Distance Learning In Developing Countries
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Teaching And Learning In Developing Countries

In some instances in developing countries, assumptions prevail that all online learning is a self-study process in which content (for example, readings) serves as didactic material and that learners can learn key concepts on their own simply by watching a video or reading the text. Learners, on their own, sift through a considerable amount of content material without needing critical academic guidance. Thus, instructors assign lots of content material to learners without proper mediation or coaching. According to Bernard Bull (2013), skillful online instructors must:

  1. Move beyond simply modeling "love" for the subject and personal skill with the content to, instead, find ways to hand the subject over to the learners to do something with it
  2. Direct and redirect the attention of learners toward key concepts and ideas
  3. Act like cheerleaders, striving to find ways to listen, respect the learner’s frustrations, but to also help the learner reframe the situation in ways that are more positive and productive
  4. Find ways to give feedback to individual learners and, when appropriate, groups of learners
  5. Serve like great party hosts, facilitating introductions, using discussion starters to facilitate conversations among learners, and taking the time to get to know learners and referencing that knowledge in interactions with them
  6. Act like a spy of a sort, knowing when and how many times a learner logs into the course, what pages were viewed or not, how many discussions posts the learner contributed, and much more
  7. Be a valve control by intentionally releasing content in chunks that are appropriate for the learners

Pedagogical Rules

The following are 3 pedagogical rules that may guide effective distance learning in the context of a developing nation:

1.  Establish Online Presence: Instructor’s Role

The success of an effective distance learning program depends on the instructor. Online instructors must know their content and must also know how to help learners develop a deeper understanding of the content in a distance learning environment. In many instances, distance learning programs struggle to find well-qualified instructors who understand the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content to provide a meaningful learning experience for learners. Instructors must work to create a welcoming presence, set a tone that encourages reflection and inquiry, broaden and deepen online communication, assess both individual and group learning and interactions, make critical judgments about whether and how well participants are gaining content-specific knowledge, encourage those who fall behind in discussion forum posting, know-how and when not to intervene, and summarize participants’ learning (Burns, 2011).

2. Quality Time On Tasks: Student Engagement

Engaging students in an online classroom involves teaching them how to plan for quality time on tasks. Thus, guiding them to be in charge of their own learning. Effective student engagement involves critical thinking, sustained effort, active learning, and establishing realistic goals for learning.

The following are strategies to encourage student engagement:

  1. Student-led discussion and class presentations
  2. Problem-based or case study analysis
  3. Assigning students in groups to work on class projects
  4. Research in web resources relevant to chapters currently being discussed
  5. Peer-to-peer interaction through live chat sessions
  6. Active participation in discussion forums
  7. PRAXIS: engaging learners to apply theory in a practical situation. For example, a"student-teacher" practicing teaching in a community demonstration school or a business student in an internship with a local business.

3. Peer Interaction: The Golden Rule In Distance Learning

According to Tony Bates (2015), timely and appropriate feedback from the instructor to the learner is an important aspect of interaction in distance learning. Thus, when it comes to media selection, the following questions are worth considering:

  1. To what extent is interaction enabled or controlled by the media selected?
  2. To what extent is feedback possible within a particular medium?
  3. What kind of interaction will best lead to a particular type of learning outcome?
  4. What technology or medium best provides this kind of interaction?

Michael Moore's (1989) interactivity design depicts that for teaching and learning to accomplish its purpose in a distance learning situation, there must be established deep and meaningful learning through interaction from the following directions:

  1. Teacher–>student
  2. Student–>teacher
  3. Teacher–>content
  4. Student–>content
  5. Student–>student (peer interaction)

To achieve better results from any form of a distance learning program, the five interaction paths must be taken together; thus, learner interaction with content, instructor, peers, and instructor interaction with learner and content.

The Online Classroom

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) identify 3 critical elements that build a community of inquiry to support teaching and learning. They are social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.

