Learner Autonomy in Open and Flexible Learning: the Facilitator’s Role

Dr Abdel Halim Sykes, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University

Learner autonomy appears to be an essential factor of success in open and flexible learning. It is, therefore, necessary for facilitators to understand and promote learner autonomy to empower learners to be active and informed decision makers, who take control of their own learning. Learner autonomy is not a matter for learners alone, but should be of concern to all facilitators who wish to maximise the potential of their learners and themselves. Indeed, learner autonomy should be modelled and supported by facilitators exercising autonomy within their own teaching domains.

Facilitator Autonomy

One of the earliest proponents of learner autonomy, Holec (1981), suggests it involves:

  • determining objectives;
  • defining content;
  • selecting methods;
  • monitoring learning; and
  • evaluating what has been learnt.

On closer inspection, it can be seen that these components of learner autonomy apply equally to facilitators’ roles and responsibilities: and, as such, present a description of facilitator autonomy. The corollary of this is that learner and facilitator autonomy ‘are interrelated and overlapping concepts that involve both parties in critical reflective enquiry’ (Murphy and Hurd, 2011, p.44). In addition to critical reflective enquiry, Little (1991) suggests autonomy also requires ‘the capacity for detachment, decision-making and independent action’ (p.4). The ability to step back and reflect on decisions and actions, to assess them and use the assessment to inform further decisions and actions is essential for developing and maintaining autonomy in both learners and facilitators. Facilitators can best promote autonomy among learners by providing a good model of a reflective and autonomous individual within the learning context. Facilitators who are unwilling or unable to reflect on practice and adapt accordingly (i.e., be autonomous) have no right to expect or demand autonomy from their learners. Therefore, flexibility and adaptability are required from facilitators and learners if autonomy is to be fostered and thrive. Simply, facilitators must be free to make decisions and take actions based on the needs of the learners: just as learners should be free to make decisions and act according to their individual and collaborative learning needs.

However, in the context of open and flexible learning, in which blended methods are used, facilitators used to a more didactic approach may feel their identities disrupted and challenged (White, 2007). Foremost among these challenges is the need for I.T. literacy to deliver learning via a variety of technology-based modes: a literacy in which many learners may be more proficient than their facilitators. This situation places learners in a position of power over their facilitators: thereby creating a ground shift in the traditional balance of power between learners and facilitators. In such cases, facilitators need to establish their own autonomy as learners and users of I.T. often in collaboration with their learners, who are more proficient and experienced users of technology.

In a truly blended and flexible learning environment, autonomous facilitators and autonomous learners negotiate and collaborate throughout the learning process to maximise the potential of both to deliver the specified outcomes. Research (Sinclair et al, 2000; Murphy, 2007; Lamb and Reinders, 2008) shows how the changing role of teachers as facilitators is driven by the increasing need for learner autonomy arising from the blended learning movement. Facilitators need to be autonomous in delivering, monitoring and assessing learners and have the liberty, willingness and ability to intervene or not in the learning process as they see fit. Integral to facilitator autonomy is the ability to stand back and allow learner autonomy to flourish and take precedence over facilitator-led intervention when it is appropriate and efficacious. Essentially, facilitator autonomy complements and promotes learner autonomy. Therefore, in addition to imparting knowledge, facilitating for autonomy is a requisite of blended, open and flexible learning.

Facilitating for Autonomy

Facilitators need to have an understanding of learners’ motivations and goals for learning. This understanding can help facilitators to better address the needs of their learners as the course progresses. First contact with learners should involve an activity, perhaps a survey, in which they are required to share their motivations and goals. ‘As well as helping facilitators add the dimension of relevance to tasks, it also enables them to give guidance on how to make best use of the different elements in a blended context’ (Murphy and Hurd, 2011, p.53). Thus, teaching and learning become appropriate and relevant, and meet the needs of learners.

Effective, independent decision-making is central to the concept of autonomy. Facilitators should guide learners by highlighting options available and the kinds of decisions that need to be made as part of a course or programme. This kind of support provides direction without determining specific choices; specific choices must be made by learners themselves. By making learners aware of a range of options and the consequences of each, facilitators encourage autonomy, and motivate learners to be independent and critical thinkers. Learners need to be aware of potential outcomes of given activities and how these contribute to and enhance their knowledge or abilities so that they can make informed decisions about their own learning. Facilitators should offer guidance on expectations, priorities, time management, and materials, in addition to offering guidance on developing a study plan and learning strategies. It is the facilitator’s role to ensure the relationships between all the components of learning, and the usefulness of tasks and activities, are made explicit to learners so that the decisions they make can carry them farther along on their learning journey.

Facilitating for autonomy means encouraging learners to accept ownership of their learning by taking control through thinking critically and making informed decisions: something many learners may find difficult to do. However, facilitators need to step back and allow learners to develop autonomy. This autonomy can be achieved when facilitators take an approach that involves:

  • adopting the role of guide;
  • relinquishing control over decision-making;
  • accepting learners’ decisions on how they choose to proceed; and
  • assuming a passive role in many activities and tasks.

By taking this approach, facilitators promote autonomy through the active participation of learners in making their own decisions and determining the directions they take based on their individual motivations and goals. Moreover, learners are encouraged to draw on the experience and knowledge they bring to their studies as factors in their learning autonomy.

While facilitating for autonomy means offering learners greater freedom in decision-making, it does not mean learners must be wholly independent. Learners need interaction with facilitators and other learners. The facilitators role is to provide purpose and impetus for interaction among autonomous learners, who learn from their peers and collaborate on given tasks as and when necessary. This interaction provides a source of motivation to learners: providing an opportunity to exchange ideas, knowledge and skills. Essential to this exchange is feedback received from peers and facilitators, which validates the learners’ ideas, knowledge and other contributions. Also, as Ryan and Deci (2000) suggest, feedback sustains motivation through positive self-evaluation, which promotes a greater sense of competence in learners. Therefore, facilitators should support the exchange of feedback, not only from themselves to their learners, but also between learners. Autonomous learners have the confidence to share their ideas and offer feedback to others, while being open to receiving feedback from their peers. Developing feedback networks is an integral part of facilitating for autonomy.

Summary

This brief article has addressed the facilitator’s role in learner autonomy. To promote and sustain learner autonomy, facilitators should:

  • practise autonomy as a facilitator;
  • provide a model for autonomy;
  • be aware of learners’ motivations and goals;
  • outline learning outcomes;
  • provide opportunities for learner decision-making;
  • encourage learner decision-making;
  • help learners with choices over activities and tasks;
  • help learners make decisions on materials, resources and technology;
  • encourage interaction and collaboration between learners; and
  • encourage the exchange of feedback between learners.

