Cable Car to the Stars



Best Online Teaching Practices

Practices that help create an online community where students feel safe and respected

Distance learning can be defined as groups of interacting adults who, a technology-based, structured format, and separated by time and distance, build knowledge in a collaborative manner (Boettcher, & Conrad, 2010). 

As a result of these temporal and spatial differentiations, I concur with and embrace many of online’s best teaching practices which mitigate these dimensional obstacles.  However, in the midst of this transposition it is important that educators retain essential traditional pedagogical methods. Resultantly, orthodox teaching practices that emphasize clear objectives, relevant and challenging content, and authentic assessments must be considered touchstones in any list of best online teaching practices. However, since student interaction constitutes the heart of online learning, other considerations should be advanced as well (Laureate Education, 2012, a). First, a safe learning atmosphere must be created in which students feel safe and welcome (Laureate Education, 2012, a).  This embracing atmosphere can best be achieved with the teacher issuing a welcome message that stresses the instructor’s approachability as well as issuing a casual rendition of his/ her home life and work experiences (Laureate Education, 2012, a). In addition, icebreakers should be proposed during the first few days (Laureate Education, 2012, a). This is important since many adult students are tyros at Internet use and may have been away from the educational process for some time. During icebreakers, students get to know each other in a pressure-free activity (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). These interactive and revealing exercises will also enable instructors to become better acquainted with their students. Moreover, these introductory approaches can pave the way for subsequent differentiated instruction. This is accomplished by learning of the students’ readiness levels and learning preferences (Boettcher, & Conrad, 2010). Faculty can also begin to learn more about the learners’ emotional needs as well (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). 

The syllabus is an annotated outlines of course-related information. As such it is essential to the online educational process. Syllabi pinpoint class expectations, learning goals, as well as catalogue deadlines, textbooks, and assignments (Boettcher, & Conrad, 2010). Additionally, teacher contact information is an important adjunct to any syllabus. Finally all syllabi should touch on relevant tech tools, online etiquette, and plagiarism.

Web 2.0 technologies are another  essential component of online learning.  Web 2.0 empowers students to interact with the material, the teacher, and each other. Consequently, instead of passively receiving web-based information, they can produce content of their own (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).   Communicative affordances, in turn, enable the learners to share, reshape, and add this knowledge to the communal pool (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Tutorials are important elements of any online course. Many adult learners are digital immigrants. They need to become familiar with a number of tech tools including posting assignments, accessing grades, and sending e-mails, as well as taking part in discussion forums, blogging activities, etc. All of these tech tools enrich the online learning experience.
In addition to discussion forums, blogs, and e-mails, wikis, game playing, simulations, video conferencing, and chat rooms are other useful iterations (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). As such, they encourage communication, collaboration, and cooperation between students as these participants invoke higher order thinking and solve problems both independently and as part of a team (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Importantly, technology should be used only when it creates a clearer path to the learning goals (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Therefore, teachers should avoid the temptation to use trendy or glitzy technology merely for its own sake. In addition, adult students tend to have rich, varied experiences and be self-directed. Therefore, they should be afforded latitude in their choice of topics, and technology tools, as well as the means they use to present their products.

Games and simulations often expand the arc of the learning curve (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). These interactive motivational tools should dovetail with the goals, interests, and readiness levels of the students (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).  Games and simulations advance the learning process in a number of ways. First, these authentic and appealing formats are less expensive than their real-life counterparts (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).   Next, students, in the course of the exercise, practice eye-hand coordination as well as activate higher thinking, make spontaneous decisions, and solve problems (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).  Finally, learners can work independently or compete with others who are located at a number of different sites.

Wikis are another great tech tool. These are online webpage in which each participant can edit and add to his/ her classmate’s work (Laureate Education, 2012, b).  The students work asynchronously and a work history, which delineates each student’s contribution is available to the instructor (Laureate Education, 2012, b).  In this collaborative context, learners sharpen writing and reading abilities as well as hone   social skills such as conflict resolution and consensus building (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). 

The creation of assessment rubrics is yet another valuable online teaching practice. These objective scoring plans lend clarity to the learning goals as well as define the behaviors the student must exhibit to achieve different levels of proficiency (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). These rating systems make the students aware of assignment expectations, allow for self-monitoring, and offer a consistent scoring guide to the teacher (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

No discussion of assessments would be complete without a remark about feedback. Online technology provides the means for faculty to quickly grade assignments and quizzes (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). The teacher should capitalize on these affordances by offering rapid explanatory comments on students’ work.  This is especially important to do so while the concepts are fresh in the learner’s mind (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  Conversely, the teacher can receive feedback from the students as well. These formative declarations give the teacher a heads-up as to how the course is progressing.

Unfortunately, challenges abound for the online instructor. Asynchronous timeframes as well as distance can cause a number of problems. Students are often left to their own devices to prepare and turn in assignments in a timely manner. This can quickly become a problem and can lead to higher attrition rates. Therefore, time management skills must be addressed. One of the best ancillary practices to improve this situation is for the instructor to use the Announcements to highlight next week’s assignments and deadlines. This redundancy will alert many students to the prospect of upcoming events.
Plagiarism is another negative that must be addressed. It can be defined as claiming another’s intellectual property as one’s own (Laureate Education, 2012, c). Unfortunately this type of cheating has increasingly compromised the integrity of online education (Jokey, & DiBiase, 2006).  Teachers can short circuit these practices by educating students about the pitfalls of plagiarism.  In this regard, concepts such as wasting educational opportunities as well as failing to accrue skills for professional advancement might be emphasized. This ongoing philosophy can be used in tandem with more practical tools such as Turnitin which is online originality detection software (Wikipedia, 2014). In this venue, all submitted essays are stored in a database. This information is then utilized to check for duplications between the students’ papers (Wikipedia, 2014).

Finally, wrap-up sessions at the course’s end should be attended to with reflective activities or relevant open-ended discussions that summarize the student’s feelings, questions, and concerns about the course (Boettcher, & Conrad, 2010). 

As an online instructor, my longer-term goals are to gradually increase my use of compatible online technology as well as create questionnaires and surveys that truly reveal the cultural background, experiences, learning preferences, readiness levels, and attitudes of my students. Finally, since communication represents a core value in the interactive process, I will ensure that all avenues of communication be open to the students and be monitored systematically.  These include telephone calls, e-mails, announcements, chat sessions, and videoconferencing. In this way students will realize that they are not alone in this new and challenging endeavor and can count on the instructor as well as other students for help and guidance.