1. Social Presence

The following are some of the ways, instructors may build a social presence in a distance learning classroom:

  1. The instructor will introduce him/herself to learners, share some experiences with the learners, including professional or academic, social, and family background (if possible).
  2. Have learners introduce themselves and share something about their backgrounds, the reason for enrolling in the class, and other experiences.
  3. Create a common area for off-topic discussions (chat rooms, etc.) and encourage learners to share both academic and other related social matters of interest.
  4. Use synchronous tools for class meetings once a month or two-three times during the session/semester. For the benefit of other students who might not be able to join the scheduled class meeting synchronously, share the discussions on the platform for asynchronous use.
  5. Don’t be the center of every discussion. Avoid commenting on every post. It is an acceptable standard in distance learning that instructors show presence every week but allow the learners to take charge of the discussion. Instructors act as coaches on the sidelines to cheer the learners and direct the play.
  6. Have learners engage in community research relating to the topic of discussion. Being in touch with the community to gain practical experience is classified as a best practice (PRAXIS).
  7. Engage students in active group work using problem or case-based pedagogy. Encourage group work and reward students according to active participation in group projects.

2. Cognitive Presence

The extent to which learners are able to construct meaning through sustained communication (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001). That is, learners are likely to retain content information when assignments and activities are created around the topic of discussion. Garrison (2017) explained that cognitive presence is “a process of inquiry that includes thinking, listening, and expressing thoughts in the process of critical discourse.” Cognitive presence, however, “cannot be understood in isolation; it is a purposeful and collaborative process interdependent with teaching and social presence” (Garrison 2017).

3. Teaching Presence

According to Debra Beck (2015), teaching presence consists of 3 components: design, facilitation of discourse, and direct instruction. All play equally important roles in effective distance learning programs:

  1. Designing the instruction
    This involves setting course objectives and learning goals or outcomes the instructor expects learners to achieve at the end of the session. This includes the lesson plan, putting the syllabus together, determining topics to be covered during the session, what the instructor expects learners to accomplish at the end of the course, identifying class assignments, and providing rubrics for grading purposes.
  2. Facilitation of discourse
    The instructor must be present in class (online) and must take an active role in facilitating the discourse through “modeling appropriate discourse, sharing additional resources related to the topic at hand, probing for critical thinking, requesting and offering applicable examples, and otherwise guiding and enhancing the group learning experience” (Beck, 2015).
  3. Direct instruction
    This involves the actual lesson plan facilitated by the instructor on a specific skill. How will the instructor create new content or adapt the content created by others? How will the instructor engage learners or how will they use a best-practices approach to stimulate learner interest and curiosity? The following table depicts the proper direct instruction approach.
Step 1: Initiation
  1. Connect lesson plan and delivery
  2. Secure attention of learners
  3. Maintain academic focus
Step 2Guided Practice
  1. Define knowledge (know), skill (can do), and abilities (feelings and attitudes)
  2. Begin lesson promptly
  3. Differentiate between management time and instructional time
Step 3: Implementation
  1. Model expected learning outcome
  2. Provide clear explanations and examples
  3. Engage learners with learning tasks
Step 4: Closure
  1. Bring the lessons to a culmination
  2. Provide a summary
  3. Highlight the most important lesson points
Step 5: Assessment
  1. Assessment must be part of the lesson implementation
  2. Use formative and summative assessments
  3. Provide weekly assignments and reflections
Step 6: Reflection
  1. Instructor must self-reflect
  2. Linking activities— preparation for next lesson
  3. Reflect on best practices

  Table 1: Direct instruction best practices

Key Players

According to Willis Barry (1992), there are four important key players in a quality distance learning program. I have classified them into 3 broad categories: front-end participants, back-end staff, and administrators of the program. The front-end staff consists of the instructional faculty and the learners (students). The back-end staff is the critical piece that makes the teaching and learning possible, they are the support staff; and finally, the administrators of the teaching and learning program.

