Creating An Effective Online Learning Environment

  • Before the pandemic, if you’d have asked most teachers which skills they wanted to develop more, every one of them would have included technology. It wouldn’t have mattered how proficient those teachers already were; the reality is that technology develops in leaps and bounds while we’re busy taking baby steps. And it’s too easy to put it off until “later,” that fantasy extra time we’re going to have when we’re not as busy.

    “Faculty have a love-hate relationship with online teaching and learning,” said a 2017 survey report on teaching and technology from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research, in which 11,141 respondents across 37 states participated. “They don’t want to do it but think they would be better instructors if they did.”

    But when COVID-19 closed schools and then created the need for online learning, teachers got thrown head-first into the technology, ready or not. Teaching online became not just a luxury, but a necessity. Students were not in their seats in the classroom; they were in various seats at their homes, spending their days wherever a computer was: in the kitchen, at the dining-room table, in mom’s or dad’s office, or in the homework corner of the bedroom. Interruptions included other family members in the background, the family dog squeaking a favorite toy, or the momentary disappearance of a student who was on screen just a few seconds before.

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    Add to all that the need to use (and sometimes troubleshoot) technology like Zoom audio and video, learning management systems that support online learning, and new routines surrounding how students submit their work or break for lunch, and you’ve got challenge upon challenge upon challenge.

    Creating an Online Learning Environment is an online course offered by Dominican University of California Online (EDU0 9173). Instructor Robin Seneta leads students through a self-paced course that focuses on best practices when it comes to classroom digital content, activities, and teamwork. In the class, you’ll research various learning management systems (LMS) and find the one right for you. The course is worth three continuing education credits, and participants have nine months to complete it.

    Kareem Farah is a teacher with experience in distance learning; he now runs the Modern Classrooms Project, which focuses on blended learning, self-paced study, and grading based on subject mastery. Teachers don’t lecture; they create videos with education content; this means students can progress at their own pace, revisiting the videos as often as needed. When they’re ready, they move on to the next level of material – but not until. Farah wrote “4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online” for Edutopia for those teachers still struggling with the move to online learning. His main advice:

    • Keep it simple. Because you and your students are no longer sharing a classroom, you need to accommodate the fact that there’s less time for and less efficiency built-in for class interaction. Give clear instruction, and focus on tasks with fewer instructions.
    • Be faithful to your digital home base. Since we’re months into the pandemic now, classes have adopted systems such as Canvas or Google Sites. Whatever you’re using, make sure that you’ve chosen a single platform where students to always get the newest information. Farah emphasizes that while the many edtech applications available are tempting to try, students need a home base that’s simple and familiar.
    • Prioritize longer, student-driven assignments. This gives you time to plan future lessons and follow up with students who need individual assistance. Give your students checkpoints and deadlines, and include ways that they can discuss their assignments with their families.
    • Create multiple “touchpoints” with your students. Your students miss the multiple personal interactions they typically have with a teacher during a school day. You can create those for distance learning by using a combination of video messages, emails, comments on assignments, and more.

    “It’s important to bear in mind that cultivating an engaging distance learning experience is hard, Farah writes. “It takes time and an incredible amount of patience. If you are new to the experience, you’re probably going to feel like a first-year teacher again. That’s OK! Tackle the challenges step by step, keep your students updated on your progress, and stay positive. You can do this!”

    The Dominican Online course relates to Common Core Standards as well as International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Educators in the (5) Designer and (6) Facilitator categories.

    To register for Creating an Online Learning Environment, click here; to browse any of Dominican’s 32 online education technology courses, click here.

    Photo credit: Akel1150sb@iStock