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1.6 Developing skills and confidence

Supporting learners online requires a different skillset to supporting learners in a face-to-face learning environment. A study by Price et al. (2007) into the differences between learner perceptions of teaching in these environments found that online educators should have a greater pastoral focus than face-to-face educators and that both educators and learners needed guidance and training in communicating online.

Without a physical classroom environment, learners can feel isolated and unsupported. An increased pastoral presence by educators, initiated via online communications, can help reduce those feelings and develop a more comfortable experience. A large-scale follow-up study by one of Price’s co-authors (Richardson, 2009), which looked at the experiences of learners receiving tutorial support on humanities courses, concluded that, with adequate preparation, the online environment need not be a lesser experience for learners in terms of support:

‘Provided that tutors and students receive appropriate training and support, course designers in the humanities can be confident about introducing online forms of tutorial support in campus-based or distance education.’ (p. 69)

An online learning experience may lead to technical problems. While it is not usually necessary to become a technical expert, it is useful to find out how to deal with the common technical issues that learners are likely to face. For example, if learners are given advice about common techniques to resolve audio issues during synchronous online sessions, it can save time, reduce stress and build learner confidence.

Your students’ confidence to approach new technologies and deal with any associated issues will grow as they gain experience, and this will make learning online much more enjoyable for them. When introducing a new tool or technology, set aside time for students to become familiar with it. Introducing playful activities at the start will allow them to experiment in a low-risk way. There may also be training or development opportunities focused on specific learning technologies that can raise the confidence of both educators and students.

Activity 3 Motivating and engaging students online

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the video ‘Engaging and motivating students’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which summarises views from a range of experts on student engagement.

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As you watch, make notes on useful tips that you would like to incorporate into your practice.

If you have tips from your own practice, you could share these with colleagues and ask if they have suggestions of their own.

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This activity should help you to begin thinking, in broad terms, about what you might like to try in terms of motivating and engaging students online.