I’ve been facilitating a variety of conversations in the passed few weeks here in PEI working towards a plan for k12 education. It’s been a fascinating glimpse into all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the system. This week I moved to a part of the work that I’m really excited about. We’re talking about what a fully online course could look like. There has certainly been lots of experimentation by teachers in online spaces here in PEI, and we’re going to build on those as we can. Our goal is to lay out a pedagogy for online spaces that takes full advantage of the affordances of the web and tries to make a rich, welcoming experience for students.
I thought I might lay out my initial discussion topics here and see what you all think. I’d love your feedback on them. This list is not meant to be exhaustive in any way but rather is an attempt to get experienced f2f educators thinking about how the web is different and how it can be, in some ways at least, better.
Why are we going to teach online?
At the start of any project, I like to get a clear sense of why something is being done. There are tons of reasons to want to put a course online, it may be that you are interested in providing more flexibility for students, you may want to develop digital literacies, you may want to offer new and interesting choices. It’s also a good time to clear up a few issues. A good online course, for instance, is not going to save anyone money, at least not in a straightforward way. You still need the same student/teacher ratio, students still need to be evaluated and guided and nurtured.
A clear sense of the goals, and which goals are the most important will go a long way towards keeping a complex project like this one on track.
Translating good practice to the web – It’s not a tool problem
It is easy, and understandable, that a person considering teaching online be worried about what tools they will be using. The tools, however, are just that. They are the things you use to teach, not the teaching or the learning itself. Just like your whiteboard or a storybook is not the teaching, the tools and resources you’ll use online are not the goal. We need to think deeply about our f2f teaching practice, the little things we do to encourage, to calm, to help students see – we need to think about how we are going to make the heart of teaching happen online.
We’ve been doing a variety of exercises where we try and visualize the first five minutes of class time. The hellos to students. Noticing that one kid looks a little sad today. Another one is distracted. All these little pieces that make our classrooms work. How do we accomplish it online? Are there methods we can use to make our online place feel like home? What else do we need to tell students that we would normally just handle in the classroom?
Collaborating online – working together… differently
It is a rare classroom these days that has students sitting silently listening to teachers and then silently doing assignments. It happens. And can sometimes be appropriate, but with collaboration being an increasingly important part of the world we all live in, those collaboration skills are more important than ever. And it’s better learning. And more fun. The web can be an exciting place for collaborative learning. There’s more space for people to talk. People who find it difficult to think deeply and talk at the same time have more time to consider their responses. More voices can talk to one issue.
But how do we control dominant voices? How do we adapt our activities so that students can do their work? Are we going to work in the open or in a walled garden (or both)?
Motivation and pacing
Assuming that there is going to be some collaboration in the course, students are going to need to be paced through the learning together. We have to assume that every student taking an online course is taking one for the first time. Working online requires that students are more responsible for their timelines. We need to consider how much responsibility we are going to take for their motivation and how we are going to structure the course accordingly.
Will they check their emails? Will we do live sessions to provide those critical check-in moments? Will we use available analytics to track students and help catch students at the moment they are falling behind instead of after? Lots of check-in moments on long assignments to make sure they’re on track?
Differentiation and UDL
Teaching online offers an interesting opportunity to address issues of differentiation in the classroom. Adding additional resources for students with different challenges could be a great way to help them learn. It could also lead to ghettoization in the course. These issues are easy to address in a classroom, as you see cliques develop, but you have to watch a little more closely online. We need to think deeply about all of our students and how they are going to respond to working in an online space.
We need to do UDL. ’nuff said.
And… some tool stuff
Inevitably we’re going to talk tools. I keep trying to hold this conversation off so we can focus on the pedagogy… but its hard. People need to see what something looks like in order to understand fundamental concepts. I’ve been trying to pull together some exemplars of good online teaching… I can show them mine, of course, but as I generally start with an empty shell and have the students build it, it’s difficult to show them if they haven’t experienced it.
We talked about live sessions and if we need them. About the value of pictures of people for context. We talked about screencasting. And Moodle. And google classrooms. And analytics. Lots of fun discussion.
I’m super excited to see how this whole thing develops. Keep sending me whatever you’ve got. The more context we have the better 🙂