As with face-to-face teaching within a campus-based classroom, teaching online through Learning Management Systems is an active process that involves planning and skill to create a productive environment for learning. The tools available to teach online have now been available for quite a few years, but in recent times have become far more intuitive, integrated, and understood within the learning and teaching process. Plus the expertise developed by students to work online; to complete tasks, to act convivially and productively in groups, and to communicate over distance, is increasing desirable as many more work environments become virtualised
There are numerous tasks that instructors can perform to promote the productiveness in Learning Management Systems. However, the integrated suite of tools in which they are made-up aren’t necessarily productive in themselves and there is a lot that instructors can do to promote their effectiveness to address teaching and learning goals. This partly involves the ability to recognise in the first instance what may work better in a face-to-face setting, and what may work better online. Then instructors must devise coherent, engaging, and convivial activities to sustain the group of students over time, both on and off-line, to work towards these goals.
What works online?
A suggested way to integrate the Learner Management System into a course; it is to first do an ‘audit’ of the curriculum. Tasks such as group writing tasks, discussions and debates, assessment tasks, and the active and critical engagement with content—such as academic articles—can be done either on or offline. It is up to the instructor to decide what mode works best for their particular content coupled with the assessment tasks and learning outcomes. There are of course, tasks that Learner Management Systems do particularly well, such as delivering of core teaching materials such as unit outlines and pre-recorded lectures. However other tasks, such as formative assessment (the informal assessment during tasks), Learner Management Systems also do well and there are an array of communication tools available in them to communicate directly to students, either individually or in a group, to aid this.
Once a decision is made to integrate certain tools, such as forums or virtual classrooms, into the curriculum, it is important to consider how they will be moderated to ensure that the desired learning outcomes are met. The instructor must take a proactive role to make sure that the interaction with content, the interaction between groups of students, and the interaction with the instructor are constructive and meaningful (see: Salmon; 2012). The tone and calibre of the conversations ensure students may contribute constrictive critique confidently, without the fear of derision or personal reproach.
Instructors should intervene in forums, to moderate and guide, to reward good ideas and drive conversations. This is fairly similar to what takes place in face-to-face tutorials, however there are new opportunities in online forums, such as, to summarise the debate, to reinforce common goals, to place links to content to reinforce or refute an argument, and to reiterate at intervals the benefits of contributing to the forum. Plus forum are in written form meaning they provide a reference point for pursuing ideas for subsequent written assessments.
But as with face-to-face teaching, it is also important to push, to a certain degree, the responsibility for finding course related material and discovering new information—and thus the responsibility for learning— back onto the student. There is a danger that the instructor becomes little more than a ‘search engine’ offering quick answers to question in an uncritical, encyclopaedic way. Scaffolding, linking, and delivering information in an interesting and challenging way will promote information sharing between students thus assist in the building of knowledge through dialogue.
Building strong foundations
Online sessions may be framed as an ‘online seminar’ or ‘online tutorial’ and may be synchronous or asynchronous, again depending on the content and activities. As with face-to-face teaching, it is important to make the topic of study interesting, to ground the objects of the study in anecdotes, stories, and in real-life experience. Also, couching the object of study in discursive dialogue between students will assist them in learning from each other. This may take the form of a group of students coming together in a forum to provide feedback on an article; to summarise and critique it, and then develop a set of questions to bring to class to further explore in a face-to-face meeting.
In general, ideas should be presented to students in such a way that they make sense in the overall course and the substantive conversations directed towards the goal of the course. Activities may be collaborative or practice based, but always with a set of clear and coherent goals. In summary, building a strong foundation from the start, the planning of activities and the introduction and explanation of online tools in their context will sustain students in the longer term. Both instructor and student are working towards common goals, with shared responsibilities.
For more discussion on moderating successful online forums see: Gilly Salmon, “eModeration: the Key to Online Teaching and Learning, Taylor and Francis, 2012
I have been quiet of late, partly because I have been changing direction and it takes a little while to turn the ship around. I have moved into the ‘flexible’ or ‘blended learning’ field, something that I have been trying to do for a couple of years now. And the field is enormous, quite refreshing after being in the ‘start-up’ which is the digital humanities in Australia. Although there are growing academic opportunities in the digital humanities, and hopefully I have done my small bit in helping to create these, I am not really sure a traditional academic career has always been available to me or indeed been my chosen vocation. The thing that (possibly) attracted me to the DH in the first place is its lack of a prescribed career path; it had only a self-directed learning path (for lack of a better description and often driven by luck, opportunity, choice and no choice). All roads and no roads lead to the digital humanities it seems…
I wrote about this some time ago; about the connection between eLearning (blended learning etc.) and the Digital Humanities. The problem is that the connection is a weak one and should be further developed. I know of very few Digital Humanities modules or plugins etc. that are be used in existing learning environments such as Moodle or Blackboard. And it is not as though the DH doesn’t have the learning materials and methods. There has been much work done on teaching digital humanities, but the work done (both research and development) seems to miss the enormous body of knowledge around LMS and educational design. This field is particularly strong in Australia and NZ and it would be good to see some movement in this area; in the same way that the DH has developed a good working relationship (if not an intellectual one), with eResearch.
I have started teaching in a PhD coursework subject here at the University of Melbourne; the first year that this type of subject have been offered in PhD research here. And as part of this, we have started teaching our very first Digital Humanities subject in the faculty; a lot of fun and somewhat experimental. There are 5 of us teaching it (and about 20 PhD students); and all the instructors have many years teaching, research, and computing experience (and ways of understanding and applying computing to teaching and research problems). The aims of the course is as follows (and we have put together our syllabus from a number of excellent sources and thanks to University of Victoria in Canada and especially Brett Hirsch of UWA for blazing a path for us). It is only a 5 week course of 2 house sessions, so barely getting our feet wet in such a large and vibrant field (and sorry some of the links may not work as you will need particular University log-in credentials to access them).
Our Digital Age: implications for learning and its (online) institutions
CATHY N. DAVIDSON, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University, Durham, USA
DAVID THEO GOLDBERG, University of California Humanities Research Institute, Irvine, USA
HASTAC co-founders Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg have co-authored an article that was published in the most recent volume of E-Learning and Digital Media. The article is entitled “Our Digital Age: implications for learning and its (online) institutions”.
Over the past two decades, the way we learn has changed dramatically. We have new sources of information and new ways to exchange and to interact with information. But our schools and the way we teach have remained largely the same for years, even centuries. What happens to traditional educational institutions when learning also takes place on a vast range of Internet sites, from Pokemon Web pages to Wikipedia? This chapter, excerpted from our book, The Future of Thinking, does not promote change for the sake of change. Implicit in its sincere plea for transformation is an awareness that the current situation needs improvement. In advocating change for learning institutions, this chapter makes assumptions about the deep structure of learning, about cognition, about the way youth today learn about their world in informal settings, and about a mismatch between the excitement generated by informal learning and the routinization of learning common to many of our institutions of formal education. It advocates institutional change because our current formal educational institutions are not taking enough advantage of the modes of digital and participatory learning available to students today.