ along . . . what’s new and different that I can add to my teaching toolbox . . . and what ‘baggage’ do I need to leave behind?? I’m still in the fascinating stage of exploring the relationship between the onsite and online . . . with a strong desire to move all of my training / teaching online. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Pingback: The Online Educator | Gridjumper's Blog

  4. I like your ideas about pondering the important philosophical questions. Two that stand out for me in your list are about the opportunites that teaching online affords and about the difficulties that students might experience. They make me wonder whether it’s possible to bring what you like best about onsite teaching to online and vice versa. I wonder if they are just different.

    Your idea about outcomes sounds a little bit like “backwards design” to me. Do you see that?

    • Claire, I think there are limits to the overlap of what can be done onsite and online, but I also think that the limits are more social/cultural than absolute (as is being discussed in the POT facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/101863643236562/permalink/346996105389980/). I wonder if anyone has done a good analysis of the overlap. I think there could be a Venn diagram here … but certainly it’s more complex than that and factors such as class size, learning environment design, available technologies, and more do make a difference.

      I am definitely a fan of UBD (Understanding by Design, aka Backward Design) but I think the basic principle of starting course design by thinking about outcomes and aligning those with assessment, then content & activities is one that appears in some flavor in most systems of ID. I just think Wiggins & McTighe stripped away a lot of ID details that aren’t useful for most teachers, and came up with a system that is simple yet capable of having a profound impact. Unfortunately, I think talking about “learning outcomes” now invites all kinds of baggage into the room. I don’t see UBD as carrying any agenda about outcomes – rather, “it is about learning to be more thoughtful and specific about our purposes and what they imply” (p. 14 of Understanding by Design).

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