When taking a traditional face to face course and transitioning it to a distance learning format, there are many aspects in which the designers and the instructors of the course need to remember. What follows are some best practices that should be followed when converting a traditional course to a distance learning format.
When first creating the course online you should think about how the course will be structured. The structure of the course is critical and more importantly the students will need a clear view of this structure to succeed, as Simonson, M., et al. (2012) state “What is essential is that the students understand how the course will function so that they can be better prepared to participate. The more informed the students, the greater the chance for success” (p. 198). A few ways to improve your planning process are:
- Use a design model to help you create the course, I recommend the ADDIE process. Check out what the ADDIE model is by clicking here
- “Learners who are engaged in learning are actively participating in their own understanding of the content.” (Simonson, M., et al., 2012, 201). Make sure to plan active learning opportunities such as discussions, group projects, and hands-on manipulation of learning objects.
- Train the trainers in any software being used, this will help the teacher the course better and be prepared to help students troubleshoot technical problems
- Once the lesson plan for the course is prepared, thoroughly review it with the trainers to ensure they understand what to teach and how to teach it. Also allow the trainers input on ways to teach the content, the trainers need to feel comfortable when teaching and allowing different methods of instruction will work in your favor.
Enhancing your traditional program
One of the best aspects of moving a traditional face to face course into a distance learning format is that you can enhance that course with technology, Simonson, M., et al., (2012) state “if a strategy works in a regular classroom, it probably will work in distance instruction with some adjustment” (p. 203). It is important to understand that just because you can enhance an activity with technology does not mean you should “What is of importance when considering instructional choices is that the methods selected for a distance learning setting match the outcomes defined by the objectives and the assessments to be implemented” (Simonson, M., et al., 2012, p.203). When creating your course do not go overboard with using the newest forms of technology, you want to enhance the learning while still meeting the same objectives and not overload your trainers and students with the task of learning multiple new technologies to help them learn. Here are a few tools to use to enhance your course:
- Google Tools:
- Google Drive™ is a wonderful tool for any distance education. You can use drive to store all your files so that they are easily accessible to your students anytime they have an internet connection.
- Google Hangouts™ is a great communication program that will allow you and your students to communicate synchronously and if possible you could even have video chat.
- Google Docs™ allows your students to work collaboratively on the same document at the same time. This is a great tool for group projects and Problem Based Learning assignments.
- GoToMeeting: This is another great program for online communication. It is a free service that allows for VOIP calls as well as the use of video calling and screen sharing. This is a great program to help trouble shoot possible technical problems students may be having.
- SlideShare: This is a great program to use to host your PowerPoint programs or other graphics you wish to use in your course.
- SurveyMonkey®: This program allows you to create and send survey for free. The surveys are hosted online and you just send an email to the participants with a link. The responses are collected and can be viewed online as well as organized into reports.
Role of the Instructor
The instructor’s role in an online class is different than that of a traditional course. The instructor in an online course must become a facilitator of learning, as Simonson, M., et al. (2012) state “When teaching at a distance, the role of the instructor is often that of facilitator rather than presenter. “ (p. 195). As an instructor in a distance learning course you will no longer be leading the class in the examination of content but instead be helping students master the content with gentle nudges in the right directions and encouragement when they master content. A few tips are:
- Guide students in the beginning of the course, help them to understand the requirements for their participation, how to use the different tools and location of resources in the course.
- Communicate with your students regularly, provide them with knowledge of upcoming assignments and due dates so they can keep track and stay on task. Also make sure to respond quickly to student’s questions and help, it is a good policy to let your students know best format to contact you with and also how long they will need to wait for a response.
- Lastly, provide information about yourself at the beginning. This allows your students to learn that you are more than a robot grading their assignments. If possible record a short video or even an audio clip of you reading you information to let the students place a face and voice with your name. This humanizes you in their eyes and makes the students feel more comfortable in contacting you.
Encouraging Online Communication
One of the final pieces to prepare instructors for converting a traditional course into a distance course is the need for students to actively participate and communicate with each other online. The need for students to communicate is imperative and as Durrington, V., et al (2006) stated; “students demonstrate more positive attitudes and higher levels of performance in online classes when they experience high levels of interaction”. An important aspect of teaching at a distance is making sure your students are actively communicating with each other. Here are a few tips to help encourage communication online:
- “Icebreakers, or sessions in which students get to know each other, serve as a positive experience in developing the community of learners” (Simonson, M., et al., 2012, p.200) Here are a few links to some great sites for creating icebreakers
- “Focus on one point that a student makes and build on it, or offer a contrasting viewpoint. Then challenge students to do further research and share what they find. When instructors respond to students’ postings in these ways, it demonstrates that student comments are valued and encourages them to participate.” (Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J., 2006)
Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.