Tuesday, December 16, 2008

teeny tiny hurdles

I received some great feedback from a first-time online instructor who ran a course for us this past summer.

What worked well for him:
Content creation in Blackboard.
Taped mini-lectures using Audacity. "Students loved them!"
Online office hours.
Question-driven threaded discussions.
Online exams and grading.
What didn't work so well for him:
Difficult to monitor what students are learning from the textbook. "It's not possible to assess what they're reading and/or understanding from the book."

Inconvenience of accepting assignments via email. "I'm not sure how to make the submission of narrative work more streamlined: and I didn't get a chance to explore any features of Blackboard that would allow me to edit or comment upon writings right on the online documents themselves."
Of most importance (I think) are his comments about assessing the students during the semester – how does an online instructor know that they are “learning” anything from the readings and activities. One strategy I’ve seen described is using small evaluative exercises specific to a topic or learning activity. In Blackboard these might be simple quiz objects that students complete a few times each week. These exercises might also be questions posed by the instructor to individual students. The questions are intended to drive the student back into the material to find a specific answer.

Whatever the strategy, the onus is on the instructor to continually place in front of the learner an opportunity to verify an understanding of the subject matter. This type of ongoing assessment, of course (or perhaps, arguably), is easier to do in a resident environment because of the potential spontaneity of classroom instruction.

We need to explore this issue in more detail. I'm certain there is something that can be done “outside” the Blackboard box to accommodate ongoing learning assessment. The keys for us are cost and institutional commitment to quality online courses and instruction.

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