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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Teaching Adults Online/Mark Milliron/Temple Univ. Online Teaching Strategies

These are complicated times with shrinking resources and an unsteady national and global economy. Planning and sustaining educational programs is more complex than ever. Are we teaching what's needed for the future our children will inherit? Will right brain careers dominate or is there some other skill or expertise that will be essential to making a living 10 or 15 years from now? Are we acquiring the right skills we need for our continuing careers as educators? There's one thing I think is going to only grow and provide some answers - online teaching and learning - virtual courses for children and adults. It makes sense for financial reasons - it allows rich offerings - and learning can occur without constraints of time or place.

There's a trajectory for technology in education - first it's about the technology - then it's about learning. In the early days of networks being introduced into schools the buzz was about the network itself and solving the problems it introduced became the focus of workshops, conferences, professional organizations and listservs. Eventually the messy part came along - leveraging technology for teaching and learning. The same happened with 1-to-1 - initial questions were on how schools solved issues of battery life, wireless network, power, access. In 1-to-1 we're now reaching the ubiquitous stage where it's no longer unusual to provide laptops or tablets to children in your school or district; it is however very complex to support and sustain the kind of meaningful student-centered learning that 1-to-1 affords. This logistics-first trajectory is necessary however because there are issues to solve before learning ensues.

We're now moving along the continuum of online virtual learning because we're talking less about the tools and more about what's different when the entire environment is partly virtual, partly not. There are blended approaches to online learning such as what's done at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, where I received my M.S. in education and technology and now teach, and there are wholly online courses in many schools and universities and colleges. My employer opened a virtual school in South Carolina in September with more to come; enrollment exceeded expectations and children, empowered by a virtual environment, using laptops from their own homes, work through a rigorous high school curriculum while interacting synchronously and asynchronously with teachers and fellow students.

Knowing how to teach online, how to engage, motivate and support students in this environment, and how to keep content rigorous and meaningful is one of the most important skills educators should learn if they are planning to remain in education for the next 10 years.

I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at Temple University in Philadelphia entitled Online Teaching Strategies for the Health Professions. Professors from Temple described how they engage their students virtually through chats, online discussions and forums, how they facilitate the community of the course and how they overcame the challenges of the virtual classroom. As an adjunct professor, I listened intently for ideas and tips and took many notes. Because of Dr. Rosalie Schofield, for instance, I will introduce the idea of SAOQ's - Summary - Analysis - Opinion - Questions - as a model for online forum postings by my students. Dr. Deanna Schaffer talked about telephoning all of her students before the course began - what a simple but supportive technique to help ease introduction into the course learning community.

The keynote speaker, Mark Milliron, was excellent and I would highly recommend seeing him if the opportunity presents. An avid reader and futurist, he talked about the Next Generation of Learning. For instance, our students can text at 60 wpms, and age 16-20 prefer text to voice. One university with an infrequently-used library space put a Starbucks in the middle of it and saw exponential gains in its use as a community center of learning. He said it's useless to dichotomize in the "get onboard or fall behind" way of thinking - better to see the whole picture with many learners. If you want to avoid Alzheimer's, he said, be a rookie every year. The idea of Trigger Analytics was a topic; apparently a course at Purdue University "signals" students as to whether they are on track or not - most useful in the online learning way when bringing students back is a frequent effort. He talked about holographic caves where a hologram of, say, a brain is projected into a room and students can walk around it to understand it better.

I can hardly wait to see how it all - virtual teaching and learning - plays out in the next 10 years and what the children we are parenting and teaching will build next.