Online Learning: reflection on an exercise

How better to analyze online learning than to try your hand at designing an online course and taking one yourself? What follows is a reflection on the affordances and constraints of the former.

Initially, I began designing a course intended for college students preparing for a standardized entrance exam. While I felt strongly about the content and the general pedagogical approach, I couldn’t ascertain exactly how teaching the course fully or even partially online added any value to the instruction. So I scrapped the course and began fresh.

What I developed was a wholly new undertaking. I designed a hybrid course of three connected lessons for a professional development. At every turn I wanted to promote social learning. I chose Google Classroom as the platform for the course because of its intuitive, blog-like architecture. The set up easily facilitates exchanging comments on various portions of the course work. The difficulty with Google Classroom, however, is that it is fairly limited in how the designer can connect third-party applications. There are no fancy widgets or plug-ins available. Working within the confines of the LMS I could readily link websites, upload photos (not inline with posts, however), and connect any Google product. After some dedicated internet search, I found a spreadsheet with written equations that connect it to a Twitter account. This was important to the course design because I very much wanted a back channel that participants could use to revisit and extend conversations (Chapman, 2015; EDUCAUSE, 2010).

In presenting course material online, I used a preview-reflect model for each lesson (Goldenberg, 2010). The preview helps to tap existing background knowledge and experiences while the reflection aims to connect the new material with the previous knowledge, in a dialectic fashion. Pedagogically, the affordances of web tools made possible the inclusion of videos (which can introduce a topic in a way that taps prior knowledge as well as establishes baseline knowledge if a participant is unacquainted), interactive games/presentations, and collaborative documents.

Lastly, I found it immensely helpful to design lessons with an explicit alignment table that links learning objectives to assessments. Much can be said for authentic assessment (Lock & Redmond, 2015), but I believe it is paramount for assessments in online/hybrid courses to be very carefully designed. It can be tempting to include a rote assessment at the conclusion of a lesson simply because it provides rudimentary evidence of learning, but a more thoughtful and active learning activity (Chapman, 2015; Li & Protacio, 2010) should comprise assessment.

The result, I believe, is a pretty decent web portion of a hybrid course. Check it out at https://classroom.google.com/c/MjQxOTQwNzAz Class code: 7knwgp

I plan to migrate the course to a more accessible LMS, but that will take a little while.

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