With facilitators using their own autonomy and facilitating for autonomy, learners are provided with good role models and the guidance needed for developing a more individualised, autonomous and meaningful journey through their studies.

References

Lamb, T. and Reinders, H. (2008) Learner and Facilitator Autonomy: Concepts, Realities and Responses, Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Little, D. (1991) Learner Autonomy 1: Definitions, Issues and Problems, Dublin: Authentik

Murphy, L. (2007) ‘Supporting learner autonomy: theory and practice in a distance learning context’, in Gardner, D. (ed.), Learner Autonomy 10: Integration and Support, Dublin: Authentik, pp.72-92

Murphy, L. and Hurd, S. (2011) ‘Fostering Learner Autonomy and Motivation in Blended Learning’, in Nicolson, M., Murphy, L. and Southgate, M. (eds) (2011) Language Facilitating in Blended Contexts, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, pp.43-56

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) ‘Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions’, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), pp.54-67

Sinclair, B., McGrath, I. and Lamb, T. (2000) Learner Autonomy, Facilitator Autonomy: Future Directions, Harlow: Longman

White, C. (2007) ‘Innovation and Identity in distance language learning and facilitating’, Innovation in Language Learning and Facilitating, 1(1), pp.97-110

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Posted in November 2013 | Tagged , , ,

Facilitating Collaboration in Open and Flexible Learning

Dr Abdel Halim Sykes, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University

Open and flexible learning is a burgeoning force in education around the world, which is having profound effects on the role and responsibilities of teachers and learners. Teachers are increasingly required to be adaptive in their role and are coming to terms with new demands and responsibilities, the most significant of which is the transition from teacher to facilitator. Learners also are being faced with shifts in what they are expected to do and how they are required to perform learning activities, particularly in the areas of collaboration and problem-based learning. Each of these trends is intertwined and, therefore, affect teacher-learner and learner-learner relationships. This brief article will address some of these issues.

 

From Teacher to Facilitator

In the realm of open and flexible learning, teachers should not be seen as a tutors, instructors or fonts of knowledge on the periphery of learning activities. Instead, they must participate in the learning process by facilitating interaction among learners. This is particularly the case when teaching occurs online. Indeed, Fitzpatrick and Davies (2003) suggest teachers ‘abandon traditional roles and act more as guides and mentors, exploring the new media themselves as learners and thus acting as role models for their learners’ (p.4). This role as teacher-learner and facilitator may be novel and unfamiliar to teachers who have little experience beyond the traditional classroom; and it is a role which many find daunting.

Teacher-facilitators need to be able to ‘identify the significant differences and similarities between face-to-face and online learning and teaching contexts’ and be skilled in identifying  ‘strategies and techniques to facilitate online learning and help students exploit the advantages in relation to both independent and collaborative learning’ (Bennett and Marsh, 2002, p.16). These abilities are just two of a gamut of roles and responsibilities effective facilitators must assume if they are to be successful in inseminating and encouraging meaningful learning experiences. This is particularly true when it comes to facilitating online learning.

According to Goodyear et al. (2001), the roles of the online teacher are:

  • content facilitator
  • process facilitator
  • adviser-counsellor
  • assessor
  • researcher
  • technologist
  • manager-administrator

Integral to the roles listed above is the need to engage learners on a range of levels. Perhaps the most challenging role for facilitators is to build, maintain and sustain learner motivation throughout a course of study. One way to do this is for facilitators to ‘teach creatively and develop a personal (and personable) teaching style in an online medium that has fewer/different modes of communication compared to the more familiar face-to-face setting’ (Lamy and Hampel, 2007, p. 63). Both the quality and frequency of engagement with learners can affect their levels of motivation and sense of security on their learning journey.

Early research in the field by McLoughlin and Oliver (1999) indicates the importance of forging and encouraging bonding between learners in online groups to ‘ensure that learning is meaningful, socially based and supportive of cognitive outcomes’ (p.40). However, this study reveals that although facilitators who took a social approach successfully fostered learner-learner interaction, and those who took a cognitive approach helped improve their learners knowledge, none of the facilitators in the study were able to integrate both approaches (Lamy and Hampel, 2007, p.63). Therefore, it is essential that facilitators who have a tendency towards a social approach be more aware of and adopt cognitive strategies, and vice versa, in order to achieve a balance that is likely to result in cohesive learning groups that meet the demands of their respective courses, and thereby achieve success.

 

Collaborative Learning

One of the key goals of facilitators in open and flexible learning is the promotion of learner autonomy whether in the form of independent or collaborative learning. In most cases, facilitators are the initial points of contact in the formation of groups involved in collaborative learning. However, they must not assume the role of centrality in learner groups: for if collaborative learning is to be meaningful, learners must achieve group goals by working together without the direct involvement of the facilitator. In this way, learners can develop a sense of trust and respect for each other and value the role each plays in the collaborative effort.  Facilitators must resist the urge to intervene or ensconce themselves in the collaborative endeavour to avoid assuming, wittingly or unwittingly, a leading role: resulting in the stifling of learner autonomy.

Panitz (2001) suggests there are three core sets of benefits of collaborative learning: academic, social and psychological.

The academic benefits include:

  • promotion of critical thinking skills;
  • active involvement of students in the learning process;
  • modelling of appropriate problem-solving techniques;
  • motivation of students in specific curriculum; and
  • improvement in results.

The social benefits include:

  • development of a social support system for students;
  • promotion of understanding and accepting diversity among students and teachers;
  • establishment of a positive atmosphere for modelling and practising collaboration; and
  • development of learning communities.

The psychological benefits are:

  • increase in students’ self-esteem;
  • reduction in student anxiety; and
  • development of positive attitudes towards teachers.

Learners need to take ownership of a task, and collaborative activities can help less confident learners take the first steps in developing autonomy. Mangenot and Nissen (2006) state autonomy in collaborative learning is ‘the capacity of a group to manage itself on three levels: a socio-affective level (getting along with others), a sociocognitive level (resolving problems together), and an organizational level (planning, monitoring, and evaluating work)’ (p.604). It is facilitators’ duty to promote and encourage learner autonomy on all three levels without becoming unduly involved themselves. However, based on their research, Mangenot and Nissen (2006) warn that collaborative course design does not necessarily result in successful collaboration. Facilitators need time to monitor groups and support learners in developing the sociocognitive skills required for meaningful collaboration to occur. Moreover, learners need to understand the purpose and role of collaborative activities, especially if they are assessed on individual performance rather than on the outcome of collaboration.

