5 Pitfalls of Online Teaching

Female student looking frustrated with books and computer

I took my first series of online courses for professional development in 2009.  The courses were highly interactively and well-designed because they were taught by experts in the field of computer-assisted language learning.  A shout-out to my professors in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate program, Principles and Practices of Online Teaching!  (See blog on this topic). Ever since then, I’ve compared online courses to those.

As a working instructional designer and current PhD student enrolled in online courses, I bring a well-rounded perspective to the topic of distance education.  I’ve researched and written about how to develop an online community of inquiry.  It has become my personal agenda to ensure that students taking online courses don’t get frustrated from the course design and lack of teacher presence.

Here’s a list of what I consider the top 5 pitfalls that will surely decrease student learning outcomes and student satisfaction:

  1. Lack of pattern in weekly assignments will cause confusion, especially in a hybrid (blended) course. For example, as you plan threaded discussions, quizzes, and assignments, make sure they follow a pattern; otherwise, indicate on your syllabus any gaps in the established pattern of assignments.
  2. Numerous clicks to find content leads to frustration. To increase findability, use clear navigation practices to reduce time lost on task and frustration levels (Simunich, Robins, & Kelly, 2012).
  3. Lack of synchronous sessions to connect with the human leads to reduced achievement. To increase student achievement, include synchronous sessions (Bernard et al., 2004), Arbaugh and Hornik (2006) suggested video conferencing, voice messaging, or some other types of multimedia.
  4. Instructors not responding to students’ discussions in a timely manner. There are  several theories on human learning about delivering targeted instruction at the right time such as Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development, Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect (primacy and recency effect), and the presence or absence of retrieval cues in Cormier’s information processing theory.  Students need prompt feedback that targets their instructional needs (Arbaugh, 2001).  See my blog post on instructor feedback for online courses.
  5. Lack of student-student interactions (Bernard et al., 2004).  Make sure students can talk to one another and share their finished projects.

Do you agree with my top 5?

References

Arbaugh, J. B. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning in web-based courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 30, 42-54.

Arbaugh, J. B., & Hornik, S. (2006). Do Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles also apply to online MBAs? The Journal of Educators Online, 3(2), 1-18.

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes,  M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of ITs in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288.

Simunich, B., Robins, D., & Kelly, V. (2012). Does findability matter? Findability, student motivation, and self-efficacy in online courses.  Quality Matters (QM) Research Grant, Kent State University.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Research Study: Plans for an Online Community of Inquiry

Instructor Feedback for Teacher Presence

Cartoon headshot of blogger, Sandra Rogers
Be ever present in the online courses you teach.

Instructor’s online behaviors were not a focus of research until the momentum of online teaching occurred (Baker, 2010).  Based on research on human learning (Ormrod, 2012), one can draw on several theories for delivering targeted instruction at the right time: Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect (primacy and recency effect), and the presence or absence of retrieval cues in Cormier’s information processing theory.  Students need “right time” feedback that targets their instructional needs.  Moreover, feedback formats should vary to enhance the lack of richness in text-based media commonly found in online environments (Arbaugh & Hornik, 2006; Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

As cited in Moore and Kearsley (1996), Moore’s 1973 transactional distance theory explains how electronic communication tools promote student-student and student-teacher interactions. They theorized that the geographical distance matters less than the course structure.  Online courses that provide e-tools for communication close the distance and provide psychological closeness between the teacher and the class similar to closeness created in traditional courses (Lemak, Shin, Reed, & Montgomery, 2007).  Arbaugh and Hornik (2006) suggested video conferencing, voice messaging, and some other types of multimedia.  Bernard et al. (2004) found a larger effect size for course completion rates with synchronous sessions when compared to asynchronous ones.  Baker reported that students in synchronous courses reported higher levels of instructor immediacy levels.  If synchronous sessions are tied to higher course completion rates, then, perhaps online instructors should intermittently offer them.

Arbaugh and Hornik found that online teaching requires the instructor to take on a facilitator mode and manage discussions in a conversational style to augment student interactions.  The informality of the conversation could lessen the psychological distance between the students and their instructor. Moore and Kearsley likened distance education to a transaction that could create a psychological space for potential misunderstandings.  Therefore, the risk for misunderstandings could be increased when teachers wait until week’s end to post their responses.  Hence, this may not be a very good practice.   The lack of, or delay in, instructor feedback is a critical component in distance education.

