Edward McGee, coordinator of instructional technology and distance learning at Central Virginia Community College, offers the following recommendations for fostering a Learning Paradigm in an online learning environment:
- Know your audience. “Where are they? Are they undergraduates? Are they first-time college students? What is their motivation for taking your course? What can you give that student to improve his or her life? What's going to create a substantive change from the learning in your course? How can students take responsibility for their own learning? What do students have to offer to the course and to each other?”
- Engage students early in the course. “Curtis Bonk says that in a face-to-face class, the last week is the hardest week because that's when your big project is due, that's when the big test is, that's when it's crunch time. In an online class, the first week is the hardest week because that's when students are figuring out what they're doing. They're trying to learn their way through the course. They're trying to identify with the instructor. They may feel alone. They don't see other students. So I think it's important to engage students right away,” McGee says.
- Define communication channels and etiquette. “If you're going to have students working in a cooperative group, it's really important to define the communication channels. You have to let them know how they're expected to communicate with each other,” McGee says. The discussion board is usually the primary venue for asynchronous communication, but depending on the design of the course or a particular assignment, you may have them communicate using other tools such as blogs, wikis, or Google Docs.
Many students are effective online communicators, but the online learning environment has different etiquette rules than those for other online contexts. Make students aware of these differences, and be clear about the etiquette rules for the course. McGee believes that teaching etiquette to students is important whether the course is online, face-to-face, or blended. However, it is particularly important in the asynchronous online learning environment because students do not see each other's faces or hear their tone. “In the face-to-face environment, if you offend somebody, you can see it, and right there on the spot you can correct it or apologize. Online, it can be a day before a person even reads what you wrote and days before the person responds, and he or she may stew over it. It's really important for students to know that they can hurt somebody's feelings even though they can't see each other,” McGee says.
- Be consistent and simple. “It shouldn't be hard for students to communicate with each other. I think there's a misconception about today's students. They're known for having these great technical skills, but they really don't have workplace or study skills. What they have are social skills. They're good at communication, but once you get them into a more professional environment, a lot of times they don't know how to communicate in that manner. They don't know the technology as far as using things such as Google Docs. It's not what they use for fun. Just assuming that young students are going to take to technology like it's second nature is a mistake,” McGee says.