6 Teaching Principles Transferred To Online Courses: Strategies To Use
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Basic Teaching Principles Transferred To Online Courses 

Traditionally, classroom teaching has involved the introduction of concepts and skills, guided practice by the instructor, and the independent practice by students until the skill or concept is mastered. While this principle has not changed, the methods used, particularly at the college level, have. And especially with online coursework, traditional methods have been underpinned with 6 overriding teaching principles. Here they are:

1. Contact between students and faculty.

Students do not like feeling isolated in their classrooms. They want connections and communication with their instructors. And studies show that the more rapport students have with their instructor, the better they do academically. Faculty of college students has many ways to connect with a student in their online courses. Here are some of them:

  • Computer conferencing and is a great way for you to meet with each student individually. This method is the equivalent of holding “office hours”.
  • Use list serves to keep you connected with students and students connected with each other.
  • Make sure that you have an email response policy. When students email you, when can they expect a response?
  • Encourage the use of discussion forums. Shy students who may not speak up in a regular classroom may find this venue far more comfortable.
  • Have weekly “chat times”, scheduled regularly.
  • Make sure that you, at least, have a picture of yourself, so that you are more personalized for your students.

Technology gives so many more opportunities for student-faculty communication, perhaps more than exist in a brick and mortar environment. Using technology to communicate with an instructor online can be private, and using a text environment to engage in discussions can be very comfortable.

2. Develop cooperation and collaboration among students.

Much has been written over the past three decades about a cooperative learning environment. Research shows that when students have an opportunity to share, to reciprocate and to work together, all of the students involved in that environment perform better. These activities foster a more social environment, even online, and remove the negative competitive and isolationist climate that exists with “every man for himself” attitudes. And cooperative learning does not just involve group projects. It can involve an environment in which students reciprocally engage, helping one another in content and skill mastery. Online instructors who do the following will foster this environment.

  • Have an “ice-breaker” session at the beginning of the course, so that students can share information about themselves.
  • Use chats and discussion forums that encourage students to communicate with one another.
  • Establish a “buddy system,” in which two students pair up for mutual help.
  • Hold Q & A sessions online.
  • Use teleconferencing for the sharing of ideas.
  • Assign group projects in which two-three students collaborate. Use some of the available project collaboration tools that businesses use when they have remote employees who complete project work.

Online cooperative learning environments increase retention rates and students like the non-competitive atmosphere that reduces their individual stress.

3. Set up an active learning environment.

Learning is not a passive process. The old methods of students sitting in rows in desks with a teacher at the front doing all of the talking have been discarded as ineffective for today’s students. Unfortunately, even at some of the best colleges and universities, there are instructors who cling to this old delivery model. In a student-centered model, on the other hand, the instructor is placed into the position of a coach, not a giver of knowledge. In this role, the instructor monitors, assists, and provides individual coaching when there are questions or problems. The learning process is largely student-centered and driven. In an online learning environment, the following will support this principle:

  • Give students plenty of options to choose their own projects/project formats and topics. Allowing this flexibility gives them more control over their learning and allows them to honor their best learning styles.
  • Produce and interactive web page for student use.
  • Hold online debates.
  • Create learning/study groups.
  • Ask students to relate their learning to real-life situations.
  • Have problem-solving activities that are assigned to pairs or small groups.

Many students come to online coursework with a background of teacher-centered instruction. It is sometimes hard to make that adjustment of a more student-centered environment, especially if there are not lots of opportunities for connections and collaboration with fellow students. Being thrown into an environment in which total responsibility for learning rests on his/her shoulders can be frightening and will increase dropout rates. Online instructors should insist upon a student-centered learning environment but be darn sure that every student has the support and help that s/he needs.

4. Feedback: It must be prompt.

Nothing is worse than to leave students wondering how they did – on a project, a paper an exam. This is obviously true in both a physical and an online learning environment – perhaps even more so in an online environment where there is no face-to-face interaction between student and instructor. And quick feedback can keep students engaged in their learning and in the coursework to come. Online feedback is, in many ways, easier to give, and here’s how:

  • Email and messaging are perfect venues for an instructor to give almost immediate feedback on anything a student has submitted. It does require, however, that the instructor has very scheduled times to assess student work and to have scheduled times when that feedback will be provided. If an assignment is due by midnight on a Tuesday, for example, the instructor should inform students of when the feedback will be provided or set up times for individual conferencing during which private feedback can be provided.
  • Use online assessments that provide automatic and immediate feedback on performance.
  • Set up an automated response to inform students that their work has been received. This is a huge time saver as well as a stress reliever for the student.
  • Post answers to exams once they are all received – students will be able to assess how well they did immediately.

The important thing here is that the student receives feedback as quickly as possible and is told when and how to expect that feedback.

5. Communicate high expectations tempered with realism.

One of the old criticisms of eLearning was that courses were often watered down with lowered expectations for student learning. In response, many eLearning instructors went overboard in “beefing up” their courses to unrealistic heights. The result was a terrible retention rate. Finding the right balance is critical in developing any eLearning course, but expectations for student performance should remain high. Methods for communicating those expectations include the following:

  • Provide a very detailed syllabus that includes all assignments, due dates, and an explanation of how they will be graded.
  • Publish excellent student work product to the entire class.
  • Give examples of ideal work product before students begin a project.
  • Provide a means for students to request extensions in emergency situations but do not “forgive” assignments in those circumstances.
  • Have clear expectations that student participate in discussions.
  • Make assignments engaging and interesting and relevant – motivation will be higher.
  • Be available at scheduled times to provide support and assistance.
  • Don’t let students off the hook if they turn in shoddy work. Provide feedback and require that they re-do the assignment before the end of the course. Remember – the expectations for performance are high, and students should strive to meet them. If students know that they may face a redo, they will strive harder to do something well the first time.
  • Give students timelines and benchmarks for completion of long-term projects. They’ll do a better job when you do this.

6. Respect the diversity in your class.

You will have students with full-time jobs, stay-at-home moms, middle-aged individuals who are returning to the classroom for the first time in years, students who are taking a full college course load plus your class. Add to this a variety of learning styles, and you have a “perfect storm” in the making if you do not consider these things in your course planning.

  • Create learning activities with lots of options.
  • Offer flexibility and understanding for assignment due dates. Sunday nights are always good. Those students who work will appreciate the weekend time, and those who have more time during the week can always submit early.
  • Encourage students to incorporate their life experiences into their assignments and into discussions that you hold. Everyone must feel valuable and valued.
  • If a student has a project at work that could be used for one of your assignments, allow that – the object is the learning.

Teaching principles for effective learning are universal, no matter what the learning environment. If you use these teaching principles as you plan and deliver online instruction, student motivation, engagement, and mastery will happen.

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