Magazine article Teach


Magazine article Teach


Article excerpt

For many, teaching online is a relatively new experience. In the spring of 2003, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) offered its first online courses, registering 25 students. The HWDSB is now in its fifth semester of this exciting initiative, with 143 students across the board registered or on waiting lists for online courses.

The HWDSB has students with medical/anxiety issues, reluctant learning and timetable issues, exchange students and others for whom the online learning program provides the flexibility of including a co-op placement within their timetable. Our focus is on serving the needs of our students - we want to use teaching strategies that work.

Before we even offered our first courses, we created specific questions to ask our students and teachers. We did not merely collect ideas about what is easy or difficult about teaching online; instead, we developed guidelines based on best practices of what good online teaching looked like, building on what we found in the research literature. We used an evidence-based research approach, with a specific focus on developing practical teaching strategies. When our teachers and students talked, we listened. What we heard became the practical and useful HWDSB Online Teaching Tips.

HWDSB Teaching Tip #1: Communication is Key

Not surprisingly, having no teacher in the classroom was a challenge, and confusing assignment instructions became a student concern. Knowing exactly what the teacher wants can be extremely difficult when students can't just put up their hands, ask questions and get an immediate response. Our teachers implemented a number of strategies to deal with this concern:

* Use a Design-Down Approach. Teachers began to use a design-down approach where the course's entire due date schedule is immedietely posted. Students reacted positively. "I really like the semi-self-paced format of this course, and I find it easy to stay on track. I like the fact that there are due dates and you can work ahead. It's a good set up," comments one student.

* Communicate More With Students. Because our students felt they needed more clarification in terms of assignment instructions, our teachers took various steps to communicate those expectations to students. They updated the assignment expectations and created an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) threaded discussion specifically for course questions.

Teachers increased the number of direct student e-mails after hearing student remarks such as, "One difficulty is keeping due dates in order. It would be so helpful if we received e-mails about due dates, just to clear up the smaller details that can be misinterpreted."

We made the change, and students reacted favourably. "I find the e-mail reminders helpful because I generally see them before the posted announcements. If I get an e-mail reminder saying that I have to get something done soon, I will try to do it as soon as possible. It helps me prioritize my work within the course," says a student.

A bi-weekly live course chat for clarifying questions was another way to increase communication. Student responses again have been positive: "I thought class discussions would be very difficult to execute as well. This has not proved to be a problem, though, thanks to the threaded discussions and chat rooms."

HWDSB Teaching Tip #2 : Time Management

With a rise in online learning, we are seeing a definite shift away from an "other-directed" to a "self-directed" approach, with students taking on more responsibility for their learning. Student procrastination is a major teacher concern. One teacher says, "The medium provides numerous opportunities for growth and development, but is often an 'irresistible apple' for those who would otherwise disconnect from their responsibilities." A student writes," The online learning experience forces you to become an individual learner, rather than encourage you to become one. …

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