As always, the readings this week are intriguing and very informative. They broadened my understanding of the importance of student engagement or interaction, and gave a lot of insights as to how to engage learners from diverse backgrounds with differences in learning styles and abilities. Listed below are some of the things learnt from the topic this week. In order to promote online learning,
· Interaction is the key to promote online learning or quality in the learning
· Quality interaction can be achieved by the inclusion of a variety of activities, therefore care must be taken into account in the designing of activities to ensure that activities:
o cater for the different learning backgrounds and styles of online learners
o feature high order thinking skills tasks mostly
o are authentic
o interesting enough to motivate learners to participate
o are easy to comprehend and simple to follow and do
· Instructors’ presence or feedback is vital
· Interaction among student is also a vital element of online learning outcomes.
· Instructor plays an essential role in making interaction a viable means of promoting learning through the technology
From experience, none of the above happened in my course (EL001) although I knew that interaction plays an important part; two reasons for this. First, my understanding of online learning, let alone online interaction, was very limited and I did not know how to get my learners interact with me or with each other or with the content. I admit there was no interaction at all happening because there was no meaningful inferences resulted from the few contributions that were made. Participation from students centered mostly on questions like ‘when is the assignment due?’, or ‘can I submit my activity via email instead of Moodle?’ I tried formulating thought provoking questions and posted it in the forum thinking that it would make a change in students’ interaction, but it did not. I just couldn’t get anything out of my students, and I think the problem ties closely with the willingness of the learner to participate. I felt that students were just not interested in the course and would not bother. This is something that we as instructors/facilitators have to think about because no matter how interesting or good your activities might be, but if students were not willing to participate they will not.
Secondly, when I was given the coordinatorship of EL001, I had no idea what to do regarding online education, so I basically followed what my predecessor did. The course materials she used became my course guides also, all of which were used for the online learners of EL001. I had no training as to usefulness of online interaction or in what to do to bring about positive outcomes in student interactions. I guess the university expected me to do my research and find out things on my own, but nothing of this sort happened because I didn’t think there would resources about online education available. I was too naïve to think that.
Now, with all the readings given, not only in this week, but since the beginning of this course, I am beginning to perceive wonderful things about online education and how the technology can actually be utilised to promote learning. The readings also deepened my understanding of how an online course can be designed and used to the advantage of the learners. I can now say with confidence that I can devise my EL001 course taken into account the many ideas learnt so far not only to better engage my learners and also to promote learning.
While I am overwhelmed by the readings and the knowledge gained, I cannot stop thinking about some of the challenges underpinning some of the great ideas regarding online interaction.
Online learning is good for independent learners; those who can take control of their learning, for example, can work on their own to meet deadlines; they can work with less supervision and are no doubt capable learners. On the contrary, dependent learners are going to find online learning challenging if there was not much support and encouragement from the instructor. These learners will always rely on the facilitator for guidance and support thus if the facilitator slackens in fostering and maintaining this connection, these learners will either fall behind and/or opt out of the course. I think dependent learners will be our challenge as facilitators for we have to keep them in mind in the designing stage of the course and the activities. Catering for dependent learners will be challenging given that these learners went through an education system where they are ‘spoon-fed’ and dependency on the teacher is high. This type of system breeds passive learners who in their tertiary education are required all of a sudden to be active and independent learners.
I think this contributes largely to online learners’ willingness to participate successfully; the fact that they were not taught nor encouraged to be independent nor active learners is a major barrier in their online education. This is very true of Pacific Island learners, and it is something that facilitators or instructors need to think about and undoubtedly this calls for or more research on this area.
Additionally is the English language proficiency issue. If you had students in virtual classroom who could not communicate in good correct English, what do we facilitators do? I believe that this is a road-block to students participation and success in learning; are we going to offer assistance in this regard, and if so, what and how?
All in all, I think, for online learning to successful, a close connection needs to be established and maintained through out the course as ways of monitoring and supporting learners along the way. It is the instructor’s job to ensure that this happens.