 

Problem-based Learning

An effective way for facilitators to engender and encourage collaboration is by adopting problem-based learning (PBL), which is a method that ‘encourages active construction of knowledge through personal inquiry, the use of problems to form disequilibrium and subsequent accommodating inquiry, as well as social negotiation and work with peers’ (Oliver, 2000, p.6). Through PBL, facilitators can present learners with scenarios and real-world problems to stretch their knowledge and test their application of skills. Online multimodal environments, such as virtual worlds, offer a tremendous resource for facilitators and learners alike for engaging in complex PBL tasks (Lamy and Hampel, 2007, p. 72). Presenting learners with meaningful problem-solving tasks and affording them the autonomy to search and inquire rather than providing formal instruction makes learning interactive and dynamic (Ruschoff and Ritter, 2001). PBL requires learners to reflect, research, analyse and devise solutions: all of which can be monitored by a facilitator from an appropriate distance, who can identify which skills need to be taught and promoted for the learners to complete the task autonomously.

 

Summary

This brief article has touched on the transition of the educator from teacher to facilitator, and briefly noted the implications the latter role has in learner collaboration and problem-based learning. It raised issues that are of concern to both teachers and learners in the context of open and flexible learning.

 

References

Bennett, S. and Marsh, D. (2002) On Being an Online Tutor, Innovations in Education and Teaching International 39(1), 14-20

Fitzpatrick, A. and Davies, G. (eds) (2003) The Impact of Information and Communications technologies on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and on the Role of Teachers of Foreign Languages: A Report Commissioned by the Directorate General of Education and Culture (online publication): http://ec.europe.eu/education/policies/lang/doc/ict.pdf

Goodyear, P., Salmon, G., Spector, M., Steeples, C. and Tickner, S. (2001) Competencies of Online Teaching: A Special Report, Educational Technology Research and Development 49(1), 65-72

Lamy, M-N, and Hampel, R. (2007) Online Communication in Language Learning and Teaching, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Mangenot, F. and Nissen, E. (2006) Collective Activity and Tutor Involvement in E-learning Environments for Language Teachers and Learners, The Calico Journal, 23(3), 601-21

McLoughlin, C. and Oliver, R. (1999) ‘Pedagogic Roles and Dynamics in Telematics Environments’, in M. Selinger and J. Pearson (eds), Telematics in Education: Trends and Issues, Amsterdam: Pergamon, pp.32-50

Oliver, K.M. (2000) Methods for Developing Constructivist Learning on the Web, Educational Technology XL(6), 5-18

Panitz, T. (2001) The Case for Student-Centered Instruction via Collaborative Learning Paradigms (online resource): http://home.cpaecod.net/~tpanitz/tedsarticles/coopbenefits.htm

Ruschoff, B. and Ritter, M. (2001) Technology-enhanced Language Learning: Construction of Knowledge and Template-based Learning in the Foreign Language Classroom, Computer Assisted Language Learning 14(3/4), 219-32

Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , ,

Considering Learner Diversity in Blended Learning Contexts

Dr Abdel Halim Sykes, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University

The purpose of flexible and open learning is to cater to learners from diverse backgrounds with diverse learning needs; and this is especially true for blended learning contexts. For this reason, it is essential for educators to understand and respect learner diversity because it impacts on the roles of the learner and teacher, on how people learn, and on how they interact in teaching sessions and other learning activities. More specifically, in the adult higher education context, learners have particular, yet diverse, needs and expectations and may be willing to assert these and challenge teachers and institutions if they feel their needs and expectations are not being met (Adams and Nicolson, 2011). Indeed, it could be argued that the nature of flexible and open learning not only caters to diversity, but also accentuates and perpetuates it by promoting independent learning. These issues of learner diversity present significant challenges for institutions, course developers and teachers. However, it is, perhaps, the latter who face the greatest challenges in dealing with learner diversity since they are on the front line of the teaching and learning experience.

 

Recognising Learner Diversity

Obvious markers of diversity include race, age, gender and physical appearance, which are easily identified visually. Others markers, such as ethnicity, religion, profession, lifestyle, educational background and some disabilities may be less apparent but are discovered through interaction with learners. However, the least perceptible, but perhaps most important, diversity markers become apparent only when teaching occurs. Learning activities may reveal diversity in ways of interacting with others, opinions and convictions, levels of sensitivity and confidence, and mental and emotional state: all of which can affect the teaching and learning experience. Therefore, teachers should make themselves aware of learner diversity and use this awareness in the planning and execution of teaching sessions and other interactions with learners. Of paramount importance is the need for teachers not to judge learners, but to be open to the diversity of their learners and be flexible in their teaching styles and methods in order to accommodate diversity.

 

Accommodating Learner Diversity

Blended learning is often included in educational programmes as an acknowledgement of and a response to learner diversity. As institutions of adult higher education attract an increasingly diverse range of learners from different backgrounds and with different challenges, flexible and open learning experiences need to promote and facilitate learning for all regardless of their social situation and life commitments. It is, therefore, important to have a positive approach to understanding and accommodating learner diversity; since where ‘such understanding and support are more evident, it is likely that learners will be able to take better control of their learning’ (Adams and Nicolson, 2011, p.30).

 

Learner Diversity and Blended Learning

The ‘blend’ in blended learning is the combination of teaching and learning modes, methods and activities that facilitate flexible learning. The best blends are those synchronous and asynchronous interactions that are most suitable for maximising the full potential of the largest number of learners. In synchronous teaching sessions, teachers and learners have to deal with issues of punctuality and attendance, and levels of attention and participation, for example, which may be affected by the learners’ confidence, life commitments and challenges. These issues need to be addressed by both teachers and learners if negative consequences are to be minimised. On the other hand, asynchronous interactions, such as discussion boards, blogs and wikis, provide an alternative learning environment that offer greater flexibility than face-to-face sessions. In this context, the quality, quantity and frequency of contributions acquires greater significance.  For instance, teachers may have to acknowledge the fact that some learners are fearful of submitting contributions that are accessible to others in the group. This public display of their abilities, including their weaknesses and limitations, can cause anxiety for many learners and can lead to high stress levels resulting in the self-imposed compulsion to over-perform or simply to withdraw participation altogether. However, in both synchronous and asynchronous learning interactions, the personalities and dynamics within the group will need to be addressed by teachers and learners in order to ensure all benefit from the blended learning experience. It is for these reasons that careful consideration should be given to how teaching, learning tasks and feedback are managed in relation to learner diversity.