Why do some online instructors not provide a format for class discussion?  There’s a multitude of possible reasons from a lack of ability, unrecognized benefits, a preference for lecture-based instruction, or lack of time.  An alternative would be to provide an online discussion moderated by a teaching assistant or participants in the class. In a literature review by Thormann, Gable, Fidalgo, and Blakeslee (2013), student moderation generated more frequent and in-depth discussion for the learners. They found that student ownership of the course increased. Understandably, some participants reported dissatisfaction if the instructor rarely participated.  Therefore, the teacher still needs to participate in the online discussions even with a student moderator.  The US Office of Education (Means et al., 2010) conducted a meta-analysis and review of 99 online learning studies.  They found larger effect sizes for studies that included collaborative or teacher-directed learning activities than those with independent study.

See my PowerPoint presentation for more tips on incorporating your teacher presence in your online courses: Effective Online Communication.

References

Arbaugh, J. B., & Hornik, S. (2006).  Do Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles also apply   to online MBAs?  The Journal of Educators Online, 3(2), 1-18.

Baker, C. (2010).  The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation.  The Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1-30.

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes,  M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Wingspread Journal, 9(2), 75-81.

Lemak, D., Shin, S., Reed, R., & Montgomery, J. (2005).  Technology, transactional distance, and instructor effectiveness: An empirical investigation. Academy of  Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 150-158.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html

Moore, M.G., & Kearsley, G. (1996).  Distance education: A systems view.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012).  Human learning.  New Jersey: Pearson.

Thormann, J., Gable, S., Fidalgo, P., & Blakeslee, G. (2013).  Interaction, critical thinking, and social network analysis (SNA) in online courses. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(3), 294-318.  Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1306/2537
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This article was written by Sandra Rogers.

Collection of My Best e-Learning Blog Posts

How participants can prepare for a webinar & understand how to interact
A Pathway for Participants to Understand How to Prepare & Attend a Webinar

 

I’ve been blogging since 2011.  I noticed I had 61 blogs listed in the category for e-Learning.  Here’s a collection of my best effort to help others understand how to improve online learning and your professional online image as an eLeader.

Face-to-Face to Online Course Development Checklist

From Face-to-Face Teaching to Blended Format

How to Make Your Online Course Accessible

Personalizing Distance Education

Effective Online Communication

Online Cognitive Activities that Engender a Community of Inquiry

 WebQuest for Creating Critical Thinking Job Aids

Scoop.IT! The Critical Reader

Use of SecondLife for Educational Purposes

SecondLife: Advantages and Disadvantages for Education

 Process Map for Participants to Attend a Webinar

 Another Basic Tool for Online Teachers: The World Clock

Personal Branding for the 21st Century Educator

Follow my e-newspaper, The Online Educator, to learn from leaders in the industry.

Online Cognitive Activities that Engender a Community of Inquiry

Tag words from my blog

What does your syllabus say about your online course?  I just completed a research project developing a rubric  to identify the potential for a community of inquiry in online college courses.  Then I used the rubric to review 23 online course syllabi from my university’s College of Education.  I found a high amount of cognitive presence in the instructional activities and extensive and varied learner support.  Overall, the syllabi met, or exceeded, a moderate level of planned activities to engender a community of inquiry in their online courses.  As you may surmise, the online course syllabi were very detailed.  I did not review the actual courses, only the syllabi.

Here are the examples of cognitive online activities used in the undergraduate and graduate level courses:  developing questionnaires, peer review of papers, pre- and post-assessments, analysis of case studies, critically review an article, development of a personal instructional design model, student-created multiple-choice questions, hyper inquiry team project, academic controversy assignment, instructional design project, peer evaluations of project, simulation project, develop a creativity workshop, developing an online course, developing course evaluations, creating a welcome video, creating an academic contract, creating a course checklist, writing a literature review, completing CITI module, evaluating a program, completing a meta-evaluation of a program evaluation, develop an autobiography, conduct child observations, weekly self-evaluation of own learning, create a professional development plan, essay exams, develop a book trailer, develop a podcast, develop lesson plans, develop a how-to video, write a blog, develop a personal learning network, develop a digital story, develop a wiki, curate digital books and other electronic resources, and participate in monitored teacher education field experience.

I plan to submit my paper to an upcoming conference and try to publish the findings.  My report is 34 pages long, so I’ll share the highlights in a few more blog posts.

Sandra Rogers