Philosophy of Teaching Online



Learning to be a Better Teacher

Being and online learner is much more difficult for me than being in a classroom. I suspect the same will be true as an online facilitator versus a classroom teacher. This is only my second course online and the information, resources and tools are somewhat overwhelming. My biggest issue has been the lack of connectivity and on-again, off-again reliability of certain software. My first course dealt primarily with the creating of practical online resources as well as developing a website. My frustration level grew to the point I lost interest in producing a high-quality product. Once an attainable solution was given (ie buying a website and placing my objects), I was able to focus on my lessons and not on the technology of lack of my technological skills. I believe my own experience in such situations will make me better relate to my students when they find themselves in such situations.

Developing an Online Course

As I deal primarily with high-school aged students in a foreign land, much of my philosophy is derived from this exclusive face-to-face environment. My goal is to attempt to transfer these motivational and practical experiences into a somewhat online environment in order to better prepare my students for future courses.

Many of the practices I currently use are based on my ability to reach my students in a face-to-face environment. I am engaging as a speaker to the class as a group, creating a bond through knowledge of their culture but also by introducing them to mine, and I also make time for one-to-one chats about their progress, problems and general interests. By creating this open and caring environment, the impact on my students’ desire to be successful has been significant. While curriculum and goals are always at the back of my mind, my students’ confidence, security and different learning styles are my priority. With these factors as a background, I can be successful in applying other, more traditional ideas of teaching methods. My classroom environment is one of mutual respect, individuality and comfort in learning. How would I recreate this environment in an online situation?

In Caplan’s and Graham’s The Development of Online Courses, the outline of the Seven Principles for Good Practice by in Undergraduate Education Chickering and Erhann is given as a set of standards – one I agree with. I chose to focus on the two I believe I am very successful with in a classroom, and wonder how to implement them online. Encouraging contact between students and faculty is one I do each day whether in the classroom, after school or via QQ (IM chat program). However, my students are reluctant to use the QQ method as they feel their English proficiency is not good enough to convey without facial and physical expressions. I have started an after-school program where we are in the same classroom environment but all communication must be done via QQ. I hope to establish a high comfort zone of online communication in English with my students so that they will use it when at home or on vacation. If I can achieve this, I believe students will be more forthcoming in questions regarding activities, projects or simply ideas.

Chickering and Erhmann then updated their standards to include online learning. A great example of this in their article, Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever:

“Professor Norman Coombs reports that, after twelve years of teaching black history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the first time he used email was the first time a student asked what he, a white man, was doing teaching black history. The literature is full of stories of students from different cultures opening up in and out of class when email became available. Communication also is eased when student or instructor (or both) is not a native speaker of English; each party can take a bit more time to interpret what has been said and compose a response. With the new media, participation and contribution from diverse students become more equitable and widespread.”

Active Learning techniques are ones I strongly try to introduce to my classes. Chinese Education theory is one of passive memorization. The difficulty in showing my students the benefits of active learning is a long and difficult road. I would think this would be even more so in an online environment. However, supplying a list of many useful and easy-to-follow websites with interactive games and testing strategies could very well encourage a more active-learning mindset than teaching flashcards in a classroom environment.

Academia.edu has a paper that I found most helpful – “Online Vs. Face-to-Face Learning” (Barrera, Ho, Garcia, Traphagan and Chang). In it, they put forward the idea that it need not be one or the other but a combination of the two. This is the ideal I plan to put forward this semester in my classes. By combining the already familiar F2F with online activities and learning, I hope to reach my students in a way that was not possible before.

“Everyone will lose if traditional face-to-face and technology-enhanced learning environments are pitted against each other.” (p. 2).

While it may not be specific to an entire online course, I do believe it raises the issues I have been struggling with. In today’s world, with the multitude of multimedia tools, creating an online face-to-face – as a group or individually – need not be a problem. As most teenagers already use one form or another of video chat, this method should not interfere with their comfort zone. It could also, make them more at ease as they could decide “where” to meet with me rather than in my office or another school location.

Great Moments in Teaching

The challenges of teaching and the long hours of preparation and assessment can sometimes be overwhelming. However, these are easily outweighed by witnessing a student’s “A-ha!” moment. It is the moment that keeps teachers teaching, especially me. I get great satisfaction when I have brought student to this point and know they are going to be fine in the next level. It is my greatest achievement and most rewarding time that I have ever had. Whether it is a simple as understanding a word or a concept, this is what teaching is about. This is one aspect of online teaching that I still have no idea how to recreate – and perhaps can’t. However, as technology advances perhaps there will, or already is, a tool that would allow for the student to share such a moment as quickly as possible. I currently use a tool called QQ which is China’s IM. I have spent many hours with one or two students going over concepts until they do finally understand. Using a variety of methods including graphics that I upload, we do somewhat recreate a feeling of intimacy and the A-ha! moment is there, I’m just not physically present for it.

The Future

I believe my future with online learning and teaching requires much more knowledge of the tools available. I do use a variety of software in my classes as well as teach my students how to prepare basic audio/visual presentations, but I need to do more. The other challenge is getting the students onboard to this type of approach. This is extremely difficult in China because education and the teacher is very traditional still and the idea of allowing students more freedom towards their own educational goals is still a long way off. I am going to attempt an online segment this semester where students will need to receive and upload their assignment through Moodle. As I believe that their future is directly linked with using such technologies, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce them to such a notion. It should be quite a challenge and I’m sure I will learn a lot about what was successful and what was not. As I mentioned above, the slow introduction of student/faculty meetings via QQ, using Moodle for a specifically-designed unit, and encouraging the use of email for homework assignments will hopefully bring my students and I closer to an online environment enhanced by F2F.

“Online and face-to-face learning can no longer be regarded as two separate and distinct approaches to learning. Rather, what is called for is a fundamental rethinking of our approaches to learning and education. We need to change our mindset and reorganize our thinking about the process of teaching and learning. Instead of following traditional paradigms that have the instructor firmly in control, we should adopt entrepreneurial and innovative approaches to learning. Such approaches would permit students to become independent learners, and, at the same time, give the teacher the important role of guide throughout the learning process.” (Online Vs Face-to-Face Learning, p 7).

RESOURCES: The Development of Online Learning, Caplan & Graham
Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, Chickering and Erhann
Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever, Chickering and Erhann (http://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven)
Online VS Face-to-Face Learning, Barrera, Ho, Garcia, Traphagan and Chang (www.academia.edu)




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