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Ten Things to Consider when Building an Online Language Course E u r o C A L L Krak ów, Poland August 24, 2005 Robert S. Williams The American University in Cairo firstname.lastname@example.org
E u r o C A L L
August 24, 2005
Robert S. Williams
The American University in Cairo
Online, or eLearning, is not an educational model itself.
It is the use of technology applied to existing educational models and learning theories.
As such, eLearning is a means for learning, while pedagogical models are modes of learning.
There was one clearly articulated theme shared by all the literature we read on online learning and teaching.
Pedagogy should drive technology!
“The choice of eLearning tools should reflect rather than determine the pedagogy of a course; how technology is used is more important than which technology is used.” (Nichols 2003:5)
“eLearning advances primarily through the successful implementation of pedagogical innovation.” (Nichols 2003:6)
eLearning doesn’t really revolutionize education. Good teaching is the same, whether it’s done in eLearning or FTF modes. Some practices to remember when designing an online course are:
If you have a choice, it is good to establish some guidelines about what and what not to teach online.
What would you teach online and what would you not, given your particular teaching situations?
What would be some considerations in making such a decision?
Karen Bond has written an interesting article about an all online school, where she teaches all kinds of skills online.
One difference oft-cited difference between traditional and online teaching has to do with the role of the teacher.
We’ve all probably heard of the following dichotomy:
The Sage On The Stage vs. The Guide On The Side
The Sage On The Stage vs. The Guide On The Side
This is a clever turn of phrase, but I don’t like it much.
Why do you think I dislike it?
What do you think?
One possible instructor role is that of scaffolder, from sociocultural learning theory of Vygotsky. Scaffolding includes:
You don’t have to be a technical wizard to design and teach an online course.
However, you will need some special skills, such as finding and saving sound, image, and video files; uploading files, and placing the files on a webpage.
Of course, you will also have to write text files and save them in the html format for most webpages.
However, you don’t normally have to know how to write html code.
In addition, you’ll also have to learn how to use chat, threaded discussion, and other online communication tools.
Some of these will be specific to different learning management systems.
Never use a program in a class that you are not familiar with. An online course is no place to try something out, even if you’re teaching a CALL class.
You’ll probably be using some kind of learning management system, such as Blackboard, eCollege, or WebCT. All of these systems have help available, both in course construction and course management.
Make use of all the help you can get. Colleagues who have experience with course management system are another source of help.
Learning a particular course management system can be frustrating, especially if you are under time pressure. Plan for extra time in getting to know the course management system, if possible.
This means optimizing your website, that is, making it accessible to a learner without access to the most powerful computers and fastest internet connections.
The more images and text files on your web page, the larger your page size. The larger the page size, the longer the page takes to load and manipulate. As a rule, keep load time as low as possible.
Files are measured in bits (k) and bytes (K).A byte is composed of eight bits. A thousand bytes is one kilobyte (KB or K), a million bytes is one gigabyte (GB), and so on.
The concern with file size in online education has to do with transfer rate, or how fast the files can be called up on learner’s computer.
This depends on the way a learner connects to the internet. If the learner has a dial-up connection, then she will probably have a transfer rate of 56KB per second (unless she’s using a very old modem.)
The size of a webpage, measured in bytes, is the sum of the size of all the files on the page. The optimal size for download time is around 30K, which takes under eight seconds to download using a 56k connection.
This is a very small page size, and is hard to achieve if you have images on your page.
If all of your students have access to fast internet connections (DSL types or a T1 line), then your page can be as large as 100K. It should probably never be larger than this unless there is a good pedagogical reason .
If your web page is not part of a course management system, one way to check for optimality is to use a webpage analyzer.
There is a good free webpage analyzer at www.webpageanalyzer.com.
The good news about webpage size is that links to audio, video, and other program files don’t count.
Make your webpage only as large as needed to satisfy pedagogical requirements.
The domain is an area of interest that is shared by members of a CoP. Members must share a commitment to the domain, not just have shared interest. Shared interest in a domain without a commitment is a characteristic of a community of interest.
Members of a CoP also share some kind of competence related to the domain.
Even though individual members of the CoP may not be considered experts in the domain, there is an assumption that the collective competence of CoP members gives the CoP some kind of expertise.
