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Teaching The Net Generation

Armed with cell phones, laptops, and MySpace and Face Book accounts, today’s students are accustomed to having many options for (and round-the-clock access to) obtaining and exchanging information. While it’s no surprise that the ubiquitous access of the online learning environment is attractive to students, growing numbers of faculty are interested in its flexibility and its potential to improve learning outcomes.

Young instructors are often drawn to teaching online because they are used to communicating and learning via an array of Web-based tools. Meanwhile, veteran teachers are often attracted to online teaching as an opportunity to increase student performance, and to try new teaching activities. Interestingly, new and old faculty alike are not abandoning the chalk and talk of the classroom; instead, they are choosing to realize the benefits of teaching in both formats.

Faculty see first-hand that teaching in both formats amplifies the advantages of each. This synergy is most likely to occur when a simple principle is followed: Design instruction to maximize learning in a given environment, and then recognize that accommodations made for one environment usually benefit students in both environments.

In order to teach effectively both online and F2F, instructors should consider the following

  •  Think about how to improve student learning outcomes in both environments;
  •  Research effective and emerging pedagogical methods;
  •  Draft clear, written materials for students;
  • ·Design activities that foster active learning; and
  •  Follow principles of sound instructional design.

Faculty who began their careers in the classroom can adapt their most effective teaching methods from the F2F environment for use in online courses. As they gain experience online, the same instructors often turn the strategy around, borrowing methods that succeed in the online environment in order to enhance their F2F instruction - for instance, by integrating innovative online offerings into traditional courses.

Faculty  agree that designing effective courses, whether online or F2F, is time consuming. While the flexibility and change of pace of online teaching motivate faculty to teach in this environment, the fact that learning outcomes have not proven consistently better in one format over another (Zimitat and Chen, 2004; Herman and Bannister, 2007) may result in some faculty’s hesitance to teach online. Yet many faculty who teach online today are motivated by the desire to meet student expectations (Harrington, et al. 2006).

From faculty who teach both online and in the classroom come five lessons that foster a meaningful teaching and learning experience :-

1.     Encourage Communication. Faculty should encourage communication from students at the beginning of the semester. Icebreaker activities – an email message, or introduction submitted through a course management system – conveys to students that their teachers expect to communicate with them. Expanding communication via email, online office hours, instant messaging, Skype, discussion board, or even the telephone dispels the anxiety some students feel visiting faculty in person, increasing contact between students and faculty (Pollanen, 2006).

2.     Simulate the Research Environment. Faculty should design activities that mimic real-world research communities. These activities foster cooperation among students, whether conducted in the classroom or online. Setting up a del.icio.us bookmark sharing application account or links to current events can bring today's news to the course. Faculty have learned that discussions that “encourage holistic thinking and understanding through challenging ideas and beliefs” (Ellis, et al., 2006) can foster learning, whether F2F or online.

3.     Provide Experiential Learning Activities. Faculty should develop authentic, task-based activities that require students to practice and/or apply concepts they are learning. These activities work equally well in both environments. For example, students may be asked to create a “teach and learn” module. Teachers should try to insure that the projects or assignments are iterative, so there is exploration and feedback that students can use as they complete the tasks. When watching students do a project in class, instructors often notice that students value projects that allow them to explore and see results for themselves. Having students reflect online about their experiences will provide similar feedback.

4.     Foster Solid Time Management Skills. Faculty should break tasks into manageable chunks and inform students in both environments approximately how much time should be spent on each task. In a F2F class, an instructor may be able to watch students doing a project and ask them how much time they are spending on each aspect. In an online class teachers may be able to track how much time students spend (via tracking or assessment tools), or ask students to keep notes about their work. Faculty can also use surveys, interviews and discussions (whether online or in the classroom) to determine how students are spending their time (TLT group). Faculty can then help students manage time spent on course work.

5.     Appreciate Diverse Learning Styles. Many faculty struggle to reach students with different learning styles. While the online environment naturally allows students to work at their own pace, faculty have learned that it makes sense to design activities that allow the F2F student to do the same. The challenge is to develop projects that do not simply benefit students with one learning style over others (Moallem 2007). One way to avoid that is to provide content in a variety of media. Faculty have also learned the value of designing projects with flexibility in the format; providing links to materials online that may contain audio, video, animation, or some form of interactive learning, and offering several different types of assignments that require different skill sets and allow for different approaches to the same assignment.

Clearly, institutional support to help faculty design effective courses that reach the ‘Net Generation’ are key to developing successful online and F2F learning environments (Moore, et al., 2005). Northeastern University’s Educational Technology Center, newly developed Center for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and School of Professional and Continuing Studies offer faculty workshops, one-on-one consulting and online documentation to assist in course development online and in the classroom.

A strong case can be made that faculty improve as teachers when reinvigorated by the experience of trying new approaches. Teaching online can improve organization; encourage faculty to be clear (in writing) about expectations, requirements, dates and timelines and clear feedback; and inspire faculty to pay attention to different learning styles. Teaching in both environments can remind faculty to recognize and nurture the different ways students can learn as a community of minds, and to make the most of the energy that springs from a shared, synchronous experience.

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by Thomas Charles Williams
on 1 year, 10 months ago
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