Reflecting on Design for Online and Blended Learning
In Topic 4 in the course ONL191 the task is to reflect on design for on-line and blended learning. According to Vaughan et al. (2013) as well as City University London (2016) it is important to establish social presence, cognitive presence as well as a teaching presence when designing and giving an on-line course. This is often referred to as the ‘Community of Inquire framework’ (figure 1).
Figure 1. Community of Inquiry framework. Illustration by P. Klintenberg, after Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013).
Reflecting on how I provide support, facilitation and scaffolding for students in online courses
Since 2016 much of my time has been devoted to lead the development of new on-line courses in the subject of environmental engineering. This was an initiative that we embarked on in respons to the University’s wish to become more digital. The approach taken was to consult and learn from fellow colleagues at University, with experience from on-line teaching, as well as attend international conferences. At the start of this journey I was fortunate to be able to meet with colleagues at two Australian universities as well as attending the EduTech conference in Sydney, this was very valuable and gave me the foundation to start the work with my first on-line course.
When it comes to providing support and facilitation to students in an on-line course, my experiences have shown that it is important to provide a clear and consistent structure of the entire course, as well as the presentation of contents like instructions, study materials, assignments, discussions and exams. Clarity and consistence are the keywords here. Our approach can be described using social- cognitive- and teacher presence as illustrated in Figure 1 above.
It is essential that the LMS used for on-line courses provides a platform where students can engage and interact in many different ways, e.g. discussion forum, on-line collaboration tools like Zoom, Flipgrid, Coggle and such. However, for this to happen there has to be meaningful and engaging assignments and tasks for the students to work on, as well as clear instructions towards how to carry out the assignments, applying these tools, with clear expectations. The key here is that all students in the course are comfortable and eager to use the collaborative tools for collaborative learning.
Engagement of students is key in the on-line environment. One approach that we applied is to divide the course into thematic and sequential modules, normally between four and seven for a 7,5hp course (given 50% speed over 10 weeks). In this structure the modules follow one after the other. For each module there are clear instructions, study material, assignments, discussion forum as well as an online examination. This gives students guidance as well as keeps them active throughout the course. It also gives the students verification when it comes to their progress in the course. When one module is over, then they are also done with assignments and examination of that part of the course, and can go on to the next module.
Many teachers starting to develop on-line courses put a lot of emphasis on capturing all their lectures on video, i.e. recording an ordinary lecture on film. This is something that we have skipped, as it seems to be of limited importance. Instead we provide several lectures per module in form of downloadable power point presentations. The key is to give the students guidance through these presentations, and that we do by adding questions in the slides, related to the content of a specific slide. We also provide links to additional information in the course book and other resources. To make this ‘guide’ as clear as possible we have developed symbols and colour codes that informs the students that there is a question they should attend to, or a link to additional information where they can find more information. Instead of making a recording of the teacher going through the slides, we provide a short intro-video for each Module, where we introduce the topic, learning objectives, assignments and forms of examination.
Discussions are important in on-line courses as this is one of the few opportunities to engage with fellow students on the course. Discussions on on-line courses can be challenging. The first online course I gave I commented on each and every student contribution. Apart from taking a lot of my time, it also had a negative effect on the discussion itself. The students expected me (the teacher) to provide the comments and did therefore not engage and give comments to fellow students contributions.
In courses that followed I adopted a different strategy, staying out of the discussions, but making sure that I read each and every contribution carefully, and importantly showing that I have taken note of the contribution by ‘liking’ it. In cases when something that requires my involvement comes up in the discussion, then I comment or provide some emphasis to that specific point. This approach has been very successful when it comes to student engagement and commitment to the discussion. As facilitator it is however important to provide some kind of feedback and reflection to the results of the students’ discussions. This is something we are paying attention to right now, and will start to make a short summary of each discussion, highlighting the key aspects of the discussion related to the topic. The idea is to record a short video, where I discuss the outcomes and take home messages with a fellow lecturer on the course, which will be posted on the course LMS.
A related issue is on-line realtime discussions. This is something that we expected to be a major part of our on-line courses. We are using Zoom for on-line meetings, but the attendance of the students on our courses has been rather low. We think there are many reasons for this, e.g. students enrolling in an on-line course expect to do this in their own time, on their own, not expecting any collaborative learning. Another reason is that many of the students are working or taking other courses as well, which makes it difficult to find a time for a meeting that suits all participants.
Possible further development of my on-line courses
To further develop our on-line courses in environmental engineering we are now looking into how to strengthening the collaboration among the students by finding forms of real time collaboration that works for a majority of the students. We are also exploring how to develop the collaborative learning by, e.g. forming groups, apply a more problem based approach, as well as sharing and discussing the findings from each group with all students on the course in some kind of on-line seminars.
According to Vaughan et al. (2013) as well as City University London (2016) it is important to establish social presence, cognitive presence as well as a teaching presence. According to my experiences the following can be done to achieve this:
- Establishing a clear and consistent structure of the entire course, as well as the presentation of contents like instructions, study materials, assignments, discussions and exams. Clarity and consistence are the keywords here.
- Provide several different tools that engage students to collaborate
- Divide the course into thematic and sequential modules. For each module there are clear instructions, study material, assignments, discussion forum as well as an online examination. This gives students guidance as well as keeps them active throughout the course. It also gives students verification of their progress in the course. Our experience is that this approach engage the students, making the courses interesting and leading to better learning outcomes.
- Make yourself visible through films and other media
- Acknowledge each student’s contributions
- Providing timely support and guidance, when asked for
- Addressing the individual student, not only the group in all communications with the student group
- Only guide discussions when there is a real need
City University London. (2016). Online Facilitation Techniques.
Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press. Chapter 1 “The Community of Inquiry Conceptual framework”.