Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reflections on Online Learning

The course I am about to complete this week, Instructional Technology, we were required to create and design an online course using a program called Schoology.  The design concept that we learned to use was called "backward design" where basically you "begin with the end in mind".  You start with determining the needs of your student, then focus on the standard or goal you want to achieve.  Next, you state what you want your desired results to be or what enduring understandings you want students to gain, and then you focus on how you will determine that there is evidence of their understanding. Lastly, you begin to develop the learning activities and teaching that will promote student understanding, interest, and excellence.

One of the major benefits that I see in knowing how to design and implement online learning is that “research shows that online learning provides the interactive, collaborative and self-paced learning environments where students can gain the skills needed to succeed.” (Watson, 2007) Online learning offers a new way to reach students who may not be successful in traditional schools or courses. This type of education offers students increased opportunities, flexibility, and convenience. Schools that are in poorer or rural districts often find it difficult to recruit highly qualified teachers and online courses could provide the answers to these challenges. Online courses also allow school districts to offer courses that might not otherwise be available or courses that meet specific needs, such as Advanced Placement, accelerated learning, or homebound students. Providing professional development opportunities through online learning to educators is an effective way to encourage and facilitate self-directed learning, and technology literacy skills that will ultimately impact student learning.

Professionally, I see myself using the course that I designed to assist the students in the retention program where I work. Many of them are economically disadvantaged or are first generation college students. A few are older or non-traditional students who have not had the benefits of using technology. The course I designed is entitled “Building Collaboration Skills using Web 2.0 Tools” and this is a subject that would be very beneficial to college students. They are often faced with challenges in working in groups and using technology to collaborate with their classmates could help them get better grades. Many of our students do not have computers so they need to be able to effectively communicate with their instructors and classmates and store their documents online. Using Web 2.0 tools will also help them practice their reading and writing skills which will enable them to be successful in their academic courses.

I have plans to integrate online learning in my role as an academic advisor. I can envision using it to offer training to students in the areas of financial literacy, career exploration, job search, or study skills. Students need to understand these life skills in order to be successful in college and beyond when they get ready to look for employment or enter the workplace. Students would benefit from having an orientation that outlines the services we provide as they are enrolled into the program. An online course also could be created to offer cross-training of program staff or professional development to other academic advisors. University policies and procedures, FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) training, special populations, as well as advising techniques would be good topics to ensure that staff is knowledgeable when working with students. Having a good understanding of university procedures and the resources available is vitally important to the students who trust us to guide them through their academic career.

I think my biggest question about online learning is how it will change the way education looks in the future. Watson states that one major change will be “Greater use of Internet technology in the classroom, and a blended model of online learning. More teachers will use Internet resources and course management systems for their traditional classroom classes, following the path of post-secondary institutions.” (Watson, 2007) It appears that secondary education will be more like college which could alleviate some of difficulties that many students have in transitioning to college life. Another question I have concerns the potential isolation and lack of socialization of students who are not interacting with peers in a traditional classroom. With the increasing use of technology for communication (email, web conferencing, text, voice, and video chats), students may find there is a lack of extracurricular activities that enrich their experiences beyond the learning that takes place in the classroom.

What I intend to do with this new learning is to use it as another medium to reach and educate the students in our program. Online learning is an exciting tool that can be used to assist in reaching our goals of retaining students until graduation, and helping them achieve success in the workplace. Most of the students in our program have some type of learning barrier and I feel that it is important that we vary our teaching methods to ensure that students experience many opportunities to gain new skills in the way that they learn best. This belief coincides with Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning which states that “people learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone”. (Mayer, 2010) Designing online courses that are intended to meet the needs of students will enable us to help them set achievable goals, to measure their levels of understanding, and to accomplish the overall mission and goal of our program.
Watson, J. (207). A national primer on k-12 online learning. North American Council for Online Learaning. Retrieved May 10th, 2010 from http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/national_report.pdf

Learning Theories Knowledge Base (2010, March). At Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved April 15, 2010 from http://www.learning-theories.com

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