Somehow, I started fresh Friday morning after blogging late and trying to adjust to New Orleans time. A session on Fully On-Line Instruction began at 8:00, which is 6am CA time, and I was starting to feel it.
This particular session focused on a pilot project from UCSB comparing a series of face-to-face FYC courses with totally on-line instruction. The courses were taught by three different teachers, each taking one of the on-line and one of the face-to-face courses so that assessment of pros and cons could be relatively evaluated across pedagogies. One speaker identified herself as a “not-so-tech-savvy” person who engaged the project with more skepticism than her colleagues. The others were rather more knowledgeable, but in the end, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know.
The problem is that, if an instructor has read the latest research or spoken in depth with anyone working on-line, the problems and benefits are consistently in the same areas:
The positives are that
- The responsibility for collaboration and group work is on the students
- The technology allows more useful (timely?) feedback and more efficient distribution of course materials
- The quantity and quality of communication increases
- Asynchronous activities allow students to proceed with work on their own schedules
- There are opportunities for multi-modal presentations that a classroom setting does not facilitate
The negatives include
- Limited immediate follow-up and spontaneity in conversation and it can be difficult to provide individualized instruction
- If you use portfolios, collecting and assessing such is difficult
- There are inevitable technology glitches and access considerations (dial-up, etc.) that complicate things
- Prep time is dramatically increased
- Because the primary medium of communication is written text (rather than spoken words as in a classroom), students who read slowly and/or write slowly (or poorly) fair less well than in a regular classroom environment
So, the consensus was that on-line instruction was a mixed bag–a different mode with different advantages and weaknesses that we just need to be aware of. The panel had some recommendations on creating better on-line learning courses based on their experiences as well as their assessments of student learning outcomes.
- Maintain clarity of purpose in the course–be slow to introduce “new” features and instead try to maintain a stable environment around an “institutional” context, rather than a “technology” context
- Keep the basics of good practice in mind–peer review, drafts, etc.
- Be prepared to do more prep work (nearly 3 times as much at first) than in a conventional classroom
It was, in the end, an interesting enough presentation–they’d brought slides of the research and bibliographical information that situated them in the field, but I had been hoping for more practical tips for esubmissions, responding to students, maintaining real-time discussions and the like.