Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Learning Online = Comfort, Teaching Online = Access

Do you know what you would say about online learning?!

           I've just wrapped up a graduate level course about online teaching and learning! When I first began the course, I associated learning online with comfort. I enjoy being able to learn at home and wearing comfy clothes while pursuing my MA degree. There's also something to be said for not having to trudge onto a windy, freezing college campus after working a full day as a preschool teacher in Iowa! I would not change this original word association. As our instructor, Lois Lindell, stated several times, "good teaching is good teaching". As long as instructors follow great teaching practices, learning in a comfy setting can be relaxing and purposeful at the same time. 

          I'm a advocate of not only digital literacy for all learners, but also of digital equity. I equated online teaching with access. If information and content is open-source and out there for any learner to access, we've taken one step closer to furthering digital equity. While access does not always give way to true equity, access can lead to more learners acquiring information. After going through this course and learning more about best practices of online teaching and learning, I'd change that association to engagement. In the physical classroom setting, you can easily see if students are engaged or not with a simple scan of the room. As an online teacher, you have to take further purposeful steps to ensure online learners are engaged.

          When I began this course, my goal was to learn how to encourage others in integrating instructional technology with integrity and purpose. As a student in this course, I was able to work through a well thought-out system with detailed modules. I appreciated observing an excellent model of how modules can be laid out clearly with accompanying learner objectives. Additionally, I co-created an online experience for adult learners instructing them on how to use a book creation application. For my individual project, I designed an online learning experience for early childhood educators new to Cubetto robots. Both of these projects will lead other educators to implementing more technology in their classrooms. I feel like these projects and working through a well-designed module system have helped me meet my goal in encouraging others to integrate technology. 

         One of our textbooks for this course was Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching, by Kerry Rice. In chapter two, Rice focuses on the "key principles of effective online instruction". As we went through this chapter, I started to feel more open with the concept as seeing myself as an online teacher in some shape or form. This chapter shifted my perspective from a future career point of view. I connected the most with the "learner-centered psychological principles" where Rice cited a collection of statements about "teaching practices in the online environment". This list can be found on pages 26 and 27. I haven't always seen teaching online as learner-centered and reading through these practices helped me see how online teaching can be just as engaging as a physical classroom environment, if not more so.  

       Our second textbook was Continuing to Engage the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad & J. Ana Donaldson. As you may have guessed, this easy to read book focused on engagement strategies in an online setting. Through the readings of this book, I found the "Phases of Engagement model" to be helpful when thinking through how to make an online course engaging beyond the level of observation/inactive participation. This textbook especially helped me consider how I would begin an online course. In the initial engagement phase, "the key is to create a nurturing and safe environment for the student where her or his input is encouraged and valued" (17). This phase is very similar to how a physical beginning of the year classroom would begin. However, in the online setting, instructors need to be very purposeful during this initial phase as it sets the tone for the rest of the online course. It's a bit easier to get to know students in person. Getting to know students online takes more intentionality and effort on the part of the instructor. 

           My most memorable portion of the course were the projects we created over the course. Our projects gave us the most bang for our buck. I enjoy creating something with others or individually knowing I can use what we've created right away in our professional settings. I don't mind the module discussions we did as a part of this course, but they aren't what I valued the most.

           At first, I didn't really picture myself as someone teaching online. As we moved through the course, I realized being a teacher leader can also result in developing online content or modules. This perspective has changed how I see myself as a teacher leader. In the future, I want to keep in mind best practices of online teaching and learning, especially as I continue to move through this MA program. 

           This course helped me see the career possibilities out there for me as I work through this graduate program. I will benefit greatly from this wider view as I consider next steps and future opportunities!

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