Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 8

By Dr. Vanae E. Morris

Teaching online is hard! Ok, there, I said it! 

Not only is online teaching hard but the modeling of online teaching is very similar to what we have experienced in face-to-face classes over the many years of instruction and that is, we do what we have experienced or observed! 

Breaking that paradigm is the hard part! I have talked about (in this blog) what is considered to be the best practices of online teaching. However, should these best practices only apply to an online environment? I think not! As part of my role as a Higher Education Instructional Consultant, I go into the classrooms of instructors and observe their teaching. I take copious notes using a rubric that requests information about the behaviors of the instructor and the students. After the observation is complete, I take the rubric with my notes, and give suggestions to the instructors on ways that they could include more active learning strategies, classroom management techniques, questioning strategies, and many other suggestions for “best practices!” This conversation allows for the “why” of the teaching and helps support the “mechanics” of the notes that I took during the observation.  

Over the last two semesters, there has been a distinct pattern in both mine and my colleague’s observations that precipitated the formulation of a template with similar feedback and eventually the creation of resource pages that we could refer our instructors to for further clarification. Most of our interactions the last two semesters has been with graduate students and teaching assistants, who are now modeling what they have observed in both the face-to-face and online environments over several years of taking classes from “seasoned” instructors, who are also modeling what they experienced and observed  as students.  One of the challenges that we have as instructional consultants in higher education is shifting that paradigm! 

In this blog, I have discussed several best practices based on research, personal observations and experiences, and feedback from my colleagues within the instructional consulting community. All of the best practices can be utilized in a face-to-face classroom as well as in an online teaching and learning environment, it is just a matter a shifting the paradigm using different delivery methods, techniques, technology tools, and strategies. In my role, I encourage instructors to move from what has been modeled for years, to different strategies that take students from passively listening to actively engaging in the content! 

The last best practice that I want to share is that of maintaining enthusiasm! Twelve to sixteen week semesters can sometimes seem like an eternity if we lose our enthusiasm for the content, our willingness to assist our students toward successful outcomes, and communicating that enthusiasm to our students. This enthusiasm (or lack of) is always evident when I visit a classroom, either face-to-face or online, so I like to give my instructors (and myself) this advice: stay organized, be an active presence in your classroom, communicate your enthusiasm frequently, and shift the paradigm to something new! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 7

 by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

In previous posts in this series, I have discussed several of the adult learning principles as posited by Knowles (1980), which includes two that are relevant for the topic of conversation today. From Boettcher and Conrad (2005), in an online course, an instructor should “. . . combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning” and from Ko (2005), learning should be connected to real-life experiences. 

Knowles (1980) believes that adults learn best when the information is embedded in their experiences and adults want the learning to be relevant to their lives, goals, and needs. Making connections to prior knowledge and life experiences makes the learning more relevant for the adult learner.  Finding activities that encourage connections, experiences, and prior knowledge can be accomplished using active learning and promoting accountability

How can this be accomplished? Ko (2005, slide 8) believes that there are four ways to help your adult students make connections to real-life experiences: 
  1. Encourage students to apply real-world experience to course content
  2. Encourage students to draw on personal examples and observations that are relevant to the course
  3. Tie contemporary events or issues to course content
  4. Whenever possible, encourage students to incorporate their own goals into study
Boettcher and Conrad (2005) also believe that encouraging adults to bring their life experiences and prior knowledge to the class can be accomplished by combining core learning with personalized learning. “In practical terms for online courses, it means designing options and choices within learning experiences, assignments, and special projects . . . Discussion forums, blogging, journals, wikis, and similar social networking type tools provide excellent communication channels for engaging learners in clarifying and enlarging their mental models or concepts and building links and identifying relationships” (p. 46). 

I have made changes to my online pedagogy course to include more reflective writing and learning community activities to promote and encourage the learners in my course to bring their life-experiences and prior knowledge to the content and to personalize the learning for my students. I encourage you to examine your current courses for methods you could use to help your students bring and apply real-world experiences to the course content and to personalize your courses for your students each semester.


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from