Thursday, August 16, 2012

Distance Edcuation

I have been thinking a lot about distance ed... I want to try to take on a course or two this year, but I want to do it "right." How, I thought... Here are my thoughts.

I think that the most important evaluative tool is peer critiquing. I would suggest that the instructor in question enroll a fellow professional in the course in question to observe the interactions of the class as a whole from within. In this way, the instructor will be able to discuss the feelings of the course, audited by a colleague, from the participant’s perspective.

Another method for possible evaluation of the necessary changes to a course in the distance learning context would be to stay abreast of research and pedagogical theory. In a very real sense, being well read and informed can affect teaching directly.

I think the final way, though not always the most acceptable; way to qualify a change in practice/delivery in online courses is to track data over time. Essentially, a teacher could experiment with possible changes and observe the results as they change. This is probably the most effective, yet most difficult to achieve. Without proven results, it is hard to show a need for a given teaching method or change.
  1. Possible changes include the use of multimedia in presentations given live or in a synchronous distance course. Audio and video are much more engaging than text and voice alone.
  2. The second simple way to enhance these types of lessons could be to podcast or vodcast lectures. In the posting of these series’ the learner will have access to materials any time or place, not to mention the advantage of repeated or personally unique viewing experiences.
  3. A third suggestion would be to focus on the building of community within the distance classroom. Required numbers of postings, to a certain extent, are necessary due in no small part to the busy schedules we all balance daily. In truth though, it is the quality of the posting to blogs and forums that matters, not the quantity. Instructors should be proactive and monitor these postings diligently.
  4. A fourth area of concern and focus in distance education I would recommend special attention be given to is the quality of learner management system (LMS). It is vital that the site and it’s content be accessible and available at all times. Asynchronous, blended, and face-to-face courses with online modules need an LMS that simply will not fail its clients. There is nothing worse than a catastrophic crash on a due date, a reoccurring error at login, or a data loss mystery to lower the morale of a class or destroy a student’s confidence in technology.
  5. A final area of concern I have in the distance education world is that of assessment. I am of the opinion that objectives necessitate assessment and standards should drive our teaching. This is no less true for distance education than traditional education. Perhaps even more so, given the lake of physical contact and conversational and emotional interactions with students normally present in the traditional classroom. Formative assessment must be regular, immediate, responsive, and rich (in media) in the online world. It must also be secure and efficient.

When evaluating teaching methods, strategies, etc, I find it helpful to use rubrics. This takes the emotion out the process and helps us to better qualify our opinions on the idea. It is also helpful to do so as a team. PLCs are the perfect place for this to happen in a school or even in an online community.