 

Learner Diversity and Teaching

While teachers can make every effort to be inclusive and address issues of learner diversity in face-to-face, synchronous contexts, learner-centred activities present a shift in the balance of control in that learners often determine the input, direction and dynamics of the learning experience.  Collaboration in pairs and groups is a major component of blended learning in both synchronous and asynchronous settings.  Such collaboration promotes the notion among educators that active participation is a hallmark of learning and achievement with the corollary being that a lack of participation is indicative of learning difficulty and underachievement. However, when it comes to problems with collaboration, two aspects of learner diversity are of concern: peripheral participation (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and marginality (Wenger, 2000). In the former situation, learners are on the periphery of involvement by choice. They may decide to reserve judgement on an issue being raised or perhaps need more time to reflect before making a contribution. Alternatively, other commitments may make greater demands on learners than their studies; and so the choice is made to focus on other priorities. Conversely, in the latter situation, marginality is not the result of choice, but is caused by factors such as a lack of understanding or sufficient skill, problems in attending face-to-face sessions or gaining access to online interaction, or overwhelming learner anxiety. A more sinister reason for marginality might be the dynamics of the group and the behaviour of others within the learning environment. Whatever the reason for non-participation, teachers need to be aware of its causes and address the issue as it presents itself to ensure teaching is not disrupted and reaches all those who wish to learn. Table 1 provides some strategies for approaching this issue.

Table 1: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Learner Diversity and Teaching

   

Strategies

1

Consider how to utilise learner diversity, such as skills, experience and knowledge, within the class.

2

Encourage contributions, such as questions, comments and suggestions, from learners.

3

Monitor the type and appropriateness of contributions from learners.

4

Moderate and manage inappropriate behaviour by learners.

5

Assign pairs and groups for collaborative work based on your knowledge of the diversity of learners in the class.

6

Change pairs and groups for different activities to build on the diversity within the class.

7

Create a level playing field to ensure fairness among learners.

8

Intervene to minimise dominant behaviour by some learners in pairs and groups.

9

Acknowledge the need for peripheral participation by learners.

10

Encourage participation and collaboration to avoid the marginalisation of learners.

 

Learner Diversity and Learning Tasks

In the blended learning context, it is important in both synchronous and asynchronous sessions to offer learners a variety of tasks and alternative options rather than a one-size-fits-all, prescribed approach. Selecting from a variety of tasks affords independence to learners who can decide which tasks to attempt depending on their skills, interests and needs. By catering to diversity in this way, learners have some control over their own studies and can select tasks they feel comfortable approaching. Ideally, learners should be involved in devising learning tasks; however, this involvement is at the discretion of the institution, which may prefer to place design and development in the hands of professional developers without recourse to learners. Nevertheless, at every stage of a learning task (design, preparation, execution and review) it is essential to consider and incorporate learner diversity (Table 2) so as to ensure all learners can be fully engaged and benefit from the experience.

Table 2: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Learner Diversity and Learning Tasks

   

Strategies

1

Involve learners in planning learning activities.

2

Provide clear, simple instructions.

3

Clarify the aims and expected outcomes of tasks.

4

Use tasks that are appropriate for the level and experience of learners.

5

Avoid tasks that might compromise or cause embarrassment for learners.

6

Discuss with learners how they can approach difficult tasks.

7

Analyse tasks for potential problems which may arise for learners.

8

Adapt tasks to ensure they are suitable for particular learners or groups.

9

Avoid coercing learners into participating in tasks when they appear uncomfortable.

10

Advise learners on the types of task most suitable for them to undertake (according to their needs and capabilities).

 

Learner Diversity and Feedback

Effective feedback is important in every teaching and learning context; however, it is essential in blended programmes in which real, face-to-face interaction may be limited or non-existent. In order to compensate for the lack of a personal touch, teachers need to maximise the potential of feedback in blended contexts by addressing the learner’s performance in an individualised manner that is sensitive to the learner’s specific needs and challenges. In this way, the teacher builds a unique relationship with each learner and is less likely to give generalised, stock responses and comments that are too generic to be of use to individual learners. A more personalised approach to providing feedback results in unique, targeted comments and advice tailored to the needs of each learner. However, such feedback can only be provided when the teacher has some knowledge of the learner’s background, strengths and weakness, and other salient information. Where feedback is offered from a distance, via the Internet for example, the opportunity for immediate clarification of comments and a lack of body language and voice input can make the interpretation of comments difficult or confusing for learners. Hence, it is necessary for teachers to provide feedback that is unambiguous, relevant and sensitive to the learner (Table 3).

Table 3: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Learner Diversity and Feedback

   

Strategies

1

Treat each learner as a unique individual deserving of respect.

2

Ensure your feedback can be understood clearly by the learner.

3

Avoid making comments that compare a learner with others.

4

Acknowledge the learner’s effort in completing a task or assignment (even when the execution is not to a high standard).

5

Consider the sensitivity and confidence levels of each learner before you make comments. (Not all learners can accept strong criticism well.)

6

Avoid making comments that might cause embarrassment for learners.

7

Adjust your methods and style of feedback to suit each learner.

8

Consider how the method of feedback can affect your message. (F2F, recorded video, written comments)

9

Advise learners on how they can proceed with their studies (according to their needs and capabilities).

10

Obtain learners’ feedback on the way you present feedback to them.

 

Summary

This brief article has attempted to highlight the need to recognise and accommodate learner diversity in blended contexts. It has shown that while learner diversity presents challenges to   institutions and course developers, teachers, in particular, need to consider how learner diversity affects their practices on blended courses. Teaching methods, learning tasks and the provision of feedback must take account of the needs and expectations of learners in flexible and open learning environments in order to maximise the educational experience for learners and enhance the teaching experience for educators. Strategies for incorporating learner diversity into practice have been presented as a prompt to encourage teachers to consider how learner diversity impacts the learning experience and to promote diversity awareness among teachers. It is essential for teachers to be aware of the background, motivation, knowledge, skills, world view and challenges learners bring to their studies so as to understand how and why learners make particular choices, manage their studies and adopt certain behaviours during their learning journey. This awareness can empower teachers and enhance their ability to provide learners with appropriate lessons, activities and feedback that are tailored to their needs and expectations: making the blend more meaningful and effective.

