What to expect when teaching a DL Course
The main considerations when designing and teaching a DL course are:
- maintaining effective communication with students
- planning for interactivity
- promoting a student centered environment versus a faculty centered environment
- planning for technology
Some of the ways an instructor can accomplish these objectives are by using technology in such a way as to promote interactivity and to facilitate communication with students.
With distance learning courses, the instructor and students are separated by space and time. Because the instructor and students are not physically at the same location, a distance learning course requires different content delivery and course design considerations than are needed for a face-to-face course.
A distance learning student does not have the advantage of communicating and interacting directly with the instructor as he or she can do in a face-to-face environment. Because the majority of face-to-face communication is done non verbally, and because these non verbal communication elements are typically not available via distance learning, it is even more important for the DL instructor to incorporate other methods of communication such as email, voice announcements, voice email, discussion boards (voice and text), live chat, virtual office hours, etc. to engage students and to hold their interest. It is also important to establish and maintain a quick response time to student questions.
The pedagogical challenges of designing and delivering a DL course in such a way as to maintain on-going communication and to promote continuous interactivity is the main challenge facing the DL instructor. In order to successfully meet this challenge, a DL instructor must adequately plan, design and develop the course based on sound pedagogical principles which are consistent with the delivery mode.
Throughout the entire DL course development process, from planning, designing, developing, implementing to evaluating, interactivity is one of the most important considerations for a DL instructor.
If you are converting to a DL course, one of the first steps is to analyze how you are currently interacting with students and decide how that will need to be modified and updated to accommodate the delivery of instruction from a distance.
From the table below, which types of interactions with students and levels of interaction do you currently provide and how will those change when teaching a distance learning course?
___ Faculty to Student
___ Student to Faculty
___ Student to Student
___ Student to Content
___ Level 1 - One Way
___ Level 2 - Two Way asynchronous
___ Level 3 - Two Way synchronous
The DL instructor must decide how to interact and communicate with students in such a way that will engage them in the learning process and encourage them to be proactive with their own education.
How the instructor uses graphics, multimedia, discussion forums, email, audio, video, websites, podcasts, and other methods of interactivity becomes a critical factor in how effective a DL course will be.
An interactivity matrix is available for DL instructors to use as a resource when determining which synchronous and asynchronous interactivity tools to use in various situations.
Some key decisions a DL instructor must make are how to:
- engage students and keep them involved in course activities
- design interactive activities and exercises (faculty to student, student to faculty, student to student and student to content, one and two way synchronous communications and two way asynchronous communications)
- optimize the use of multimedia and technology which support the course’s learning objectives
- provide students with an appropriate level of academic, institutional and academic support
- design interactive assessments that effectively gauge a student's progress
- evaluate, monitor and track student progress from a distance
- implement intervention procedures for students who are falling behind
- create an online environment which fosters mutual trust and respect
One of the biggest challenges a DL instructor can face is how to make the shift from an faculty centered environment (i.e. the instructor primarily directs the learning activities (i.e. lecturing, demonstrating, showing slides, discussing information, etc.), to a learning environment where the student takes more responsibility for their education. Because the instructor and student are not located in the same place, a student must take a more proactive approach to learning the course material.
In order for students to be successful in a DL environment, they must take on additional responsibility than is typically required in a face-to-face course. This has several implications for the design or curriculum, course content, and the level of interactivity required for course activities. Successful DL students are typically more independent, and self directed than students in a face-to-face course.
In addition to the typical course design considerations (i.e. learning objectives, course content, etc.), distance learning instructors must also determine how to best use technology to support course objectives, as well as how to interact and communicate with students from a distance.
One of the primary technological tools which an DL instructor uses to interact and communicate with students is Blackboard.
Once you have planned your communication, interaction and technology strategies, the next step is to develop your course syllabus and course notes.