Monday, May 3, 2010

Creating Engaging Online Courses

Peggy Lawson is an instructional technology consultant from South East Cornerstone School Division. She shared her own reflextions in the area of developing online courses that are robust and provide a compelling reason to be engaged in their learning.

What does it mean to be in an online class? It started out as being mostly text-based. Basically, it was the old correspondance material posted to the internet. Peggy then posed the question, "What is Engaging?". Her philosophy on engagement is extremely close to the conversations that have been occuring in Saskatoon Public Schools. She links engagement closely with authentic learning.

Peggy lists a variety of challenges when creating an online course that is engaging. In comparison to post-secondary education, where there are teams of developers, in the K-12 system, the teacher is the developer. It is important to start with small steps then build onto the online course each time the teacher delivers the material.

Best practices to keep in mind include keeping in mind different learning styles and providing materials in a variety of ways. Peggy feels providing online office hours is an important support. Some suggestions are Skype conference calls, systems such as Adobe Connect, or even text messaging. It does, however, have to be manageable for the teacher.

Feedback is crutical for the online learner. This feedback may be written, through a video, or may take the form of an audio file. Marking up student work on a PDF or using the comment features of Word are options for written feedback. This session reminded me of Rolph Polan's presentation on using Acrobat to provide audio feedback to students (featured earlier on this blog). Jing is a free resource that can be used for video feedback. For audio feedback, Audacity is an excellent, free resource. Even a checklist, letting the student know that their assignments have been received is a great satisfier and lowers potential frustration levels associated with online courses.

Content delivery methods depend on whether a synchronous or asynchronous format will be used. In general, students prefer interactive activities as well as virtual tours.

Peggy shared a variety of uses of technology in transformative ways, leading to engaging environments. Complex examples included use of Adobe Connect but she also showed Powerpoint being used in transformative ways.
It was interesting how many of her discussion points paralleled Dan Shareski's presentation on the 10 Worst Practices in Educational Technology. Shareski's ten points were discussion points that existed within Peggy's presentation, when planning an engaging online course. An example is "gated" vs "open" environments and the pros & cons of each.

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