Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reaction to First Online Teaching Experience

Teaching a class online this past week was quite an eye-opening experience for me. If you are reading this because you attended the class, please know that your participation, support and positive feedback was greatly appreciated. I didn’t realize in advance how scary and strange it would feel to pose questions to a group of people who I could not see, and having no idea if the audience was engaged or interested. There are so many non-verbal cues I depend on in the classroom setting. During my presentation, when I polled the group and got an immediate response, and when I got feedback via text-box or symbols, it was quite gratifying.

Using this first experience as a starting point, I plan to think about strategies to maximize the interactive features of online software before I teach a “real” class online.  Although I’ve never used other software, I think the Wimba environment has many powerful features. I found that the polling feature was particularly helpful, as it demonstrated to me that everyone was listening and “connected.”

I’d like to comment on one other issue that resonated with me during class last week. I was strongly reminded how important it is that students are comfortable navigating the software platform before they can concentrate on content. I was also reminded of the dramatic impact technical problems can have on learning. When I lost connectivity for about ½ hour, I felt so frustrated. Although I called in by phone and was able to listen to the class while I tried to reconnect, I really couldn’t concentrate. I also have to admit that I have had difficulty transitioning between outside web sites and the Wimba classroom throughout this course. Although I thought I had it figured out, this past class I got stuck once again. I believe I will be quite sensitive in the future to students’ needs in the technical area. My own experience has taught me that even people who use computers daily in their life or work (me) may have difficulty navigating an online classroom or an unfamiliar environment. (Perhaps this is particularly true for many in my age group, the over 50 crowd.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rethinking Learning Theory

Although Chapter III of Bender’s book is called “Rethinking Learning Theory within the Online Class,” I found that many of the ideas discussed had strong relevance to teaching in any setting. Bender’s theories prompted me to rethink some of my current classroom teaching strategies, and also stimulated thoughts about applying these ideas when I eventually teach online.

One concept that truly resonated with me was related to the story about students who held onto incorrect information (about why it is warmer in summer than winter) despite being taught corrected information. The idea that in some cases prior learning facilitates learning while in other situations it blocks learning is compelling to me.

I teach nurse case managers who have many years of nursing experience and in some cases, many years of longevity working at my company. They tend to have preconceived notions about how things should be done. Thinking back on a series of recent in-services on new protocols and processes, I realize that the nurses’ prior assumptions about how things should be done may have detracted from the learning process.

Whether teaching online or in the classroom, it occurs to me that it is incredibly important to assess how the nurses think, and what their assumptions are, before I try to impart new knowledge. Thinking about how to accomplish this, I plan to increase the use of pretests, and scenario-based exercises that require student responses, at different points during a class, i.e., before I start the class, during the class, and afterward. I also plan to consciously ask more questions and elicit more participation to validate true understanding and learning of the material. Lastly, I intend to be more conscious of this issue during future trainings and continue to think about strategies that might capitalize on learners’ past knowledge while simultaneously ensuring that past knowledge does not impede current learning

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reflections on the role of instructor and learner in a live classroom vs. an online environment

Instructing a class in an online environment presents many thought-provoking challenges. At first glance, instructing in a classroom setting seems to have several inherent advantages. For example, the classroom instructor can evaluate how engaged the students are through both verbal and non-verbal cues and use these cues to shift strategies and content in real time. The classroom instructor can also utilize multiple modalities (demonstration, role play, flip charts, games, etc.) to engage different types of learners. In addition, the classroom instructor can control outside distractions to a greater extent. Given Wegerif’s findings that students are more successful when they feel like insiders, a classroom instructor has the added advantage of face-to-face interaction through which there is greater opportunity to engage with students and create scenarios where the students engage with each other.

My training experience to date has been predominantly in the role of classroom instructor. Considering the advantages of face-to-face interactions, it’s interesting to think about how to compensate in an online environment. One simple solution is a hybrid class that combines elements of both in-person and online teaching. When that is not possible, I think key strategies would include a more formal approach to eliciting feedback from students and a more conscious effort to reach out to engage students and provide feedback to them.  For a synchronous class like ours, I have found that Kiki’s use of breakout groups has helped me to feel more connected. This is a technique I would definitely utilize as an instructor, being mindful of the need to limit the number of students in each breakout group due to the clumsiness of communicating verbally in this modality.

Looking at the advantages of teaching online, Bender made a powerful point about one of the advantages, i.e., it forces students to think on their own and solve problems, which has the potential to foster learning and retention. The question I need to keep thinking about is how an instructor can create lesson plans and techniques to capitalize on this potential.

It is also interesting to look at how the role of learner changes from a classroom to an online environment. Based on my own brief experience as an online learner (our first two classes), I see clearly that online learning takes more responsibility and commitment. There are many potential distractions when at your own computer in your own home. It takes commitment to stay focused. I have also observed firsthand that anxiety about technical issues can negatively impact learning. While the learner has the responsibility to be proactive in learning the needed technology, this is also a point to be considered by the instructor, who should verify each participant’s comfort level and ability to navigate the technology before moving forward.