"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow" ~ John Dewey, 1944.
This post is a continuation of a series on the challenge for today's teachers. The purpose of the series is to explore techniques and best practices for moving beyond the classroom walls and outside the traditional class schedule to better prepare our students for the increasingly technology based communications and dynamic global marketplace.
Digitizing Traditional Course Materials
When I first started teaching online in 1998, technology was rather limited in what we could utilize to provide "cutting-edge" materials online. The WebCT Learning Management System we were using at the time did not have the capacity of recording lectures or video/audio lectures. Communication and dialogue outside the classroom was limited to written assignments, discussion boards, and text chats. Fortunately, we have come along way in the last 15 years. We are no longer limited to converting printed materials to PDF for presentation online. Still many online courses today are no more than a digital collection of the materials an instructor might use while presenting their lectures in a traditional classroom. These pseudo-online courses are not unlike the traditional independent study courses where students visited a distance learning office on campus to pick up their reading materials. The student would then complete a series of readings followed by written assignments, after which they would then return these documents back to the campus office or via mail. The primary difference is that the online courses deliver the documents electronically, are structured into a time-based series of learning modules, and involve many more students at the same time. This model of learning fulfills the need of convenience and flexibility that so many students seek, but it is not equally effective for all students. The independent study model or pseudo-online courses are only effective for students who possess self-discipline, effective time management skills, initiative, and enjoy reading. A student in my Academia and the MOOC course shared a video with me that really resonated with me regarding this point. Take a few moments to "Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet" (14:58 minutes).
Culatta challenges educators today to shift from the status quo of digitizing traditional learning materials to personalized learning. This is not such an earth shattering suggestion as one might consider. When I was in elementary school, we had a reading program where students could work on their own to proceed through a series of readers. Once you finished with one level you completed a worksheet and turned it into your teacher, she then gave you permission to proceed to the next level. You were not limited to the pace of the entire class but rather could move according to your own ability and motivation. Today our students can utilize eReaders or their tablets to tailor an advanced personalized learning model in the classroom.
A modern version of the reading sequence so common in the 1950's and 1960's that provided students with an individualized approach to reading.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) or the online learning environments we commonly use to deliver online courses are ripe for leveraging technology to re-imagine how we can provide our students with a variety of options for a personalized learning model. I currently provide my students with 3 different choices regarding the lecture presentations. Students may elect to listen to a 15 lecture recorded with Captivate, a HTML page of text-heavy content with several short (less than 3 minute) audio clips (or diagrams, charts, photos, or other visualizations of the concept being covered), or a black and white text heavy handout with 6 PowerPoint slides. I am pilot testing a sequence of learning activities that begin with a Pre-Quiz over the content. Based on the questions missed, the students review the related learning segments before completing the corresponding written assignment and/or Post-Quiz. It is possible that students will not listen to a segment or skip the reading as assigned, but I know that they do this with or without an individualized approach. I am simply empowering students to further take control of their own learning. Tomorrow I will continue this post by exploring further how we can individualize our online courses without eliminating the opportunities for collaboration.
Feel free to share your own experiences and insight regarding digitizing traditional learning materials and online course delivery models.