Online Education: Monitor And Adjust
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Online Migration In A Time Of Crisis

As any long-time teacher knows, classroom personalities change, classroom needs change, and the key to any great teaching experience is to "monitor and adjust." In the current crisis, adjust has become the keyword for many who have never taught online. How do we facilitate learning in an online environment? How do we assess our students? If you are a traditionalist and have been avoiding the online world, then it is time to ask your colleagues who have years of experience in online education.

Standard, slow-paced didactic lecturing with term papers and tests may work for some subjects, but let’s face it—it is hard to keep the attention of your students and memory retention is an issue. It is time for a fundamental change in the approach to pedagogy and assessment. One of the strongest approaches in online learning is to realize the opportunities that are available in your environment. Knowing what tools are available is key to understanding the potential for learning.

While many schools have kept a traditional structure in the online classes, several have stepped out of the mold. Western Governor’s University (WGU) has competency-based education where students feel that they can "start where they left off" and work through a class that they know well from their work life and get credit for that life experience if the competencies are met. Instead of a traditional teacher, they are assigned a learning coach that monitors their progress. To promote fairness, students are graded through double-blind project evaluations. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Learning Design and Leadership Program specializes in "New Learning." They utilize Scholar which is a next-generation, student-centric system that goes beyond didactic/mimetic learning to incorporate communities of practice, project-based learning, multimodal curation, socialization, and customized learning for each individual. Students are guided by analytics that employ machine and Artificial Intelligence to give daily feedback and help students progress while simultaneously providing instructors with actionable data and students with authentic assessment.

What Is Available?

One of the most interesting changes in educational thought is that online students can become the makers. Students have access to screen capture, videos and video production, images, online libraries, wiki creation, chat rooms, face-to-face programs, like Zoom and Skype, and much more. Students can work on projects together and check each other’s work. They can work on their own projects and then submit them for peer and instructor review. Students can then review their own work and self-reflect on how to make their work better. Just a few decades ago, it would be unheard of for any kind of student to participate in their own assessment in an open and democratic manner. These types of projects where students are the makers can promote higher-order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, application, and synthesis.

How Do We Assess?

Performance assessment that can be instrumental in the development of participant learning is the double-blind peer review. Reviewing another person's work becomes a way to discover other work with differing styles and opinions based on the same subject that the participant is studying. This type of assessment can bring reflection and inspiration to the reviewer while exposing them to a wider knowledge base.

In addition to peer review, the same review with a clear rubric and grading convention can then be assessed by the student as a self-review. This provides introspection, reflection, and self-monitoring that can help improve work. A self-review also gives students a better sense of control than a standard test where they may feel that their livelihood is being judged by one person who could exhibit bias.

Cumulative assessment, like the analytics at UIUC, is combining multiple variables while examining multiple intelligences to see a bigger picture of a student's capabilities. Traditional tests could still be used as long as the scores are combined with peer assessment, self-assessment, qualitative assessment, skill observation, rubric participation, etc.

How Do We Meet?

For years, online instructors and businesses have been using technology to have face-to-face discussions and presentations in real-time. Students can still ask questions and they can still have discussions both in a side chatroom as well as by utilizing video and microphone features. Programs with a screen share function are key to allowing instructor and students to present their work. Best of all, the meeting can be recorded and then uploaded where students who miss the class can view it later.

Critical Issues

It is important to understand that not all people have access to the tools needed for this transition and that there can be a strong learning curve. Communities and individuals should try to help create an equal field for online learning. Equipment donation from business and community, open online access, and tutoring should be given generously and freely. Most importantly everyone should exhibit patience and kindness during transitions and understand that administrators, instructors, parents, and students may all need assistance. At this time, that assistance will most likely be the basics. A fundamental change in the pedagogy may not come until after the crisis, but this is certainly an opportunity to help others understand what is possible.

What’s Next?

Students are more engaged in learning and inherently more successful when they access their own knowledge base to find a sense of purpose in their studies. It is increasingly more important to create opportunities for students to actively participate in their education and get away from the traditional model with high stakes testing. Authentic and relevant planning is needed in curriculum design, especially in online learning where more people are finding it necessary to utilize these systems during the current crisis. For years, online instructors and administrators have been equal to the brick-and-mortar model if not more innovative in educational pedagogies and assessments. Online first-timers and dabblers should utilize, consult, and embrace the tools and the people who can help design relevant and authentic classes for now and the future.

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