Ten Things to Consider when Building an Online Language Course E u r o C A L L Kraków, Poland August 24, 2005 Robert S. Williams The American University in Cairo email@example.com
This talk is based on a set of guiding principles for designing online language courses, developed in July by students in my graduate seminar Learning and Teaching Online, at the American University in Cairo.
What is Online Learning (eLearning)? 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.
The Pedagogy-Technology Relationship 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)
Ten Things to Consider • Ground your course on sound basic pedagogical practice. • Carefully consider which language skills can best be taught online and which are better taught FTF. • Understand the nature of your role as the instructor. How is it different, and how is it similar, to a traditional course? • Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the technology you use. • Choose online learning tools based on the learning needs of the students and design your course to the lowest technical access of your students.
Ten Things to Consider • Instructional materials should be designed to work well in the eLearning medium. • Unless otherwise specified by a syllabus, an online course should provide meaningful interaction among learners, the content, and the instructor. • An online course should be community centered. (constructed so that a community of practice, or learning, can be formed.) • Assessment should be a central part of an online course and assessment instruments appropriate to online learning should be specific to the defined learning goals of the course. • Make sure the students have adequate support – both pedagogical and technical – to enable them to succeed in their learning.
1. Basic Pedagogical Practice 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: • Keep in mind the learning goals of students and institutions • Always define measurable learning objectives, and makes sure that activities teach to those objectives and that assessment instruments measure those objectives • Let students know what the learning objectives are
1. Basic Pedagogical Practice (2) • Provide students with a clear set of guidelines for the kind of online interaction you will require. This is especially important for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. • Design some kind of activity (action plan, threaded discussion topic) that let’s the learner communicate to you that they understand the learning objectives and guidelines for the course. • All instructions should be as clear and unambiguous as possible. • As with FTF teaching, activities should be theory or principle based. That is, any activity should serve some theory or principle of learning.
2. Online or FTF? If you have a choice, it is good to establish some guidelines about what and what not to teach online. • My summer class decided that it would not be a good idea to teach oral skills online at AUC • In making this decision, we took into account 1) the technology available to our students and 2) our teaching approach (communicative) • However, we decided that it might be possible for us to teach pronunciation accuracy.
2. Online or FTF? (2) 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.
3. Role of the Instructor 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
3. Role of the Instructor (2) 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?
3. Role of the Instructor (3) One possible instructor role is that of scaffolder, from sociocultural learning theory of Vygotsky. Scaffolding includes: • recruiting interest in the task • simplifying the task • maintaining pursuit of the goal • marking critical features and discrepancies between what has been produced and the ideal solution • controlling frustration during problem solving • demonstrating an idealized version of the act performed
4. Know the Technology 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.
4. Know the Technology (2) 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.
4. Know the Technology:Learning Management Systems 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.
5. Design for the Lowest Technical “Common Denominator” 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.
5. Design for the Lowest Technical “Common Denominator” (2) 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.)
5. Design for the Lowest Technical “Common Denominator” (3) 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 .
5. Design for the Lowest Technical “Common Denominator” (3) 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.
6. Course Instructional Design • We just discussed technical processing capacity. Now we’ll talk about managing human processing capacity. • The human short-term memory is supposed to hold 7 ± 2 items, so as a rule of thumb, that is how many should be on your page. • It is often difficult to limit a page to so few items, but it’s a good rule to try and satisfy. A page that is too cluttered is difficult to process. • Remember, you can always make another page.
6. Course Instructional Design(2) • As we discussed earlier, make sure you have specified measurable learning goals and have communicated these to the students. • The instructional design of the website should make these goals clear, and should clearly link them to the learning activities and assessment instruments that serve them.
6. Course Instructional Design (3):Discussion Group Management • Your online course will probably use either threaded discussion, chat, or both. • Make the rules of online talk clear to all learners. Let them know what you expect of them in terms of politeness, content, length, frequency of participation, etc., in discussions or chats. • With threaded discussion there is a danger of serial monologuism, where students post answers to questions, but don’t discuss with one another. You can enforce interactivity by making it a requirement of the course.
6. Course Instructional Design (4):Discussion Group Management • You should have some presence in a discussion, even though it may be as a fellow discussion member. • Another way to be present is to post some “starter” questions to get the discussion going. This will also provide a means for informal formative assessment, because students will be prompted by your questions to discuss the concepts that you include in the questions. • Manage discussion groups so that learners are not overwhelmed (make them small, but not too small).
6. Course Instructional Design (5):Discussion Group Management • Breaking a class in to small discussion groups can make more work for you, but will make the discussion better. A threaded discussion group with more than eight members can become burdensome for students. • If you are teaching from an interactive, constructivist approach, you will assign small group tasks to student. • When you do this, be sure to provide each group with an online meeting place – such as a dedicated threaded discussion forum or chat room, so that they can have a work space to carry out the task.
