This is a guest post by Paul Beaudoin, PhD is Blackboard MVP and Catalyst Award Winner. He is currently a Fulbright Scholar for the Music Department in the Institute of Fine Arts at Tallinn University in Estonia. In addition to teaching classes in music and art, Dr. Beaudoin is an internationally recognized expert in Online Education Specialist. If you would like to learn more about his work, please contact him at email@example.com.
Just yesterday I moved into a new apartment here in Tallinn, Estonia as 2015 Fulbright Scholar for the Institute of Fine Arts at Tallinn University. As I navigated through several shops searching for my essentials, my choreographer/artist friend Kaspar Aus said “I never knew how much you needed to begin in a new country.” That got me to thinking – maybe this is the way some faculty feel when they begin their “adventure” in eLearning. Where does one start? What does one need? There must be so many questions as to seem overwhelming. I thought it might be helpful to start this New Year off with some suggestions in how to inspire faculty to join into the world of eLearning. I’ll break it down into three parts so that you too, don’t begin to feel overwhelmed.
Most of us involved in eLearning are engaged with some kind of Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS is generally much more powerful than just being a digital filing cabinet. Take the time to discover what kinds of tools are available in your LMS and learn how to use them efficiently. In addition to holding digital copies of handouts, etc. the LMS often allows you to e-mail your entire class or individual students. Often you can create discussion areas; allow students to keep journals; or have a group of students create a study page. Interactive and engaged activities will foster a sense of being a part of a learning community. That will have a positive impact on student retention and success rates.
Many LMS platforms allow the instructor to create assessments which can be graded quickly and added to an online grade book. There can be several advantages to an online grade book – like allowing students to view their grades and see which work needs to be completed before the course ends.
When you understand what your LMS can (and can’t do) you will go a long way in developing a successful and engaging course that students (and you) will enjoy.
DISCOVER YOUR OPTIONS
Once you have a command of your LMS and have decided you want to go further, it’s time to discover your options. There are an overwhelming number of options to add eLearning tools and techniques for any class you can imagine. There are free tools for just about every educational scenario you can imagine – from taking live polls and having an instant chat while watching a YouTube video to creating interactive multimedia timelines and creating virtual worlds to practice your foreign language learning. The options, most for free, are an educator’s goldmine.
Before heading out into the sea of opportunity, take some time to think about the activity and its pedagogical intention. How will doing that activity/game/timeline, etc. fit in to your course goals? Once you have a grasp of that then it’s time to head out and find what’s available. If you are at an institution, there is likely someone on campus who can help direct you to possibilities. If not, try typing a few basic terms into Google and see what results you get. You can also visit MERLOT – a valuable peer reviewed web portal that vets many pre-existing web based materials. Go2web20.net is a resource of hundreds of online tools and applications. Each year, a web portal lists the Top 100 Tools for Learning with active links that will help you find the right tool for the right project.
Incorporate student involvement in discovery as well – imagine having a discussion board where students will integrate web links, video clips, or images they create that enrich their collective learning experiences. Have your learners create digital stories, mini-documentaries, or digital newspapers. By fostering cooperation and collaboration with your students, the learning environment is enriched and it will increase the level of engagement (you can expect students trying to outdo each other as a positive outcome of your project!).
Talk to your IT/EdTech/Instructional Designer/Faculty at your institution, in your region, at conferences, or find a web based community for your area of expertise and see what they are doing. There are also some very useful (and free) web based conferences and resources where you can learn from the work of others. One active and useful place to explore for this kind of work can be found at a website tirelessly maintained by Dr. Nellie Deutsch called IT4ALL. Or, if you prefer to peruse a book, you cannot do better than this magnificent (and FREE!) book by Curt Bonk called TEC-VARIETY. These are just a few choice samplings of the seemingly limitless number of possible directions.
TAKE ACTION – LITTLE BY LITTLE
As an adult, I am rather thankful that it takes more than 12 years to become a teenager. That’s a good thing to think about in your new adventure of eLearning. By transforming one or two things each course term, you will discover better, more efficient and engaging ways of teaching your leaners the content they need to learn.
Don’t expect everything to work perfectly the first time around – expect to fail and learn from that. Again, turn to your colleagues, wherever they may be, and share your experiences – both positive and not so positive. Teaching in the world of eLearning is an organic process and it will change as the ever astounding rate of technology changes. Ask your learners what worked and what didn’t and adjust where you can to improve the design of your online course. Challenge yourself to be open to process and transformation as your online teaching experience grows.