1. Front-End Participants

  1. Learners (students)
    Students’ engagement in online learning has taken a new shape. Brian Kathman (2017) posited that higher education institutions are engaging students more and more through text messaging and fostering of one-to-one relationships. In the past, distance learning students were not as able to freely interact with each other to share their backgrounds and interests. However, new technologies are bringing students together and helping to build communities of learners through distance education (Barry, 1992, pp. 30-32).
  2. Teaching Faculty
    The success of an effective distance learning program depends on the instructor. Bernard Bull (2013), lists eight roles of an effective online teacher as: the tour guide, the cheerleader, the learning coach, individual and group mirror, social butterfly, big brother, valve control, and co-learner. According to Mary Burns (2014), distance learning programs must rank quality of instructions as number one before thinking about the media selection. Superior technology does not replace poor quality instructions. The skill of the instructor in most cases is neglected.

One common mistake of tertiary institutions in developing countries transitioning to the distance learning environment is the issue of providing adequate professional development orientation for the instructors to also transition from the face-to-face teaching and learning environment to the distance learning environment. The two are not the same. A proficient instructor in a brick-and-mortar setting does not necessarily perform better in a distance learning setting.

For example, it is like inviting a Jewish Rabbi to preach at a charismatic Christian church. With all the years of experience acquired by the Rabbi, preaching at a Christian church demands a different skillset, otherwise, he may confuse the Christian congregation.

2. Back-End Staff: Support Staff

Willis Barry (1992) described the support staff as “silent heroes of a successful distance education program” (p. 37). The support staff assists in promoting participation and persistence to avoid students dropping out. Their services include academic, administrative, and technological support. In most institutions, the support staff's services are offered through extended hours (Moisey & Hughes, 2008).

For effective teaching and learning purposes, I have classified the support staff into 3 important teams:

  1. Students advising team: Advises students on course enrollments and registration matters.
  2. Academic advising team: Advises students on academic matters pertaining to teaching and learning operations. Their job includes making sure students are properly assigned to their classes. They communicate to both the instructor and the learners about participation, persistence, and curricular issues.
  3. Technology support team: All technology issues are handled by the technology support team. They run  24-hour shifts and ensure that students’ technology needs are appropriately answered. They mount the courses on the eLearning platform, perform maintenance issues, troubleshoot, and any potential technical matters that can halt the operations are handled by them.

These are not seen, they are in the background, making sure the operations run successfully. Without the services of the support staff, both instructors and learners would not be able to function in an effective distance learning program.

3. Administrators

Administrators are entrusted to ensure that a strategic plan is in place that promotes effective teaching and learning. Their duties include planning for technological resources, deploying manpower resources, finances, and the necessary capital expenditures to enhance the institution's online learning mission. They also “lead and inspire faculty and staff in overcoming obstacles that may arise. Most importantly, they maintain an academic focus, realizing that meeting the instructional needs of distant students is their ultimate responsibility” (Barry, 1992, p. 38).

References:

  • Barry, W. (1992). Effective distance education: A primer for faculty and administrators. Monograph Series in Distance Education No. 2. Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • Bates, A.W. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning.
  • Vancouver BC: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. ISBN: 978-0-9952692-0-0. Available at: https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/
  • Beck, D. (2015, September 9). Community of inquiry: Cognitive presence. The EvoLLLution, Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://evolllution.com/programming/teaching-and-learning/community-of-inquiry-cognitive-presence/
  • Bull, B. (2013). Eight roles of an effective online teacher. Higher Education Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications: Faculty Focus.
  • Burns, M. (2011). Distance education for teacher training: Modes, models, and methods. Education Development Center Inc. Washington, DC.
  • Garrison, D. R. (2017, September 5). Cognitive presence and critical thinking [Editorial].
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence, and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education. American Journal of Distance Education.
  • Kathman, B. (2017). 3 biggest trends impacting higher education communication this year. Higher Education Technology: SignalVine. Retrieved on July 18, 2018, from:  https://www.signalvine.com/higher-education-communication-trends/
  • Moore, M. (1989). Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2),1-6.
  • Moisey, S. & Hughes, J. (2008). Supporting the Online Learner. In: Anderson, T. (Ed.), The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd ed., AU Press: Athabasca, Alberta, 419–432, 2008.
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