6. Course Instructional Design (6):Managing Constructivist Learning • Breaking a class in to small discussion groups can make more work for you, but will make the discussion better. A threaded discussion group with more than eight members can become burdensome for students. • If you are teaching from an interactive, constructivist approach, you will assign small group tasks to student. • When you do this, be sure to provide each group with an online meeting place – such as a dedicated threaded discussion forum or chat room, so that they can have a work space to carry out the task.
6. Course Instructional Design (7) • Teaching from a constructivist and/or highly interactive approach online may not be for everyone. • Assigning group tasks reduces flexibility for some students, which may be why they chose to learn online in the first place. • Also, your students must have a certain level of comfort with online technology and with their fellow learners to do this kind of teaching online.
7. The Community of Practice(Learning Community) • A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who “who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor…” (Wenger 2005) • The idea of community of practice, or learning community, is now fairly widespread in online learning, as well as many other disciplines. • In fact, it is an integral part of the new body of theory of online learning.
7. The Community of Practice (2)(Learning Community) • The notion of community of practice comes initially from Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, and originated in a study of master-apprentice learning. • Building a community of practice in an online class means encouraging social cohesion. • This involves providing exercises that allow learners to get to know and to trust one another.
7. The Community of Practice (3)Three Characteristics of a CoP Domain Community Practice
7. The Community of Practice (4)Domain 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.
7. The Community of Practice (5)Community 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.
7. The Community of Practice (6)Practice 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.
7. The Community of Practice (7)Developing CoPs as Online Learning Environments 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?
8. Assessment in Online Learning • Assessment is now considered to be a central part of learning. • Online assessment is any formative or summative assessment task carried out in a web-based environment • The slides following slides on assessment are from Dr. Deena Borae, AUC assessment specialist.
8. Assessment in Online Learning (2)Defining Evaluation and Assessment 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.
8. Assessment in Online Learning (3)Current Trends in Assessment • Assessment is part of the teaching/learning process • Use of a variety of assessment tools and not just paper-and-pencil tests • Assessment focuses on performance and a range of thinking skills • Validity, reliability and fairness of assessment must be demonstrated
Summative 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 Formative Helps teachers to monitor students’ learning Helps teachers to diagnose individual learners’ needs and to plan instruction In general, formative assessment is less formal 8. Assessment in Online Learning (4)Summative vs. Formative Assessment
Summative quizzes and tests Projects best work portfolios performance tasks including on-line tasks Formative 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 forum 8. Assessment in Online Learning (5)Summative vs. Formative Tools
8. Assessment in Online Learning (6)Assessment and Grades 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.
8. Assessment in Online Learning (7)Issues in Online Assessment • Must match the teaching / learning process and the desired learning objectives and outcomes • The needs, characteristics and situations of learners must be taken into account: • access & familiarity with computers • access to assessment tasks • students’ ICT related anxiety • learner commitment to collaborative learning • comprehension of how to contribute effectively
8. Assessment in Online Learning (9)Issues in Online Tests • Ensuring test security: the likelihood of cheating • Effects of heavy traffic at peak times • Ability of students to change answers until the point where test is submitted • Incorporating dynamic test questions and activities using interactive images, sound and text (otherwise little difference from taking a paper-and-pencil test)
8. Assessment in Online Learning (10)Issues in Online Tests, cont. • Sufficient practice provided on on-line tests in the same format • Adequate emergency backup procedures for technical glitches • In test design, take into account instructions, sequencing of items and the position of text on the screen
9. Student Support • Make sure that students have adequate support – both technical and pedagogical. • Technical support should come from the sponsoring institution, the learning management system, or both. • Pedagogical support comes from the teacher. Teachers should be available, but boundaries must be set for availability.
10. Interaction in Online Learning • It is possible to teach languages from an interactive, constructivist, or sociocultural approach online, especially the teaching of content-based writing and reading. • New theories are being developed about interactive online learning and teaching. The following is from Terry Anderson (2004).
10. Interaction in Online Learning (2):Centeredness Anderson sees eLearning as being “centered” around four areas: the learner knowledge assessment the learning community
10. Interaction in Online Learning (3):The Learner • learning as opposed to learner centered • understanding the comfort level and competence of students with regard to technology • making students a part of a community of learners
10. Interaction in Online Learning (4):Knowledge • There is no such thing as generalized thinking skills • Effective learning is defined and bounded by epistemology (nature and scope of knowledge), language, and context of a particular discipline. • Students need to be able to experience discipline-specific thought and language.
10. Interaction in Online Learning (5):Assessment • An e-learning environment must be assessment centered in order to be an effective environment for learning. • Formative assessment is especially important for e-learning environments. It does not have to just come from the teacher. • What kinds of formative assessment would work for language learning?