Online learning in 60 seconds…

Tick tick tick…

The clock is ticking and I’m meant to be logging in to my universities Moodle platform to find out what tasks I have due and what readings I should have done. Oh dear. Why is it that suddenly the little bookmark icons in my browser toolbar are suddenly screaming at me… have you checked Facebook today? What about the news? Maybe there is something happening in the Twitterverse?

This is the challenge with online learning, there are just so many distractions at our fingertips (mouse-clicks).  It’s like reading an old choose-your-own-adventure-novel where you go off on all the tangents and choices you wouldn’t normally make just to see what happens knowing full well that you can come back and chose the correct path because it will “still be there”.  My Moodle room is not going anywhere, the content will still be there but what we always under estimate is the time impact of these decisions.


This week in our class we looked at the Principles of Online Instruction and worked collaboratively with our classmates to peer review each others lists so we could review them before submission.  I participated in the discussion forums and funnily enough felt more motivated to contribute and reflect on others work when I discovered that building an online community of learners in a course is one of the most critical attributes to successful online learning. Whilst our class group came up with many criteria there were of course plenty of overlaps, here was my revised list.

But don’t just take my word, whilst limited studies have been done, this meta-analysis by Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., and Jones, J. Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Technical report, Center for Technology in Learning. Retrieved from surmised:

  • Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
  • Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.
  • Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.
  • Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.

So what does this mean for my classroom? Below is an excerpt from a discussion forum post I made during this course around using web-based collaborative tools in the virtual classroom.

Currently in Australia the online education space is really only in the hands of Distance Ed organisations and the Tertiary / University arena.  It really hasn’t made a splash at the Senior / High School level and that is why I’m doing my Masters! I’d love to be among the first to develop and teach some of the first online high school Math classes here in Australia.  I’d even love it more if our school could become reknown for having some of the best online Ed programs in the country.  Fingers crossed.

So do I see value in Web-based collaborative tools?

Absolutely 100%, especially with Online classes but I do agree with so many of my peers above that the scaffolding and boundaries need to be clearly established for a successful outcome.The value I see is exactly in the area our readings highlighted this week – it helps build a sense of community when done properly.  There is no better way in a traditional setting for a group to learn each others strengths and weaknesses than to give them a challenge of building something or solving a team challenge that requires everyone’s input.  I see web-based collaborative tools in the same way, especially multi-player gaming.  Imagine if the first component of an online course was a free account to some MMORG where you had to meet everyone in the course, exchange items for survival and then “find the lecture cave” on an Island like Myst… boy I’m getting excited just imagining it – sign me up now!

However, given I teach in a Blended learning setting and use technology almost everyday and every lesson I have found Web-based collaborative tools a challenge.  I have used resources like Google Docs for building a class glossary of math terms, (before Google bought them and they became the basis for Google Docs), which also works with the Livescribe Smartpen (not collab but a super useful and cool tool).  The pitfalls in implementing collaborative activities using Web-based tools in a Blended environment is that with everyone online at once in the classroom the excitement of their “key actions” appearing on the projector for everyone to see along with 30 other students is overwhelming.  Everyone types at once, draws at once, deletes others work, etc etc until it gets a little out of control.  This has been for Grades 7, 8 and 11 and 12.  For some reason I still haven’t learned my lesson either and each time a I think of something new to try with it I start it the same way but writing this just now I’m finally having a chance to reflect and I realise that it might be better to try this method for a blended setting:

1) Create the tool and sign everyone up but don’t share the information.

2) Introduce the tool in class on one screen and explain the guidelines etc.

3) Set the HW task for the week for each student to access the collab resource and add their information or contribution to the site.

4) Review it before the next face-to-face lesson and give feedback.

What do people think? Would love feedback or other ideas suggestions if anyone has also used collaborative web-based tools in a Blended Learning setting with or without success. Let me know in the comments below or via twitter @dougvass.

Tick, tick, tick… as you can tell if you’re still reading it took way over 60 seconds. Online learning is about building a community of learners and this takes time online.  It won’t happen overnight, but with the right tools and a well-trained instructor, it will happen.

Happy learning.


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