Friday, May 18, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 6

by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

As I have been writing this series about teaching and learning online, I have constantly reviewed and reflected upon my own experiences as both a student and an instructor in various online teaching and learning environments at different institutions.  I started with Outlook Express newsgroups, then into a web-based online learning system, then Blackboard, moved to WebCT, Angel, e-learning by Pearson, and finally Canvas by Instructure.  In each of these online learning environments, I created materials that students could interact with, provided ways for me to interact with the students (f2f or online), and finally ways that students could interact with each other. 

Most of that interaction was asynchronous with few (actually quite minimal) synchronous activities included in the process. Working within Canvas for the past few months, I have discovered many more opportunities for interactions that could occur synchronously; however, what I have also discovered is the limitations of students (and myself) to meet all together at a specific time and place. After all, isn’t the flexibility of the asynchronous classroom one of the reasons we teach and learn online?   

So, what exactly does the online teaching and learning environment look like that promotes active learning and critical thinking?  Can this be done? My response is, yes and no! The reason that I respond with both a positive and negative is because the outcome depends on both the instructor and each individual student in the course. Is the instructor an active, but not intrusive, participant in the course? Are the students engaged with all three aspects of the course (content, instructor, and learning community)? According to Tan, Wang, and Xiao (2010), the instructor should:

a) encourage contact between students and instructor (e.g. encouraging students to use the online communication tools within the course, soliciting input from all students through specific questions, and asking for feedback on interaction-related course conduct), b) develop reciprocity and cooperation among students (e.g. group projects, group discussions, establishing learning communities,  peer reviews), and finally c) use active learning techniques (e.g. reflective and open-ended tasks to encourage application of theory to practice and apply what they have learned, and locating and sharing relevant online resources), (pp. 122-125).
As part of the ongoing mission of the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence (CTLE) and the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center (TACC) at the University of Utah, a course has been developed to assist instructors with quality course design that encourages instructors to use six elements of excellent course design:

1.     Course and lesson outcomes in the form of measurable objective statements
2.     A course organization and structure that facilitates student learning
3.     Teaching and learning activities that engage students in the process of learning
4.     A Variety of course content, media, and materials in appropriate web formats
5.     A sense of learning community, communication, and student support
6.     Assessment, feedback, and evaluation strategies that measure student learning outcomes as well as overall course quality

In order to promote active learning and critical thinking in an online teaching and learning environment, an instructor should examine these six elements and design a course, which has  assignments that require students to substantiate their ideas, invite responses, ask questions, and discuss and reflect upon the content.  Will this encourage the adult learner’s approach to learning and provide opportunities for self-direction?  Yes! By designing a course that encourages the three types of interaction (content, instructor, learning community), and assignments that require students to participate and substantiate their learning, will encourage and promote active learning and critical thinking in the online learning environment! 


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.
Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from
Moore, M.G. (1989). Editorial: Three Types of Interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education (3)2.
Tan, L., Wang, M., & Xiao, J. (2010). Best Practices in Teaching Online or Hybrid Courses: A Synthesis of Principles.  Hybrid Learning, Lecture Notes in Computer Science (6248)2010, pp. 117-126. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey! Good Blog! I really like the six points that you have mentioned. I seriously think that Online Learning can be made a wonderful experience if one adheres to these points.