522: Shifting Toward Best Practices in Online Learning

June 14, 2011 Justin Miscellaneous

Utah Senate Bill 65 was recently passed, which establishes a statewide online education network, where students can earn credits from different schools. As a result, our attention has shifted toward fully online courses and how we can implement them, and how we can improve our existing hybrid courses.

There are a good number of teachers in Weber School District using Moodle, but we’re struggling with getting teachers over the learning curve. And the problem is the same as one identified by Lane 2009. For our teachers, Moodle is a counterintuitive interface which “stops Web novices in their tracks” (p. 4). “Educational technologists look at a [course management system] and see its many features, but faculty see an inflexible system that cannot be customized” (p. 6). There are probably very few teachers in our district that have taught in a fully online learning environment, let alone do so effectively by adjusting their pedagogy accordingly.

I realize Moodle is frustrating for some of our teachers, but I also realize now that it’s our fault. We handed them a default course template that does not adopt best practices in online learning. Moodle’s topical format isn’t particularly pretty, and I’ve seen some teachers’ online courses that scroll forever downward with a neverending pile of assignments and resources. It is, quite frankly, confusing. As a result, we are redesigning the Moodle course format and implementing our own. The goal is to make an interface that’s more intuitive for novice online/hybrid teachers, makes it easier to navigate for students, and encourages stronger constructivist methodologies in the instructional practices.

What Utah is doing right now with online courses, I imagine one day will happen with professional development, even if not formally mandated. If we can share educational courses for K-12 students statewide, why not the same for teachers? There are many similarities and best practices we can identify in both K-12 and adult online courses, such as a strong focus on collaboration — the lack of a physical social presence necessitates a stronger cyber-social presence. Teachers should encourage discussion among students, and give numerous opportunities for interaction and collaborative learning. And as noted in a study by Arbaugh (2000), students in web-based courses conversed more than the old brick-and-mortar classrooms (as cited in Ternus, Palmer, & Faulk, 2007).

Collaboration was the primary focus in our Moodle class at the BrainBlast conference last summer. Yet as I discovered in my recent evaluation of Moodle, there has been little to no change in how our teachers use Moodle for collaboration. If it’s true that in the hybrid course, we must meet best practices for both online learning and classroom learning, then we need to place more focus on the online learning space in Moodle, and use it as a constructivist learning environment, rather than just a repository for stashing assignments and quizzes (Ternus, Palmer, & Faulk, 2007). Likewise, any future online professional development class we build must follow the same standards of highly constructivist learning if it is to truly succeed.

References

Arbaugh, J. B. (2000). Virtual classroom characteristics and student satisfaction with Internet-based MBA courses. Journal of Management Education, 24(1), 32-54.
Lane, L. M. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems affect teaching. First Monday, 14(10).
Ternus, M. P., Palmer, K. L., & Faulk, D. R. (2007). Benchmarking Quality in Online Teaching and Learning: A Rubric for Course Construction and Evaluation. Journal of Effective Teaching, 7(2), 51-67.

E-learning, edtech522, education, Moodle, professional development,

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