 

References

Adams, H. and Nicolson, M. (2011) ‘Learner Diversity’, in Nicolson, M., Murphy, L. and Southgate, M. (eds) (2011) Language Teaching in Blended Contexts, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, pp.29-42

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Posted in September 2013 | Tagged , ,

Reflections on Videoconferencing as a Teaching Tool

Contributed by Guan Chong, School of Business, SIM University

In recent years, institutions around the world have observed rapid growth in the use of computer-assisted learning materials, communications technology and enhanced delivery systems (Sun et al., 2008).  In January 2013, School of Business, SIM University, conducted an E-learning Pilot Test to assess the various instructional/delivery methods employed by faculty members within some of its courses. One of the delivery methods under evaluation was videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing is a synchronous audio and video telecommunications technology in which users are able to see and communicate with others from two or more remote locations. It can also support the sharing of files, applications, and electronic workspaces among the users (Gowan & Downs, 1994). Therefore, videoconferencing allows interactive linking of distant instructors and students. This tool may be utilized simply to deliver teaching sessions to a wide audience based on geographically dispersed sites, but it could also facilitate synchronous interaction between instructors and students to enable flexible learning. The number of users allowed in a session depends on the platform used. When delivered effectively, videoconferenced courses can be engaging and enjoyable.

As the instructor of MKT201f Marketing and a participant of ECO203f International Economics in the e-learning pilot test, I would like to share a number of reflections of my experience of using a videoconference platform in the two courses.  These experiences may be of use to those who are already using videoconference platforms for teaching or those who are considering exploring this teaching medium.

From the instructor’s perspective, the decision to adopt videoconferencing in teaching could be influenced by a variety of factors: the number of students enrolled in the course, the physical location of the students, the content of the course, the teaching methods, the availability, willingness and expertise of instructors, and resources such as the technical and administrative support.

Based on the experience from the pilot study, if the course delivery requires frequent instructor-student interaction or interaction among the students, the class size should be limited to less than 20 students per class. This finding is consistent with prior research on videoconferencing, which suggests that users tend to feel more disconnected in videoconferencing as the number of users involved increases (Gowan & Downs, 1994).

When using videoconferencing to deliver a teaching session, instructors and students may feel a lack of control due to the complexity of the delivery platform as well as the lack of direct interaction.  Instructors who use videoconferencing will need some guidance from technical staff to feel comfortable using the hardware. An appropriate teaching style is needed to suit the medium; instructors may need to adjust their teaching style, provide explicit opportunities for discussion, and try to address questions from all students. Lastly, “house rules” governing interaction should be established before a session starts. For example, only one student at a time should be allowed to speak to avoid confusion.

Although videoconference teaching sessions can be stimulating and enjoyable, setting them up may require additional preparation. Running a videoconferenced course successfully involves well trained students and adequate on-site technical support, as well as extensive planning. Reliable equipment, which provides good sound quality and is supported by a fast connection, needs to be available for both the instructor and the students.

From the students’ perspective, preparation before class is essential for learning effectively during the session. Good preparation could enhance the probability that students react positively to videoconferencing.

In sum, videoconferencing can facilitate discussion, collaboration and problem solving for users at remote sites. Because of the possibility for multiple-way interaction, videoconferencing is considered the distance training method closest to classroom instruction by researchers (Moore & Kearsley, 1996).

References

Gowan Jr, J. A., & Downs, J. M. (1994). Video conferencing human-machine interface: A field study. Information & Management27(6), 341-356.

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Sun, P. C., Tsai, R. J., Finger, G., Chen, Y. Y., & Yeh, D. (2008). What drives a successful e-Learning? An empirical investigation of the critical factors influencing learner satisfaction. Computers & Education50(4), 1183-1202.

Posted in Aug 2013 | Tagged , , ,

My Online Instructor Experience: Connecting and Communicating with Students

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, Lecturer, TLC

Recently, I had the opportunity to facilitate an online discussion forum for one of UniSIM’s Core course called “Thinking Critically”. At the end of the course, I invited my students from three seminar groups to provide feedback on the online facilitation. Out of 76 students, 23 responded to the survey. This post is a synthesis of my students’ feedback on selected questions and my reflection on that.

As I started out planning for the discussion forum, the task seemed to be multifold. For instance, I needed to

(1) Connect with the students,

(2) Moderate the discussion, and

(3) Assess their participation

I found it useful to break down the task so that I was clear about what to do and when. The initial stage involved connecting with the students. Since I would not be meeting my students at all, I decided to post an introductory, 10 minute video online and inform students through Blackboard.

In this video, I introduced myself and gave information about the course outline, assignment requirements, and grading criteria.  In addition, I explained my role in the discussion forum, expectations of students, why it is important for students to participate regularly and suggested how students can schedule their time.

I also made use of the General forum to post the video link, write a short introductory note and invite students to do the same. As you might know, we have a General forum and a Topic forum in all our e-courses. Often, students overlook the General forum since it is not graded as the Topic forum.

While preparing, I was not sure if students would find the General forum useful since the graded discussion activity is only for 10 days and students would have to respond to 2 questions within that time – this too in the midst of other commitments they would have.

To my surprise, students did post in the General discussion forum. In their feedback, students responded that they like to know whom they are interacting with- both with the classmates and with the instructor. 

 

2

Students’ response on use of General Forum

Although, the General forum consisted of mostly just a single post from each student, it served as a virtual meeting place to connect with each other. If the question is whether the General forum contributes to learning, the answer is probably “No”. But it does provide the opportunity to create a sense of familiarity (with each other), which in turn allows for a collaborative learning environment.

I regularly communicated with students through various channels such as announcements, responses on discussion threads, and emails. Using multiple channels than just relying on discussion threads helped in reaching out to students. Students’ response also indicated the same.

 

3

Students’ response on the preferred mode of communication

In cases where I needed to communicate with selective student/s, I would email them individually. For instance, one of my students had posted three times, but all of the posts were empty. Checking directly with the student allowed me to find out what was the problem. 

So, the choice of communication depends on your purpose.

As for the clarity of instruction provided in the forum, most were satisfied but there were a few who felt that certain instructions could have been clearer. Unfortunately, these students did not inform me or clarify with me during the discussion period.

 4

Students’ response on clarity of information provided

Since some students may not be forthcoming in seeking clarification, I think that it is essential for us as instructors to be as clear as possible (and use multiple channels) to provide information.

