Saturday, May 21, 2011

Setting Up An Online Learning Experience

From time to time, various classes in the course I am taking at Walden University require me to write blog entries as a way to demonstrate my ability to apply what I am learning to a practical issue. In my current class,” Online Instructional Strategies,” I have been asked to write about setting up an learning online environment.

As a student, when I begin a new course, I want to know what I will be learning, the kinds of activities that learning will involve, and the time I can expect to spend on those activities. I enter an online learning environment with questions like “how can I give myself the best advantage to stay ahead of course expectations?” I look for a course calendar, and I copy deadlines to my personal calendar, and set alarms so my cell phone will remind me of deadlines. I also look at specific activities with a focus on which activities demand an online connection, and which of those activities can be done off-line with some preparation. I download PDF files, convert them to Kindle format, and copy them to my Kindle reader. In an online course, fellow learners are a student’s most valuable resource. Taking an active roll in introducing myself to fellow classmates and making myself available to them as a resource is my next priority as I begin a new course.

In my previous post, I talked about online learning communities. Establishing an online learning environment is primarily about establishing a community of learners by acquainting each member with the tools of the online learning environment, and most importantly, by acquainting the members of the learning community with each other.

“The Online Teaching Survival Guide” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) suggests ten tips for setting up a successful online course. The first tip concerns course preparations, beginning with mundane considerations such as knowing who controls course resources and making sure those resources are in place. Beginning with the course syllabus, and following whatever procedural standards are required by the institution, the course designer maps out the evaluation plan and the course schedule, ensuring students will have reasonable time to complete learning activities. (Boettcher & Conrad)

Other tips concern how to make best use of time from the beginning of the course, how to design a syllabus that is appropriate for online learning, with special sections on communicating with fellow students online, understanding and avoiding plagiarism, and what to do when technical problems prevent timely posting of online assignments. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010)

What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?

Most schools offering online courses provide a course management system (CMS) which functions to standardize course structure and to streamline development. However, most CMSs do not provide tools for generating learning activities such as videos, games, or surveys. It is very important that students are familiarized with forum tools, email, and how to submit assignments using a CMS dropbox. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010)

Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?

Especially in an online learning context, it is easy for students to be left with unclear understandings of classroom expectations. Misunderstandings of classroom expectations can happen as a result of not fully understanding the tools of the learning environment. Students who have less experience using email and online forums may need instructions in online etiquette to insure the learning community is supportive. Online tools make it easy to cut-and-paste materials from diverse sources. Students need clear direction regarding plagiarism, both to understand what it is, how to avoid inadvertent plagiarism, and how to make use of self-check tools.    (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010)

What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience?

Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology, to be flashy, or just to prove you can. Select technological tools based on the learning objectives that are to be accomplished. As in most disciplines, the simplest approach that accomplishes the task is usually the best approach. Focus on facilitating each individual’s construction of their own mental model. Focus on facilitating social interaction that will enhance the number of personal connections students make with the instructional content. People learn socially. Use technology to bring people together, and avoid letting technology separate learners. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010)


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). Phase one: Tips for course beginnings. In The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Online Learning Communities

From time to time, various classes in the course I am taking at Walden University require me to write blog entries as a way to demonstrate my ability to apply what I am learning to a practical issue. In my current class,” Online Instructional Strategies,” I have been asked to express my thoughts about the relationship between community building and effective online instruction.
A community is a group of people who come together to pursue a common goal. A community has members who have social relationships with one another. A community may be a neighborhood, a church, or a classroom. Recently the internet has brought about the existence of new kinds of communities that do not necessarily share a common location. Essential elements of a thriving online community are mutual trust and respect based on shared values or at least a shared code of conduct, some degree of personal social interaction, and in my opinion, a willingness to extend oneself to help fellow members of the community in whatever way may be needed. (Palloff & Pratt, 2011)
My daughter, using a cell phone camera, took the photo I have selected to illustrate a community. It was taken on the roof of my house last September. When I discovered I had a leak in my roof, I posted a plea to my friends on Facebook. A contractor who goes to my church replied that he would organize the work if I could find enough volunteers. He also helped me to select the best materials at the best price. A next-door neighbor, the husband of a coworker from my former job, a complete stranger who heard we needed help, and several Facebook friends from my church are among the people pictured. I was grateful and a bit overwhelmed by the reaction to my request for help. Together (my leg is visible in the gap under the arm of the unidentified man in the white sweatshirt) we stripped the shingles off the roof and loaded them onto a trailer to be hauled away, all in a single Friday. The next day, a somewhat different group of men began nailing shingles. With all the volunteer help, the job was finished within 36 hours. 
How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses?
Online learning communities help each other to learn, by interactively sharing experiences, and filling in each other’s experiential “gaps,” enabling each member of the group to construct their own understanding in less time and with less effort than any of them could have learned on their own. Vygotsky (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004) described the difference between what individuals can learn on their own and what individuals can learn with the help of peers the “zone of proximal development.”
What are the essential elements of online community building?
The essential elements of online-learning community-building are the same as those of any community as mentioned above (mutual trust, shared values, social interaction, and helping one another). An online learning community potentially consists of students from many countries with potentially different cultural values, but the common learning goals and the structure of an online learning course provides common rules of conduct and mutual respect. In an online course, helping one another takes the form of discussion of ideas and mutual encouragement. Instructional designers must provide the necessary structure that will encourage students to collaborate, by creating appropriate rules of conduct and learning activities, including well-designed questions that encourage interactive creativity on the part of the community of learners. Such questions should focus not only on the immediate learning objectives, but should also encourage students to consider how they will use what they are learning in the future. (Palloff & Pratt, 2011)
How can online communities be sustained?
Although it may not always seem obvious to students, facilitators of online courses are constantly involved in various activities designed to support the online social learning dynamic. Especially at the beginning of a course, facilitators are continuously measuring levels of participation, and in recognizing when a student suddenly withdraws, possibly signaling a need to slow down and fill in gaps in the individual student’s conceptual background. Facilitators make comments that guide discussions and model profitable online behavior. Facilitators can strengthen the learning community as needed by scheduling live chat or conference calls over telephone or internet phone (Skype). Instructional designers can insure that the structure of a course supports the health of the online community. (Palloff & Pratt, 2011)
What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction?
The online learning community is the primary means of providing effective online instruction. Books and videos can present information, but group interaction builds connections between course content and prior knowledge. Building and maintaining a learning community is more important to an online course than any other activity a facilitator undertakes. (Palloff & Pratt, 2011)

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaged learning in an online environment. 
        In Engaging the online learner: Activties and resources for creative instruction.
        San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Palloff, Rena, and Pratt, Keith. (2011). “Online Learning Communities” [Video file].
        Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Welcome fellow EIDT-6510 students!

This is an introductory (and temporary) blog post for EIDT-6510-2 Online Instructional Strategies.