The world is full of talented people trying to influence others, or should I say, offer education. It is truly amazing how knowledge is shared these days. Most of what I learn comes from a digital source, and almost none is available on paper. I hesitate to say this is a good thing, because I’m old-school, in spite of my role as Technology Director and teacher in a K-8 school.
Recently, I completed the creation of my first online course. The course was designed to help teachers learn to use Google tools in the classroom. It is simple, easy to follow, and should “educate” those who enroll. The online course is likely to be of interest to teachers who have limited technology skills and need direct instruction to gain them.
During my journey of discovery I realized that most of what I was learning about was not new to me. Most of the information and concepts were somehow repackaged to fit into the training I was receiving about how to create an online course. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. Let me explain.
Creating an online course was an act of bringing the pieces of knowledge together rather than learning something new. First, I created a 3 column table based on Lee Fink’s course design. It is the skeleton of the course. The table contained the intentions for the course without any substance. It was the road map that reminded me to think about five key components that should be a part of any course regardless of being online.
Next, I blended the “how” factor into the course – how students would learn in an online environment. The course was part of a learning initiative that combined face to face instruction and support with the online instruction. The ‘how’ is represented by instructional learning theories. The simplicity of the course lent itself to two styles, behavioral and constructivist. Learners were taught what to do, and followed steps that had to be repeated exactly. When followed correctly, teachers would successfully develop the knowledge needed to operate in the Google tools environment. Learners rely on past knowledge as they learn and reflect on how their new knowledge can improve the education of their own students.
Who chooses to learn online?
People who are lifelong learners tend to connect to anything and everything that isn’t something they already know. It’s the reason so many brilliant people seems to know a little bit about everything. They don’t wake up each day with the goal of learning something about earthquakes or snakes or how to groom a dog, they happen across it while online, and follow where it leads. They are curious people.
Curious people were once curious children, often the ones who many teachers would rather not have in class. People who are not curious can become annoyed by those who are, because curious people like to wander off course and take learning into their own hands. That explains why the internet is such a wonderful resource for curious people. They can roam, learn at their own pace, about just about anything. But some teachers are not curious people, perhaps because at the time, teaching seemed predictable, which they prefer. Teaching used to have a set path from which there was no wandering. My digression explains only one thing; that using the internet – online resources and courses has improved the learning process. Today, learning happens online, and teachers need to adapt as both learners and teachers, even if they aren’t curious types.
I am a curious person, maybe not brilliant, but willing to follow where information leads. During my research these past few weeks, I recognized great information I had seen before in different context – not everything – but I certainly appreciate seeing it again. What I gleaned from the experience was less about the data and more about the process in which it was (re) presented. That made me think. If it is my role to offer education to adults who are not curious, how might I spark a flame under them?
The course I created will probably never be viewed by my curious coworkers who long ago figured out what they needed to know to use technology for more effective learning. It will be viewed by the few, predictable teachers who are on the edge of being left behind. Although I can’t say for sure, I believe the predictable teachers fear not knowing enough, as if they recognize their lack of curiosity but are paralyzed to do anything about it. My point? It is for these people that online learning is a solution. But, they need to have it neatly delivered in digestible pieces that are, well, predictable.
Reflecting on what was learned
As I reflect upon what I have gained while creating an online course, aside from learning to use an online learning management system, Schoology.com, it is that quality standards for online courses exist and can easily be used in all aspects of teaching with technology. For my curious teacher friends, the standards from iNACOL (2015) are the backbone for evaluating the resources they already use. For example, quality isn’t something a typical teacher is prepared to evaluate when choosing digital resources, yet resources that aren’t of high quality may not bring about the growth they were hoping for. Understanding what to look for can help teachers choose better resources.
When creating an online course the instructor (in this case me), who would typically be at the center of instruction must relinquish that position for a well constructed collection of resources. It is a key difference in online versus face to face teaching. Knowing the extensive research and preparation needed to create online courses has helped me decide which content can stand on its own, and which require explicit one-to-one instruction. The process of creating a quality online course is no small task and should not be taken lightly. Online courses deserve the same amount of preparation and critical analysis as traditional curriculum.
My course is a blended learning course so I see my learners regularly and have the opportunity to touch base on issues that may need clarification, but teachers who make use of online courses for their own students don’t have that opportunity. As teachers begin to use technology in teaching, especially when using online curriculum they take on a new role. They must become comfortable being back seat drivers. I recognize the process can be painful to the not-so-curious teachers who would prefer to remain in control. Bridging the gap from online learner to learner who uses online content with other learners takes some practice. The same can be said when moving from content consumer to content creator.
What is the teacher’s new role?
Any amount of student-driven learning that includes technology changes the role of the teacher. The change is not only felt by online teachers, it is universal when technology is the vehicle of choice in the classroom. How does a teacher learn the value of letting go to relying on online education for his or her students? Where do they go for guidance? In his book, Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (2015), Bates talks about many aspects of online learning and the importance of providing support to teachers who use technology for learning and teaching.
Among other duties, supporting teachers is a priority in my work. Teachers need support as they learn how to use new tools for teaching, then again to determine which tools can really make an impact on student learning, and finally again, during implementation, through mentoring.
Regardless of where in the process teachers are when they discover online education, they cannot deny the benefit it brings to students and adults. Flexibility, process, pace, choice of content, all influence students’ learning outcome. Online resources that are well presented, easy to use, and understandable are key. Support also means providing learners with time to practice and interact with others who are learning in the same way. This helps learners personalize their education experience.
Teachers’ roles are changing, but they are still a valuable resources in the learning process even as the process changes. They are the glue that connects learners to the information they seek. They are the seat belt for the learner when the ride gets bumpy, and they are sometimes back seat drivers. But the goals teachers set for students are still the same, and the purpose of learning is steadfast, regardless of how it is achieved.
Bates, A.W. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/
Wicks, M., Glick, D., Darrow R., Gillis L., Glowa L., Radtke C., . . . Trim C. (2015). International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). How to Start an Online Learning Program: A Practical Guide to Key Issues and Policies. Retrieved from http://www.onlineprogramhowto.org/quality/inacol-standards/online-courses/
ChangSchool. (2011, January 26). Perspectives: Teacher skills in a digital age. [Video]. Retrieved fro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_BJcRVYQsE