Designing Interaction into Online Learning for Distance Learners

Cover of "Student to Student"

Cover of Student to Student

Online learning programs are growing in demand and choice by students who are independently learning on their own through the vast resources available to them.  Some of these students are distance learners who have little or no actual class time with the teachers.  Motivated students who choose to learn independently need interaction in the course design so that they can understand accomplishments, reflect with other students, interpret the material, and create projects for teachers.  The following are various types of interactions that can be implemented in an on-line course that is primarily consisted of distance learners.

Student Reflection upon Material:  The benefit of writing on-line course materials is that teachers can express their own perspective upon the content and guide students through the skills that they have defined as most important or relevant to course.  Because students need to sense accomplishment after a targeted content goal is reached, courses need to provide reuse and reworking of ideas studied, and courses need self reflection of newly learned goals.  Activities need to be created that reuse the material in creative ways, and stages of growth need to be clearly identified to the user so there is a sense of accomplishment.  This does require a planned chunking of the data so that steps in learning are clearly identified to the user.  Web pages, screen capture software, and video provide great lesson explanation, but the teacher must have moments of sending content to the teacher that expresses an accomplishment of that learning.

Automated Feedback:  In addition to self reflection and teacher generated exercise, courses should take advantage of  automated feedback sites that provide students with graded responses.  Most textbooks today have an accompanying web site for basic skills review, and they generate reports for the teachers.  Reports are based upon participation and success levels, and the reports also help the course creator and teacher understand quickly which concepts are being understood and which concepts need better explanation and/or course design.  These reports while beneficial are only a portion of understanding a student’s progress, and there should be a clear understanding that students are expected to experience failure during those sessions and to obviously learn from that failure.

Student to Student Interaction:  Scaffolding a project so that students can collaboratively create educational goals in a new and creative way is important.  Give students the right background to take your content to the next level though research, design, writing, and presentation.  Students who are learning through design, evaluation, reediting, and presenting are developing skills that are important in a technologically changing world.  Teachers must provide projects that require collaboration with other students outside the classroom, and teachers and course creators need to develop the virtual classroom space so that students sense the social impact of the course too by experiencing other learner presentation and opinion.

Student to Expert:  Experts in the field produce, develop, and create materials that discuss their content for free.  They even respond to motivated learners who are framing their questions and opinions appropriately.  Teachers should never underestimate the good will of experts who will respond to students who go above and beyond in contacting expert professionals.  Students can easily document this interaction and provide samples to teacher of the learning moment.

Student to Teacher:  As course objectives are met in the course students should submit clearly defined learning outcomes to the teacher.  Those can easily be placed as emailed objectives throughout your online course.  In addition to this the teacher should have times when the students can communicate directly with the teacher as a class via on-line learning virtual space and individually through online office hours to ask those real time questions that can’t be properly expressed or lose their meaning in an email.  Milestone type or level type projects that represent a mastering of a skill, concept, genre, and/or other definable learning objective should be clearly made available to the on-line student for proof of accomplishment.  This also provides a sense of learning FLOW that keeps the learner motivated.

These particular thoughts were based upon an online learning program that is truly for distance learners who don’t have access to the live classroom for a blended learning scenario.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I do believe it helps frame the online teacher’s mind in how he/she needs to communicate with his or her learners.  This type of online learning needs to read like a conversation between the teacher and the student, and it needs to engage the student by providing check points for knowledge gained so that the student feels connected to the material.  If you have other ideas that I should place upon this list please comment below.

 

 

 

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Which STEM skills are you teaching?

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was recently reading an article from Elearning (www.2learning.com) where it states that “only 15% of college students (United States) are in Engineering and Science, where many of the high-tech jobs reside. That number compares to 50% in China, 67% in Singapore, and 47% in France.”  I found this alarming as the future economy depends upon technological advancements, inventions, applications, and products.  I also found this relative to a previous article that I wrote about students learning to code software as all of these devices need instructions (software) that tell the device what to do.

In addition, the article stated that “Leland Melvin, head of NASA’s education programs and head of the President’s STEM council, said that there are 1 million jobs that can’t be filled because people lack the requisite skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” It seems logical then to encourage students to study STEM skills at younger ages and to provide them with unique STEM courses to explore the future.  In fact, there might be a need to develop stronger STEM programs in our public schools.  It might even mean a shift in how school programs are offered.

I have seen many independent private schools build new science buildings in the past decade to tackle this need, and I am noticing that the local public high schools in my town are offering a pre-medical type program, an international baccalaureate, and a technology magnet school program for qualified applicants.  While we are moving in the correct direction, it appears that we have a long way to go.

