Monday, September 24, 2018

Some Advice for On-line Educators Part I via @MFPaulsen

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Now that I am heading into my second week as an on-line educator, I am reminded of some great advice from Professor Morten Flate Paulsen given many years ago that still stands today. In his book "Online Education and Learning Management Systems" (published in 2003) - Paulsen tells us: 

What distinguishes online instruction from entertainment
or recreation is the purposefulness of the designers
and developers in provoking certain intelligent
responses to the learning materials, context,
and environment.

I like the choice of words like "purposefulness" and "provoking", and the distinction of on-line learning from "entertainment". In 2003 when these words were written, there was no YouTube or Netflix - online entertainment was in its infancy. Today - it is mainstream, and it is more important than ever to keep this distinction visible to educators and students. I have often heard lecturers say that they are teachers - not entertainers. At the same time I appreciate that (as in my classes) participating in an on-line class for three hours is a long time. I try to be light hearted at times, but there is serious work to be done. I have yet to figure out how to do "purposefulness" and be "provoking" in my on-line class, but it is certainly something I think all on-line educators should take on board. 

Paulsen also recommended:

When developing and delivering instruction,
whether online or not, the use of technology is secondary
to well-designed learning goals and objectives.

The emphasis on the word "secondary" is mine. It's too easy to get carried away with the technology. In last week's class I had three computer screens, plus lots of applications open. I felt like I was in a sound studio. I'm decreasing to two for tonight's class and will see how I get on. I also found my screens very cluttered - too much going on. Adobe Connect is a brilliant tool, but it cannot replace "well-designed learning goals and objectives". I am a firm believer that goals and objectives will be subtly different for an on-line class compared to a classroom. While the overall module Learning Outcomes should be the same, the delivery and content should be developed with the on-line environment in mind. Simply reproducing lectures notes used in the classroom on-line does not work well in my view. How can module material (eg slides) developed for on environment (the classroom) be unchanged for a different environment (on-line)? Many educators believe they are interchangeable and soldier on regardless. The module (Programming for Big Data) that I am teaching is not being delivered by me in a classroom (it is being by others) - so it will be interesting to compare experiences at the end of the semester.

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