As a face-to-face teacher there are several factors to consider when ensuring success for your students. In September when I am faced with a new set of students there are critical factors I must consider; the students individual learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic), what prior knowledge they have of major concepts across the subjects, what form of communication and collaboration will work for each student as well as the form of feedback that will work for a diverse group of students.
Through my experiences as an online student I have observed that these same critical factors with the addition of; technical competency of instructors and how comfortable students are with the various tools and technologies, must also be considered when ensuring student success in learning.
I also think such critical factors as; instructor technical competency and student comfort with these technologies create a significant difference between the online and face-to-face teaching modes.
In a face-to-face learning environment a teacher must spend a great deal of time observing their students reactions to a variety of ways of presenting material in order to determine the diverse learning styles of each of their students and then create customized learning activities. I think it would be easier as an online teaching instructor to develop a picture of the different learning styles of their students by offering the opportunity for them to try a variety of technical tools to complete assignments and explore resources, students could then have the ability to customize their own learning activities. This also allows the student to take ownership over their learning.
It is very important in both teaching modes to gauge student’s prior knowledge in order to effectively plan and execute an inclusive learning environment. In an online teaching situation instructors should communicate with students at the very beginning of a course to get a sense of their previous use of technology in order to structure their level of technical support accordingly.
Teaching online provides an opportunity to use asynchronous and synchronous communication tools to encourage and develop collaboration skills between students. The difference between these two types of communication tools are: with synchronous, students are all logged in and communicating at the same time (often audio or video based) and with asynchronous, students log in and communicate at different times depending on what is most convenient to them (most often text based). I think they are both equally useful when teaching and learning online depending on the resulting outcome the learner or instructor is aiming to achieve. However, synchronous communication does not afford as much time for reflection as asynchronous communication. It would be beneficial to use email, blog and wikis (asynchronous tools) to provide reflection and feedback on student’s assignments and learning and Blackboard Collaborate, Skype and Microsoft Lync (synchronous tools) to structure group brainstorming, host guest speakers, introduce new topics, and question and answer sessions. By using a combination of these tools I can strive to ensure optimal participation and collaboration results in my online teaching environment.
A final critical factor to ensure student success in an online learning environment would be to encourage constant interactions between students as well as between the teacher and students. In my online learning environment I would encourage teacher – student interaction by focusing on student responses to activities through asynchronous or synchronous tools and implementing learner-centered activities that keep students involved while providing consistent feedback that helps the student navigate their way through the course material. To encourage student – student interaction I would; provide guidelines for group participation and group roles, a system to monitor group interaction to ensure that students are equally contributing to the assigned project, provide suggested steps and guidelines for completing work as a group with clear goals for the group assignment. As well as creating activities that require authentic opportunities (constructivist activities) to communicate and encourage shared goals and cooperative learning.
Another form of interaction within the course would be to invite experts to share their ideas and knowledge of certain topic areas which helps students to connect with the information and topics covered in the course curriculum. As well, as an online teacher you can team teach or invite IT support people, faculty and program designers to play a role to create a cross level learning structure to further students networking opportunities.
I’m not sure if I’ll be teaching in an online environment in the near future but so far through my online learning experiences I have developed an incredible understanding and respect for both online instructors and the tools and techniques used to execute this form of teaching.