The community with respect to CoP is not defined by geographic boundaries, by shared activities and goals related to the CoP domain.
In order for the community to work, its members must build relationships with one another, work together towards some common goal, and learn from one another. In other words, they must purposefully interact with one another.
A website is not a CoP, though it provides a space for a CoP.
Conversely, a CoP does not have to function in a virtual world. Meeting regularly FTF also provides a community.
The term practice refers to the idea that CoP members have a common goal and are working together to achieve that goal.
Interestingly enough, members don’t have to be doing this consciously to be in a CoP. For example, teachers who meet socially to talk about their jobs may in fact be working toward the goal of better teaching, whether or not that is the reasons for meeting.
For the purpose of their practice, CoP members develop shared tools, such as experiences, stories, ways of solving problems, ways of interacting, ways of ordering information, etc.
Practice takes time and shared interaction.
Wenger says that the three elements that make up a CoP – domain, community, and practice – must be developed in parallel in order to cultivate the CoP.
How can we do this in our online courses?
What kind of activities will accomplish this goal?
Evaluation is the process of making judgment about the value or worth of a program, test or a person. It is the process of making a decision.
Assessment is the process of collecting information used for making decisions. Among the variety of assessment instruments a test is only one such tool.
Helps teachers to evaluate students’ performance and their own teaching at the end of a unit, several units or a course
Used to count towards a grade
Helps teachers to monitor students’ learning
Helps teachers to diagnose individual learners’ needs and to plan instruction
In general, formative assessment is less formal8. Assessment in Online Learning (4)Summative vs. Formative Assessment
quizzes and tests
best work portfolios
performance tasks including on-line tasks
questioning during instruction
homework and seatwork
quizzes and tests (paper & on-line)
interviews/conferences/email exchanges with students
growth & learning progress portfolios
on-line role-play, scenarios, web forum8. Assessment in Online Learning (5)Summative vs. Formative Tools
You can use formative assessment tools (e.g. homework) for summative purposes (giving a final grade) but be careful.
Different assessment tools are not equally valid for all purposes.
Anderson sees eLearning as being “centered” around four areas:
the learning community
Interaction is “…reciprocal events that require at least two objects and two actions. Interactions occur when these objects and events mutually influence one another.” (Wagner 1994).
John Dewey (1916) identifies interaction as the main component of the educational process. Accordingly, learning occurs when “..the student transforms the inert information passed to them from another, and constructs it into knowledge with personal application and value”
According to A’s theory:
- there are actors in this kind of learning: content, students, and teachers
- there are several types of interaction: student-student, student-teacher, and student-content
Types of this interaction are immersion in microenvironments, exercises in virtual labs, online computer assisted tutorials, interactive content that responds to student behavior (Hot Potatoes, for example)
“Sufficient levels of deep and meaningful learning can be developed, as long as one of the three forms of interaction (…) is at very high levels. The other two may be offered at minimal levels or even eliminated without degrading the educational experience” (Anderson, 2002)
“The challenge for teachers and course developers working in an online learning context is to construct a learning environment that is simultaneously learning centered, content centered, and assessment centered.” (Anderson 2002: 54)
Anderson, T., & Fathi, F. (Eds.). (2004). Theory and practice of online learning. online ed. Athabasca , CA: cde.athabascua.ca/online_book
Bond, Karen. (2003). Teaching English Online. http://www3.telus.net/linguisticsissues/englishonline.html. (This article originally published in The Guardian 27 June 2003)
IDE. (1998). An emerging set of guiding principles and practices for the design and practices of distance education. Retrieved August 15, 2005, from the Pennsylvania Stat University Outreach Web site: http://www.outreach.psu.edu/de/ide
Lave, J. & Wenger, E, 1991, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation,Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Nichols, Mark. (Moderator). (2003). Formal Discussion Initiation: A theory of eLearning. International Forum of Educational Technology and Society. http://ifets.ieee.org/
Roberts, Timothy S. (Ed.). (2003). Online Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice. Idea Group. (ebrary)
Wenger, Etienne. (2005). Communities of Practice. Retrieved August 15, 2005, from Etienne Wenger’s Web site: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm.
Wenger, E., 1998, “Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System”, in Systems Thinker, June, 1998