Friday, February 3, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online Series - Part 1

Online Teaching and LearningIt can no longer be an isolating process!

By Dr. Vanae E. Morris

Have you taken an online classrecently? What was your experience? Did you love it, hate it, feel isolated? I have been teaching online courses for the past 11 years (and have been a student in several) and I have heard all of the chatter, both positive and negative. I have also read research studies that list the pros and cons of online classrooms and the online learning process.

Distant education and online learning has changed by leaps and bounds from the independent study days of taking a year to complete a class by using snail mail, email, and working alone with a sometimes present instructor.

Online teaching and learning can no longer be an isolating process for students or instructors if it is to survive as a viable teaching and learning environment. The shift from a face-to-face (f2f) classroom to an online classroom does take time and effort on the part of both the instructor and the students and does require a paradigm shift for both the instructor and the students. I would suppose it also depends on the willingness of the instructor to invest the time it takes to be the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. Being on the stage does take far less preparation than engaging the students in the course because you can just walk in and talk at the students for the hour plus of class or just post materials in your online course and never engage in the discussions and conversations with the students. It also depends on the willingness of the students to be actively engaged in the online course, which does take at least four to five days of visiting the course to post to discussions, check new materials, read the course materials, or ask questions for clarification.

However, what I have discovered, even with our current millennial students, is that if the instructor is effectively engaging the students in the process (f2f or online), the students will respond because as adult learners, they need to know why they should learn something, they need self-direction in their learning, they need to learn experientially, learn those things they need to know, approach learning as problem solving, and most of all, they need motivation to learn (Knowles, Holton, Swanson, 2005). Using active learning rather than passive learning strategies in your classrooms, both face-to-face and online, encourages the adult learners in your class to respond.

In order for the online teaching and learning process to be effective, 10 best practice principles must be actively instigated in the online learning environment (Boettcher and Conrad, 2010; Ko, 2005). I find these best practices to be very effective in both a f2f and an online environment; however, these best practices become even more critical in the online learning environment.

The two most important best practices are taking the time to design your entire course, and then being present at the course site. In the online pedagogy class offered through the University of Utah’s Center for Teaching & Learning, the focus is on a backward course design, which requires an instructor to examine situational factors, goals, understandings, essential questions, course objectives, summative assessments, and the designing of a learning plan (to help students successfully meet the course objectives through activities and formative assessments) (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005; Fink, 2003). Designing the entire course before you start gives you a road map to work from when you design and construct your individual weekly lesson plans. Having this road map assists you and your students with clarity and organization.

Being present at the course site is “the most fundamental and important of all the practices” and according to students, “the best online faculty . . . are faculty who are present multiple times a week” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). However, that does not mean you or your students need to be online 24/7, which is a myth floating out there in the blogosphere! So what is considered multiple times a week? The students in my online courses have discovered (me included) that this means at least checking in and finding out what is going on at least four to five days per week. What online teachers and learners often forget is that they should schedule the same amount of time (including the time you would meet f2f) for an online course as they would for a f2f course. Being present is important to the teaching and learning process no matter the size, space, or environment of your classroom.

Stay tuned to find out about the other best practices of teaching and learning online!


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.). New York: Elsevier.

Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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