If you have some time, please share what unique STEM skills are being taught at your school.

 

 

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Improving Technology Usage Among Faculty

The title simply states a goal for all administrators and school communities.  As technology improves so do the needs for teachers to teach with those technologies and to provide lessons that allow students to create with those technologies.  Because teachers have little time to be trained, timing is always an issue, and realistic goals should be assigned to allow for these changes.  Also in class sessions, while valuable for teachers, are only successful when “just in time” learning approaches are designed to support the teacher during the school year.

arcsAs we look at the ARCS model of adult learning theory, educational technologists need to keep in mind that most adult learners especially teachers know what they need to learn.  Therefore, making that learning relevant (the R in the model) is extremely important.  One on one sessions with faculty can help them design lessons that use the current technology or that can help the teacher create better learning scenarios with that technology. Teachers also find satisfaction (the S in the model) by getting immediate feedback in a personalized learning environment where they can ask a technology expert for specific skills or creative lesson planning that is unique to his classroom.

Confidence (the C in the model ) is extremely important for an educational technology program as teachers who do not feel confident will simply not use the the tool nor provide the projects for the student.  Educational technologists need to be present for the “just in time” support as teachers do not always know what the technology will bring about in the process of teaching or what students will need during the project.  Open labs with after school support and free period support are great ways to increase confidence among students which then leads to the teachers seeing value in assigning these types of projects again.

Attention (the A in the model) is the hook to get the student and/or teacher to try the technology in their projects.  Teachers know that technology grabs student attention, and they know that the technology can be a valuable tool for knowledge transference.  However, what are we doing to remind them of that?  Best practices must be researched and provided as additional resources for teachers in your school.  They can understand a great project (end result) easily, and they will use or modify the best elements of it in their own lessons.  New approaches and best practices are in constant need of sharing.  A community that shares ideas either within the school or through local conferences with other schools is growing from the reflection of others and the evaluation of how technologies can work in their individual classrooms.  Educational communities are better when they are reflecting the craft, sharing ideas, and improving lessons, and educational technology should simply be an extension of an this type of educational community.

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Scripting

Scripted(100/365)

Scripted(100/365) (Photo credit: kendrickmartin)

The reason that I was “pulling the cart in front of the horse” last week in my post about student media festivals was that I needed to get the word out about these upcoming media festivals with pending deadlines.  (Please refer to last week’s post for more information.)  What I have learned from last week’s post is that many teachers and parents want to know how to design lessons that maximize what their students already know without teaching technology skills in the classroom; consequently,  I am writing this week to offer a few suggestions.

The first is that you need to assign the video project like you would assign a paper, and you must require a written script with specific academic goals in mind.  For example, you could have students interview a famous person from your history curriculum.  You then must have time to review the script to make sure that it has the proper and accurate content prior to the filming.  Scripting is step one, and it is a very important step.  You need to know what they are trying to put into the video so that you can offer suggestions during the design phase.  Students should never start an academic video project without creating a script first because they won’t know what props they need, what content is correct, or where to stage the video.

You should also create a rubric of expectations so that students are clear that the video project must meet a clear set of defined academic goals.  For example, how did the famous person feel about a particular movement or why did that person react to a particular event.  Interviews rarely ask when someone was born or who their mother was.   Students need scaffolding to make the project successful because they are not accustomed to asking interview questions.  Perhaps spend time in the classroom talking about the types of questions that are valid and how does an expert reporter prepare for an interview.  60 minutes is a great resource for good reporters.

The final requirement that I have in my projects is role assignment.  Students should work in groups of two or three.  For example, I had my Spanish students do a cooking show where one student was the show host (writer and host), one student was the chef (writer and cultural expert), and one student was the videographer (writer and digital film editor).  They are all responsible for the content, verification, and research, but there is a need to have specific roles defined to obtain a better projects.  You will also find that there are students who want to be a specific role.  Have them sign up and you make the groups based upon their role choice.  This allows them to take ownership in the project from the beginning.  This also guarantees that the technology experts have a chance to shine with the digital editing.  I clearly define the roles prior to selection and we discuss what those responsibilities will be.

In conclusion, it is extremely important that you get written scripts from your students with camera angles, scene needs, and spoken parts so it is really clear that filming time is only for filming.  Students can accidentally waste a lot of time looking for something or researching when they should have already written a well designed script.  Finally, you should have a time to enjoy the final project where it is presented not only in their class for reflective understanding but also school wide to give them some recognition for their hard work.  Finally, if you think it deserves additional recognition send it to one the media festivals that I discussed last week.

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