In order to do that, we need to be clear about our role in the first place by checking with our  Associate Faculty (AF) and Heads of Programme (HoP). Also, it will be good for instructors teaching the same course to share information and discuss together from time to time. The course AF and HoP can also hold briefing sessions with the instructors ahead of the class. In addition, they can send relevant information as and when needed, especially if the course has a large cohort.

Setting expectations on the number of posts and the frequency of posts seemed to have worked to some extent. I was glad that at least half the class was regular. However, some students may need to be reminded frequently. Given that time management is one of the biggest challenges for our students, we may need to support them by properly scheduling the tasks.

 1

 Students’ response on frequency of checking online discussion forum

As part of the facilitation, I also found it necessary to bring out the big picture on how students responded as a group. Often times, students are only worried about their own response, and they tend to focus on only the first part of the discussion question. So, we should remind students to look at the discussion in its entirety, cover all aspects of the questions and refer to the rubrics. This can help ensure that the discussion is meaningful in achieving the intended learning outcomes. 

Questioning responses and encouraging students to critique each other or engage in constructive dialogue are ways to stimulate higher order thinking skills.

Since feedback is important for learning, I also made it a point to synthesize the ongoing discussions and post brief summaries to the class on a regular basis. At the end of the discussion activity and after assessing the responses, I provided my key observations and indicated what went well and can be improved.

Overall, it was an enriching experience for me. As an online instructor, I found my role to be that of guide. While the actual discussion was driven by the students, I was there to welcome, orientate them, set out the agenda for the learning journey, help them along the way, highlight their strengths and what to watch out for, encourage them, ensure that they are in the right direction and guide them towards reaching the desired outcome of the activity.  

If you are going to be facilitating (graded or not) online discussions, here is a list of tips that you will find useful. 

(1) Be clear about the purpose of the online discussion forum, learning outcomes, your role as instructor and assessment criteria

(2) Be  prepared (and informed)

(3)  Communicate clearly

        • Using multiple communication channels
        • Setting meaningful expectations 

(4)  Be observant  and seek to understand students

(5)  Encourage participation  and provide students with the criteria they will be assessed by

(6) Manage time efficiently and provide constructive  feedback 

(7) Learn how to leverage technologies for communication, facilitation and moderation 

  Wish you all a productive online discussion in your courses as well. 

 

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It is not how we teach but how students learn that matters

Contributed by Mr. Fong Woon Yim, Associate Faculty (School of Business)

Early Oct 2012, I was invited to a fellow associate’s class to observe how to engage students in group work.

Till then, I had followed the lesson plan religiously i.e. cover the learning objectives, and make sure students go through the activities.

That evening, I observed that the colleague:

–          Interacted well with students

–          Did not hurry to cover the teaching materials given

–          Allowed students time to discuss during activities and respond if they want to

I should say that the class seating arrangement was not the most ideal for student interaction. The seats in the lecture room were arranged in rows and students had to turn around to see their team members and engage in discussions. However, this did not seem to deter students from engaging with one another. Those who participated actively seemed to enjoy the sharing and flow of ideas.

This experience got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that “It is not how you teach that matters but more importantly how students learn”.

In the following semester Jan 2013, I started out with asking my students to suggest ways to make the course meaningful.  To my surprise, students were forthcoming in providing ideas. Some of these were really good. Here is a sample of suggestions.

–          provide an overview of the course

–          activities should be “exam oriented”

–          participation should be by choice and not compelled

–          allow time to get to know each other especially during the first seminar

–          provide snacks for motivation

–          slides should be not be too wordy

–          cover what is relevant (to exams)

–          provide revision class at the end of the six seminars before the exam

–          I should be accessible by SMS as well as by email for questions after class

With this feedback in mind, I went over the teaching materials (especially the slides) and made the following changes.

–          Provided an overview of the course. I drew a concept map of six questions – each question linked to the six seminar topics to be covered. I used this overview to indicate where each seminar was at and guide students in their learning journey

–          Highlighted the key points (in boxes)

–          Added relevant and local examples as illustrations

–          Colour coded the slides. Blue titles are for slides which I will go over. Yellow titles are summaries and orange titles are meant for activities. As a result, students knew when to participate.

–          Conducted the seminars around activities. Focused on a key learning point in each activity

–          Gave a short quiz comprising of 10 questions at the end of each seminar

Other than that, I

–          Responded to students inquiries as soon as possible. I did this within 24 hours. Students could reach me by SMS as well as by email

–          I got the students to sit in their GBA teams and encouraged interaction

In one of the seminars, my Head of Programme joined us midway for class audit. He asked for student feedback and later shared the positive comments with me. Among these, students commented that they liked the class because they felt that

–          I showed care and concern about their learning experience

–          I tried to make sure that students really understood the concepts before moving on

–          They liked the quizzes at the end of the seminar since it gave them a chance to gauge their own understanding

On my part, I felt that

–          Students liked neat slides where key ideas are highlighted in boxes

–          They also liked the idea of a quiz. This helped them to revise, pay attention and prepare for the next lesson

–          Activities that were taken from past year exam questions and modified for discussions helped students know what is expected for the exams

Looking back, what I did obviously required extra effort and time. But it was worth the effort because students appreciated the effort taken to help them learn. This was evident in the end of course student feedback.

At the end of the January 2013 semester in May, my student feedback was more than 4.0 points for each of the three courses that I taught.

One of the three courses was new and had been challenging to start with, especially in terms of teaching materials. But I am glad that my teaching approach has been validated by student feedback. Obviously I am elated with a sense of achievement. Indeed, it is not how you teach but how students learn that matters.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Four tips for teaching blended courses

Contributed by: Ms. Elham Arabi – Learning and Development Specialist, ETP

English: Blended learning methodology graphic

English: Blended learning methodology graphic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blended learning, a student-centered instructional approach which combines face-to-face and online activities, is becoming increasingly popular. A well-designed blended course, grounded in sound pedagogical theories can offer students flexibility and opportunities for independent as well as collaborative learning , leading to improved learning.

Implementing blended learning requires more than a shift in delivery modes. Apart from the technical aspect of managing a Learning Management System (LMS), preparation of engaging learning materials (by developers), and effective instruction (by instructors) play a major role in alleviating students’ concerns and enhancing their learning experience.

