1.5 Developing skills and confidence

It is important to note that supporting learners in an online environment 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 an online environment and in a face-to-face environment found that the online teacher should have a greater pastoral focus than that of a face-to-face teacher, and that often both teachers and learners needed guidance and training in communicating online.

Without the ‘comfort’ of a physical classroom environment, learners can feel isolated and unsupported, so an increased pastoral presence by the teacher, initiated via online communications, can help reduce that feeling of isolation and develop a more ‘comfortable’ experience for the learner. 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 online or face-to-face 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.’ (pg. 69)

If you are moving into the online environment with your teaching, you also need to be aware of the complexities that technology may bring. Whilst it is not usually necessary to become a technical expert, familiarity with the common technical issues your learners may face can be a very useful skillset to develop. If, for example, you can advise on the common techniques to resolve audio issues during synchronous online sessions, you can both save time and stress for learners and build their confidence. Your confidence to approach new technologies and to deal with issues that arise in their usage will grow as you gain experience and this makes teaching online a much more pleasurable experience. So set aside some time to play and familiarise yourself with the tools and delivery platforms you expect to use. Also, it is always worth finding out whether there are training or development opportunities focused on the specific online teaching technologies that you expect to use.

Activity 2 Motivating and engaging students online

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes
  1. Watch this video ‘Engaging and motivating students’ or read the transcript of the video which summarises views from a range of experts on student engagement.
  2. As you watch or read, make notes or highlight any useful tips that you would like to incorporate into your own online teaching.
Skip transcript

Transcript

Week 1, Activity 2, Transcript: Engaging and motivating students

Simon Mclntyre:
This episode explores ideas for actively engaging students in online learning. We discuss the importance of creating a collaborative learning environment, the role of the teacher in effectively facilitating student interaction, strategies for motivating students when they're not participating very well with their peers and how to encourage a sustained level of participation in collaborative online activities.
Dr. Richard Mobb:
Education can be very lonely. For a student it's just to receive a whole load of course materials and start wading their way through. It's not very engaging.
Darrall Thompson:
The role of an academic now is really designing learning environments that engage students. If I'm saying that engagement is the Holy Grail I’d better be engaging in ways that they enjoy not that I'm used to.

The Importance of Teacher Presence

Prof Emma Robertson:
I think the notion of teacher presence in an online environment is absolutely critical. I can't underscore that enough.
Prof Matthew Allen:
If you want to be successful at it you you need as a teacher to have students sensing your presence there.
Dr. Gay McDonald:
It was important for me to indicate to students in a variety of different ways that I was engaged and interested in what they were doing.
Prof Emma Robertson:
You have to be there, you have to be paying attention to what they are saying and what I find is if you do that effectively in the first two weeks the rest takes care of itself, you've established the benchmark that you're expecting.
Prof Matthew Allen:
Teacher presence is a very important part of the socialisation of students into online learning and it's not that you are therefore dominating and telling the students what to learn. It's that you're playing that role of the guide on the side the person who's there to help the students along, but not to become the one they rely upon.

Creating a Learning Community

Dr. Richard Mobb:
The best way of learning is to actually form communities to share information.
Lubna Alam:
Now some students are shy, for example, international students non-english speaking background students. they're shy to speak up in face-to-face interactions.
Julie Hughes:
What I found was that students who had quieter voices in the classroom flowered online.
Student:
I'm not going to talk to everyone face-to-face but online were kind of a bit less scared to have our opinions.
Andrea North-Samardzic:
Online learning environments are really democratic. So, I try and embrace that social element as much as possible.
Lubna Alam:
If there are 500 million users in Facebook and there are so many billions of you know YouTube videos and I saw opportunity to be able to use this same set of tools in teaching to make more engaging if you likes for the students.
Andrea North-Samardzic:
By drawing them out using these social networks then I think that that builds not just an online learning environment but an online learning community.
Lubna Alam:
I think it has actually helped them to learn from each other, plus to open up a little bit in this online environment.
Dr Alejandro Armellini:
They feel that they know the people that they’re working with. They know they are no longer isolated learners in the world.
Student:
So if you share you learn more you get different views. So, it is basically global learning.

Strategies for Motivating Students

Andrea North-Samardzic:
He needed to give them enough rope to be able to engage when they wanted, but also ensure as a teacher you are responsible for their learning.
Dr. Gay McDonald:
If I felt for instance that you know some students weren't participating actively what I would do is privately or offline contact them and ask them whether there was anything that I could do to facilitate greater involvement or I'd post general comments to a message board and make positive comments about how things were going.
Chris Mitchell:
In terms of the way that the students perceive that the comments that they make and the the interaction that they're involved with interests other people and I think if you see the value in that continuing conversation then students will keep on engaging.
Student:
When someone responds to what you've just said it makes you feel included and that is what Spurs me on.

Sustaining Participation and Engagement

Chris Mitchell:
I think there are ways of keeping students engaged with online learning. They need to perceive there to be a value and then being online engaging other students and you can create that value in different ways. You can tie it to assessment it's a very simple way of making sure that students perceive a value because they're going to get mark at the end of it it's quite a cynical way potentially, but it is a useful way.
Lubna Alam:
You probably have to have some participation marks involved because otherwise students may not contribute as much as you would like them to.
Chris Mitchell:
One of the really important things about engineering that kind of momentum is about establishing ground rules. I think often with online dialog people aren't sure what the conventions are.
Andrea North-Samardzic:
I set very specific criteria about what I expect, that I expect them to log on and post something for each topic at the bare minimum then I have levels of criteria to show what a past level of engagement would look like a credit distinction and high distinction, for example, to get a high distinction you have to post multiple times, reflect on other students contributions offer up your own suggestions as well as synthesize the whole topic.
Julie Hughes:
What students have said was that they were able to see themselves and others differently.
Prof Emma Robertson:
You never meet these people and yet you feel that you’ve developed almost a friendship with them by the end which is great.
Student:
Normally you only meet once a week, here you can be there every day if you want to, and I do want to.
End transcript
 
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Discussion

Teaching online brings many opportunities to use different tools and techniques with your learners.

This activity should help you to begin thinking, in broad terms at this stage, about what you might like to try. The upcoming activities will look to develop your ideas further and guide you towards means of trying them out in practice. More on that to come!

1.4 Motivation, support and discipline

2 Blended learning