Teaching online

In the Winter 2013 term, I’m teaching two graduate courses in addition to the preservice instructional technology courses that I’ve been teaching. The first course, Research in Education, is a required course in the master’s program and taught mostly face-to-face with some blended elements. The second one, E-learning and Education, is an online course using both asynchronous and synchronous video conferencing. in addition, we are experimenting with a host of other technologies including social media.

Tonight, we had our first session using Blackboard Collaborate in the E-Learning course with the five students who could make it. As expected, we had some technology troubleshooting (one student couldn’t hear anyone and we couldn’t hear her at first; another student couldn’t get her video working). There were also issues of trying to go through the syllabus — not easy because there are multiple modalities through which students can ask questions and respond (emoticons, checkmarks for yes/x’s for no, video facial expressions and gestures, audio, text chat both public and private). The literature talks about cognitive overload, and today, I got a first hand experience of the frustrations of trying to teach this way.

It’s not that I haven’t taught online before. I have, and this course is adapted from an asynchronous delivery one that I know well. The synchronous sessions are supposed to enhance the asynchronous discussions. This part , using both kinds of technologies for teaching (vs research team meetings) is new. The technology is not new. I’ve been using some form of videoconferencing for about a decade (polycom, OISE green room, blue room, gold room, the one with hexagons whose name now eludes me, elluminate, Macromedia Breeze, Adobe Connect, Skype, etc). I didn’t think it was going to be this hard to teach this way.

Partly, I think it is because my students are online learning newbies and I’m having to help them understand a kind of discussion-based online learning that is so common at OISE but maybe not everywhere else. Maybe students expected more of a module set up with a quiz at the end or a lecture with me reading PowerPoint slides. The other part is sociocultural in that at places like OISE, most online courses have enrolled students who have already taken a few online courses before and they help acculturate the newbie students.

In any case, I need to make a number of big changes to make this blended delivery work. This is one of the research studies I am conducting with my colleagues who are also trying out this combined mode of delivery.

I’ll blog about the other two research projects currently under way soon.


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