Here are four tips for blended course instructors:

1)    Orientate Students – Students used to traditional teaching may find the switch to blended learning overwhelming or challenging if they are not given proper guidance. Hence, it is good to talk to students about blended learning in the first class, even though university may have run student orientation. Students should be assured that this change of instruction is beneficial for them. Online materials support their learning and they can have better access to learning resources, and course materials. In addition, they can interact more with their instructors and fellow students. Students can also develop skills in time management, critical thinking, and problem solving.

2)    Create Scaffolding Strategies – It is an erroneous assumption that seminars, online materials, and assignments on their own are sufficient for students to master new or abstract content, and achieve the course learning outcomes. It is important that instructors provide a supportive environment for students. Instructors can utilize different strategies to scaffold student learning.

Here are some examples of scaffolding strategies:

  • Provide a pathway or route for your students, which outline the course structure and progression of activities. Creating mind maps based on the concepts covered in online materials and using it in class to refresh their memories before starting off with activities is one method.
  • Share rubrics or marking schemes right from the start to help students assess their own progress.
  • Use more case studies, examples/samples, and stories to bridge students’ prior knowledge to a new concept.
  • Engage students in more cooperative or group activities.
  • Provide procedural guidelines for their assignments, so they can use as a guide when working independently. Procedural guidelines are concrete references students can use to complete new and complex assignments (Johnston & Cooper, 1997)
  •   Point your students to worthy sources, and
  •   Improve metacognitive development by getting your students to evaluate their own learning. They can write learning logs and post them in the discussion board or blogs.

3)    Align Your Classroom Sessions with Online Lessons – It is of utmost importance what you teach in class is directly in relevance to what is presented online. For instance, provision of online materials and resources before lesson helps to tap into students’ prior knowledge. When in class, getting your students to share their ideas about the concepts covered online would be more engaging than repeating the material. You can also refer to reflection questions in the online materials. Showing more examples or samples for complex concepts, clarifying what they might not have learned well, and giving quizzes or activities to ensure their understanding of the concepts are some other strategies. Lastly, end your class with revision of interrelated concepts in online and face-to-face sessions.

4)    Encourage Multiple Forms of Communication – One of the factors leading to students’ anxiety in blended courses is reduced face-to-face interaction. Students assume that this means less interaction with their instructor. However, this belief is unfounded. In fact, students are likely to have more interaction with their instructors or classmates as they can choose environment they are more comfortable in. They can interact both in class and online through discussion boards, or emails. Do make your expectations and suggestions on multimodal communication clear to students right from the start.

Overall, it is important to plan the blend in blended learning and carry out appropriate learning activities that allow for meaningful integration of online and face-to face learning.

Reference: Johnston, S. & Cooper, J. (1997). Supporting Student Success Through Scaffolding, Vol. 9, No. 3. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Posted in April 2013 | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Four tips for effective and engaging on-camera presentations

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, Lecturer, TLC

(The content for this post is from a workshop run by Ms. Maura Fogarty, Fogarty Communications)

Blog 3

Recently, TLC organized a workshop on “Delivering effective and engaging on-camera presentations” (on 23 March 2013). This workshop was conducted by Ms. Maura Fogarty from Fogarty communications. Maura has extensive experience in presenting on-camera.

This post summarizes the content shared during the workshop to benefit those who were not able to attend. Please note that a video presentation of this workshop will be made available in TLC’s repository (in TLC’s website) in time to come.

This workshop was well-received, given that many of our UniSIM courses are being converted to online courses.

At the start of the workshop, attendees were asked to share some of the common challenges in preparing on-camera presentations. Challenges mentioned are:

1)   Not being natural

2)   Being conscious/nervous

3)   No immediate feedback from audience

Maura’s tips on delivering effective and engaging on-camera presentations address these challenges. Her tips are to:

1)    Start with 5 minute video scripts

2)    Prepare props and slides

3)    Rehearse

4)    Perform in front of camera

Let us consider each of these points.

Start with 5 minute video scripts

When preparing for video lectures, course developers often start out with PowerPoint slides. What happens is that course developers tend to end up reading the slides than elaborating. To circumvent this, some may write scripts of all that they are planning to say.

Although scripts are useful in planning, they are too long. This means that course developers may end up making more mistakes while recording and this requires them to repeat recording. So a suggestion is to distil the key ideas into bullet points.

One way to derive bullet points from a script is by keeping the keywords, discarding the connecting words. The purpose of the bullet points is to remind us of the points we intend to make.

In writing the scripts and then the bullet points, course developers need to remember that it is important to capture audience’s attention. Since audience’s attention span can be short, we need to keep the videos to the point.

An approximate suggested timing is 5 minutes per video. It is up to the course developers to decide if a video is going to represent a single chapter or multiple chapters depending on their needs.

The video lecture is meant to guide students than to provide students with all the information. Therefore, course developers should keep to specifying important concepts rather than giving a whole lecture. They can then direct students to readings and references for self-paced work.

To engage students, course developers can use techniques such as storytelling and questioning and introduce the content. Keeping the presentation conversational would also engage students.

The overall strategy in a presentation is: 1) to say what you are going to say, 2) say, and 3) summarize what you just said.

Prepare props and slides

Props and slides are the additional materials used in preparing the video lectures. Since we are more receptive to visual cues than auditory signals, it is important that the props and slides are not distracting. Some suggestions are to: 1) keep the slides simple – not cluttered. 2) Use the 1-7-7 rule: Each slide to discuss 1 idea, in 7 lines using ~ 7 words per line, 3) Make use of more pictures, and fewer words, and 4) when using clustered pictures, point out the key points.

Rehearse

It is good to practice in front of a mirror or someone prior to recording. Rehearsing will help us to become more fluent and give us more confidence. This way, the time needed for video recording will also be shortened.

Perform in front of camera

On camera presentation requires an element of performance. Since there is no face-to-face contact with students, course developers need to put in extra effort in their video recording.

Being energetic can engage students. To make the presentation lively, course developers can use exaggerated gestures (a bit more than usual) and tonal variations.

Course developers should remember that a video is only 2-dimensional. Hence to compensate for this limitation, they need to dress up for the video. Suggestions are to avoid white and printed patterns such as stripes and instead keep to solid pastel colours. It is also advisable to wear light makeup. Accessories such as dangling earrings and bangles should be avoided as they can be distracting.

We can relax ourselves before the recording by starting with breathing exercises as well as voice exercises. Saying vowels such as A, E, I, O, U expressively is a form of voice exercise.

When setting up the camera, we need to ensure that the camera is in level with our eyes so that it appears as though we are looking at our students directly and having a one-to-one conversation. It is alright to look at notes once in a while to break the eye-contact.

