Friday, March 16, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online Series - Part 3

Being Prepared and Setting Expectations – Does this need to be different in an online teaching and learning environment?
By Dr. Vanae E. Morris
Adults need to know why they should learn something and they want to learn those things they need to know (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2011). Does this change in an online learning environment? How does being prepared and setting expectations help an adult learn, especially in an online environment?

Questions, questions, questions! I want to know the answers, you say?

Well, there is not always an exact answer to your question; so, let’s talk about some of the things that happen when you receive your teaching assignments for the semester. What is the first thing that you do? Panic, consider textbook options, and then quickly put together a course syllabus? If this is a new course, this may be a scenario you have experienced. If you are teaching a course that you have taught several times before, this feeling of panic may not set in; however, add that you now need to teach this course online to the mix. Now, what is the first thing that you do? Does this change your planning process? Should this change your planning process?

In the asynchronous online course that I teach called Cyber Pedagogy, my focus is on the pedagogy first, not the technology. Once the pedagogical design part is complete, then you are ready to start thinking about the technology tools. The biggest mistake I often see faculty making when teaching online is that they select their technology first and then try to retrofit their objectives and teaching into the technology. This should work the other way around. You should use the technology to achieve your objectives! You should use the technology to engage and enhance student learning! Technology is just one of the tools you can use to help your students successfully meet the learning outcomes of your lessons and overall course.

Being prepared to teach an online course requires the same pedagogical preparation that you would do in a face-to-face course. You need to design your course by determining the situational factors, developing the desired results, analyzing how to assess the desired results, and finally, creating a learning plan that allows the students to practice the content for a successful learning outcome. (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005; Fink, 2003). This should not change if you are planning to teach an online course. However, what you do need to consider are the parameters of the online learning environment. For example, how will you conduct a warm-up, present the content, have the students practice, assess the learning, and wrap-up the lesson. In an online course, you also need to determine how you will interact including teacher to student, student to student, and student to content. Determining how you will do this in an online teaching and learning environment is the difference between preparing for a face-to-face class and an online class. The purpose of this blog is not to conduct a class in how this can be accomplished but to encourage you to design your online course with the same pedagogical practices that should be considered in a face-to-face class, then determine how the technology will enhance the learning outcomes. Each online learning management system you use to teach an online course should be examined to determine the best way to accomplish and enhance the learning outcomes of your students.

This brings us to the next best practice, which is to develop a set of explicit expectations for yourself and your students regarding communication and how much time you and your students should be working on the course each week (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). When setting expectations for yourself and your students in an online course, a communication, interaction, and support plan should be put into practice. This plan should:

1. Clearly define preferred communication methods and channels so that students and instructors can communicate

2. Support each other and learn in a social environment

3. Take the time to lay out the rules for online teaching and learning so that students will know what to expect

4. Provide opportunities for community building where students regularly interact with other students, materials and the instructor

5. Make it clear to students where to turn for technical support

This communication plan gives structure for the three important interactions that occur in an online course, teacher to student, student to student, and student to content. As you review your communication plan and expectations, refer back to Part 1 of this series that discusses being present and exactly what that means in an online course.

The next part of this series will include a discussion on starting out strong and using a variety of large group, small groups, and individual work experiences, including the introduction of learning communities within your online course.


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

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.

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

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