Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Online Education Forum-Part Three a Quality Online Educational Experience

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Online Education Forum-Part Three a Quality Online Educational Experience

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 Unforgiving Environment

Many faculty and administrators struggle with the elusive issue of what it means to achieve quality in online education (Hirschheim, 2005; Porter, Griffiths, and Hedberg, 2003; Schell, 2004; Sullivan, Terpenny, and Singh, 2004). As mentioned in Part Two of this JISE Forum, the virtual classroom is unforgiving. Mistakes in process are often difficult to recognize because of a basic lack of traditional contact between faculty and students. This means that relatively minor problems can escalate to a crisis before being recognized by the professor. The result is an unsatisfactory experience for everyone involved. How can faculty achieve quality in teaching and learning in an online environment, when the online experience is so fundamentally different?

1.2 Overview

The first task that an online teacher must address is mastery of the specific educational software system that is to be used for a given course. Popular systems for managing courses provide a range of features and a significant degree of flexibility in structuring and organizing an online course (Walker, 2003). In order to make it easier for students to follow courses, as well as for faculty to develop them, it is important to standardize the structure and organization of course content, requirements, and basic pedagogical operations as much as possible. Within that context, thorough advanced planning is critical for assuring a quality online experience for the students (Evans, 2001; Starke-Meyerring and Andrews, 2006). A professor must articulate in detail exactly what he or she wants to accomplish every step of the way through the course before beginning.

A quality online course requires clearly defined learning objectives and well-articulated expectations for learners for each part of the course. Interacting in a consistent manner with students in an online environment is another important aspect of teaching effectively online. It is difficult to interpret intent through the technology, and inconsistency by the teacher confuses and upsets the students and creates a negative, counterproductive teaching environment. Class size is another factor that can cause problems. For example, if an online class is too big, then the professor simply cannot interact with the students at the level necessary to assure a quality learning situation. While many of these challenges for educators exist in any teaching situation, they tend to be especially serious threats to success in online teaching.

2. EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE

2.1 Course Management Systems

The software systems used for online education are generically called course management systems (CMSs). Each different CMS uses different syntax and somewhat different internal organization to do most of the same basic functions needed for teaching and learning online. Consider for example, Blackboard, Sakai, or Desire2Learn (WCET EduTools, 2007). An instructor must strive to become expert in using the adopted CMS in order to assure full use of the system's capabilities. That expertise is essential for effective and credible course design. If a course as loaded into the CMS does not properly fit the structure of the system or fails to utilize key system features properly, it will appear to the students (and others) as clumsy and unprofessional. So, it is essential to take the time needed and learn the details, the capabilities and functions, of the particular CMS to be used.

2.2 Basic Capabilities

The features of a course management system determine what can be included in the course design and exactly how these components will be set up for student use (Walker, 2003). For example, typical features include locations within a CMS to store and display syllabi, calendars, announcements, etc. The professor loads the syllabus and calendar information into the system before the semester begins so that students can access this information early in the course (and throughout), and the professor posts announcements during the semester to broadcast information to the group whenever appropriate. …

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