Overall, presenting on-camera requires preparation, not just in terms of content, but also us. We need to be ready for the recording as we are play an active role. In addition, we have to ensure that materials needed such as slides are also well-prepared. Preparation and practice will help us present with more confidence and engage the audience.

 

Posted in March 2013 | Tagged , , , ,

Five ways to engage students in online discussion

Contributed by Ms. Elham Arabi, Learning Development Specialist, ETP

The success of an e-course depends greatly on how actively engaged students are with their instructors, classmates, the content, and course management tools. Discussion boards are one of those tools that provide opportunities for interaction in online courses.

If you are an online instructor and have to moderate online discussions, you will be concerned about how to engage your students in the online discussion. You must have thought how to make them not only participate in discussions, but also have profound posts, which demonstrate their higher order thinking.

Here are some methods you can use in engaging your students in online discussions:

1-     Establish a set of guidelines – Share with your students the rationale and importance of using discussion boards. They need to know that discussion boards play a role to optimize interaction and maximize their performance in achieving the instructional goals. Adult learners should have a clear understanding of why they have to do certain activities. In addition, provide concise guidelines of the rules of engagement and your expectations. When students have clear guidelines, they will be more aware of expectations about when to post and how much they should support their opinions with reference to research, or other course materials. An additional benefit of having students follow clear expectations is that it can help them focus on specific goals and often produce more organized and high quality posts. Also sharing rubrics with your students can guide them in their performance, while giving them more sense of responsibility. It can also encourage them to become more self-reflective.

2-     Use good prompting and guiding questions – Open-ended questions that promote students’ learning and foster their critical thinking have been found an effective factor in achieving the desired learning outcomes. Students will feel more encouraged to participate in an online discussion if they are clear about questions and help them expand their ideas. Simply asking your students to agree or disagree is insufficient without getting them to explain the rationale. Ask questions which optimize deeper and more reflective responses. Having the expected learning outcomes in mind, you can decide on the Bloom’s level you want your students to achieve. You can ask questions which are querying students’ comprehension, applying knowledge, analyzing or synthesizing information, and in the highest order evaluating and making judgments.

3-     Offer reality-based approach – By stressing connections between what students learn from the discussion, which could have been linked to the covered content, and its use in the real world, you will encourage their participation and their critical thinking. Also, it reinforces the importance of student contribution and requires active participation to internalize the content. Offering an opportunity for students to synthesize, integrate, and apply what has been discussed is another option to make discussion a central ingredient of the course.

4-     Use media other than text – In online discussions, where text is the primary mode of communication, media can make your content come alive. Discussion threads with media, such as pictures, charts, audio, and video, are much more engaging and visually pleasing. For instance, you can use a video and ask your students to comment on certain sections of it, or analyze it related to what they have learned based on the expected learning outcomes.

5-     Create a supportive environment – Make students feel safe in participating. Setting an open, honest and respectful environment can encourage students to share their ideas in online discussions. To foster a supportive environment, you can launch the discussion with an individual introduction posting so that students better get to know each other even if you meet in class. You can start from yourself by sharing more about you, such as your interests, family, or a photo. Furthermore, as typed messages can be misinterpreted, do not make your students feel uncomfortable if such cases happen. Last but not least, encourage your students to use the General Forum to ask help from each other if they have difficulty using discussion board on Blackboard.

If you have other methods which have worked best to engage your students in online discussions, please do not hesitate to share with us.

Posted in February 2013 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

To be or not to be: Learner centered?

The increasing number of online courses offered by universities across the globe is setting the pace for the others to adopt (or be left out).

According to a recent publication by Babson Research Group, 70% of universities in the United States indicate that online learning is critical to their long term strategy.

This publication is downloadable in the hyperlink here: Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.

What online teaching means or looks like probably depends on the context.

An emerging formula with online courses like Coursera can be summed up as the following:

Online teaching =  Video lectures+

                                 Online learning materials +

                                 Online discussion board +

                                 Online quizzes/Assessments +

                                Email announcements/Administration

Although Coursera clearly states that their pedagogical underpinning is mastery  learning, it is sometimes perceived to be learner-centric.

The rationale given is that (1) the videos allow for self-directed or independent or differentiated learning and (2) online discussions allow for critical & reflective thinking and collaborative learning.

But is it really learner-centric?

The lecturer is still the one delivering the information through the videos. What has changed is the mode of delivery. Instead of face-to-face delivery, this has become video-recorded. And the video recording affords itself for pausing, stopping, fast forwarding and reviewing. But other than this flexibility, the delivery is still unidirectional: from teacher to learner.

The counter argument to this is often that the online discussions are learner-centered because it is learner-led.

The extent to which online discussions are learner-centered depends on how online discussions are facilitated. The mere inclusion of online discussions is not going to mean that it is automatically learner-centric. Likewise, simply posting the discussion question with minimal facilitation is not learner-centric. The instructor still needs to play an important role as a facilitator in managing the discussion, providing feedback and summarizing the key points. Having said that, it must be acknowledged that facilitating online discussions can be challenging.

The success of the online discussion is not just dependent on the facilitator (facilitation skills) and the learners (active participation) but also the administration of online discussion. This refers to the questions posed, assessment of the discussion, the requirements of the discussion, and the structure of the discussion. Technical aspects would play a part too.

There are advantages to both learner-centric and teacher-centric  approaches to online teaching (just as there are disadvantages to each of them). So, should we embrace the teacher-centric or learner-centric teaching model for online teaching?

Often we think that the choices in life are dualistic in nature. To be or not to be, Black or White, Left or Right, Yes or No, On or Off, Zero or One, All or None, Heads or Tails, Teacher-centered or Learner-centered. But there could be a third alternative way (or even more ways).

While video lectures may be considered as teacher-centric, they are well suited to deliver information ahead of the lessons. However, we could use engaging, face-to-face or online, learner-centric activities to promote active learning that is meaningful to students. Thus, a possible alternative approach could be learning-centered teaching,  that is, a blend of teacher and student-centric teaching, aligned with the university’s vision and mission, to equip learners for a better future.

In my view, the choice in not one way or the other. But it is to choose either of the two,  depending on how well the method fits with the teaching and learning activities. The bottom line is that we are able to harness the potential of technology in delivering engaging, meaningful, relevant and flexible learning experience to our students. In addition to choosing appropriately, it is important to implement the chosen method effectively.

What do you think?

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, Lecturer, TLC

 

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