Friday, July 6, 2007

Distance Education in K-12

Today many K-12 schools have distance learning course management systems like Blackboard, WebCT or Moodle, and K-12 teachers are encouraged to put their face-to-face course content online to allow student access to course material, syllabi, assignments, announcements, test scores and grades from home. Full online credit courses are usually available for high school students. In my opinion, elementary and middle school students (with some exceptions) may not have enough self-discipline, motivation, and study skills to work on their own without adult supervision. However, some virtual schools like deliver online classes for students of all levels including the elementary school level.

A few teachers and administrators consider that online classes are no different from face-to-face classes and teachers only need to upload all material online. This is a wrong approach since online classes require different from conventional face-to-face classes teaching, assessment and delivery methods. Distance learning instructors should be knowledgeable about online teaching strategies and requirements; they have to make changes to their face-to-face courses and to transform them from a teacher-centered to a learning-centered experience, develop assignments which will work best online, and create virtual discussions, forums, and chat rooms to ensure student participation.

Transitioning from the conventional classroom to the online environment should start with familiarity with online technologies. Distance learning courses consist of many different building blocks, and teachers should decide which blocks they are going to use in their online course: virtual presentations (PowerPoints, streaming video or audio) and lectures; virtual interactions with students (synchronous chat); online textbooks (webpages, Word or Acrobat files); simulations and games; virtual reference library; and assessment and quizzes. Teachers should map an outline of the course and write a syllabus with objectives, main topics, prerequisite knowledge, textbooks, instructional methodology, course overview, module descriptions with delivery dates and assignments. Teachers should determine the level of lowest common technologies and set a minimum computer requirements.

Teachers should get familiar with a course management system, read or watch tutorials, and explore different options and settings. After learning as much as possible about the course management system, teachers should create a distance learning course shell which includes buttons, banners, and module folders. Online instructors usually have different strategies for uploading course content. Some instructors like to upload material only for one module and keep the other modules closed; some instructors prefer to have all modules open, but require students to adhere to deadlines. Online instructors should make all course requirements, deadlines, assignments, and synchronous and asynchronous online activities easily visible for the students. Online instructors should have open communication channels with students and a quick turnaround time for assignments with feedback and grades.

Distance learning course development can be very time consuming and administrators should not expect a fast transition from conventional face-to-face classes to distance learning courses.


Images are screenshots of my online courses in Media Arts and Introduction to Educational Technology on the Blackboard.

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