Reflection on developing an online learning module

online teaching

Developing online modules has becoming increasingly easier for me as I have created a fully online course (medicine.uabebm.com) and a blended course (uabpreop.com) at my institution. Both of those courses were built outside of a learning management system (LMS). I liked developing this online course using a LMS. It was easier to structure the material and the LMS is designed to best display learning materials. In the platforms I used to develop my other courses I had to work harder to develop a proper layout.

The most difficult part of this exercise was using Moodle in the instructor mode. Other than for this degree I don’t use Moodle. My institution uses an in-house developed LMS. I had to figure out how to do the things I needed to do in Moodle. Thankfully there are multiple videos on YouTube that helped the process.

I used adult learning theory principles to develop this course. The course uses a problem-based learning approach. I use several clinical cases that the learners must solve. The cases, while not real ones, are authentic and so learners will recognize why they need to know this information and will learn while solving problems. The information they gain in this course can immediately be used in their everyday clinical lives. They will need to use their clinical expertise and knowledge to learn in this course.

I try to apply the community of inquiry approach to my online teaching. I try to develop cognitive presence by using problem-based learning and reflection exercises. I try to develop social presence by using discussion boards and encouraging students to work together on the material. Finally, I try to develop instructor presence via video (both an introductory video and in each of the lesson videos) and feedback that will be given on assignments. This is somewhat the hardest part to establish in online courses. I have tried synchronous chats in the past but no students ever showed up for them (not required). I allow students to message me or email me with questions and I answer them within minutes usually.

Community of Inquiry Framework

Online teaching is much harder than face-to-face (F2F) instruction. In F2F instruction you can gauge student understanding by observing their facial expressions and by inviting questions. This can’t be done in online teaching. It’s easy to make an hour long slide show for F2F teaching. It’s much harder to break a lecture into all its component small parts and make individual lessons or videos for online teaching. Online assessment and feedback is harder than for F2F courses. Interestingly, I find online teaching much more rewarding. Maybe it’s because there is a tangible lesson out there on the web that I can click on and see whenever I want to. Learners from around the world can use my materials whereas a F2F lesson gets used by only a few. Maybe it’s because I feel I do a better job teaching online than I do F2F.

This was a useful exercise. The only regret I have is that I can’t directly use the materials in their current form as we don’t use Moodle.

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Module 3 Reflection: Community of Inquiry Framework and Social Bookmarking

The Community of Inquiry model was something I learned superficially about in EDTECH 504 but it was buried among numerous other models. I didn’t realize how useful it is to help design an online course.

Community of Inquiry Framework

Community of Inquiry Framework

The community of inquiry (COI) framework consists of three interacting elements- social, cognitive, and teaching presence (Garrison, 2007). Cognitive presence is the extent to which the participants in a COI are able to construct meaning through interaction. There are several approaches to the development of cognitive presence, namely the use of critical thinking, reflection, and problem-based learning. Adults like to learn by solving problems so problem-based learning makes good sense. Most online courses I have taken have used this approach and it’s much better than memorizing information for tests. It also fosters intrinsic motivation as the learner can see how the new information will be used in real life. Critical thinking and reflection can be facilitated in online courses using blogs and threaded discussions. Online courses I have taken have been variable in the quality of the discussions. Developing good critical thinking or reflection questions is key. They have to be open ended and with multiple possible “answers” and require the learner to bring in their own experiences. The worst discussions occurred when questions just required regurgitation of facts. After a few people answered them there was no more need for others to post the same answers. There was no interaction and construction of meaning. Thus, there was no cognitive presence.

Learning is social so social presence is important. Social presence has no agreed upon definition despite an extensive research base. I like Picciano’s (2002) conceptualization. He refers to social presence as a student’s sense of being in and belonging in a course and the ability to interact with other students and the instructor. Others have described social presence as a person’s sense of being real. Threaded discussions are an easy way for students to interact and demonstrate social presence. Group projects can be used but I find these challenging in online courses because of varied schedules and time zones of students. One online class I have taken used formative peer review of each student’s class project. This was effective for teaching peer review (the instructor gave feedback on our review) but also allowed for the establishment of social presence. Icebreakers are also a good way to establish social presence.

Teaching presence relates to student-instructor interactions. It’s not enough as an instructor to post good learning materials. You must interact with students in a meaningful way. Instructor feedback is an important way to establish teaching presence. Having a guiding presence in threaded discussions is another important way. Personalized emails to students and a video of the instructor introducing herself in a casual way can all enhance instructor presence. I have noticed great variation in how instructors insert themselves in the online courses I have taken. Some will use regular web conferencing to have an instructor presence. Others send periodic Google chat messages. Most have given specific feedback to me on assignments. I have found instructor presence to be a very important component for my own success in online courses. I have to feel a connection to the instructor. It’s more important than the social presence of my classmates and about equal to cognitive presence.

The other major activity of this module was to describe an online teaching tool to our classmates. I decided to discuss social bookmarking. I use social bookmarking in my own professional development but haven’t used it yet for teaching. I always find it fascinating that the way we use a tool tends to shape our thinking about the tool. We don’t see how it can be used in other ways. I plan to use Diigo with my inpatient team when I take it over next week. I plan to set up a group and send my team web articles that I annotate and highlight. I plan for the learners to add to the annotations which will contain critical reflection questions. I will encourage them to add to the group library as the month goes on. Typically I just hand out printed articles for them to read but this will encourage more reflection and critical analysis than my usual approach. Plus it will teach them about a new tool.

References:
Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online Community of Inquiry Review: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence Issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72.

Picciano, A. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1), 21-40.