During the facilitation process the challenge was to establish key characteristics of a learning community, including a commitment to the collaborative process and developing interpersonal relationships. The challenge of good direction and leadership in an online course is to ensure that your students grow and to address issues that may undermine a climate favourable to academic discourse.

Foundations

Bierly, P. E., Stark, E. M. & Kessler, E. H. (2009) 'The moderating effects of...

Fostering respect and responsibility is a key element of successful teaching in a group environment (Tuckman, 1965). The idea of ensuring that students are respectful and responsible can seem daunting in the online medium, mainly due to the fact that so many of our natural social cues are taken from body language, tone of voice, etc. and therefore new strategies and techniques need to be employed by the online teacher in order to ensure that student respect and responsibility is sustained in the online environment.

In the following video, online teachers share their thoughts on creating an inclusive online classroom and fostering respect in online classes.

In the following interviews, online teachers share their thoughts on creating an inclusive online classroom and fostering respect in online classes.

Click 'Play' to watch the video.

Did you know?

One of the important responsibilities of the online teacher is to...

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Effective educational approaches for ensuring an inclusive learning environment include providing students with opportunities to discuss and clarify expectations, roles and responsibilities of team members through the use of inquiry-based project work guidelines, learning contracts, and assessment activities.

assessment

Assessment refers to learner performance; it helps us decide if students are learning and where improvement in that learning is needed.

In the following activity, click on each tab to learn more about each of these approaches.

The following paragraphs will present more information on each of these approaches.

Key terms

Cooperation: Cooperative group work usually involves students dividing up the...

Useful links

Galileo Educational Network: Inquiry Instructions: www.galileo...

Team-based learning (TBL)

Team-based learning (TBL) involves sequencing individual tasks, group work, and immediate feedback to create an environment in which students increasingly hold each other accountable for each other's learning and academic success.

Research has consistently demonstrated that teams perform better than the highest-scoring individual in each team (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2010).

Further information on TBL can be found by following the link in the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section.


Inquiry-based project work

Inquiry-based project work involves a group of students investigating a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. This is the type of authentic project work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. These projects involve serious engagement and investigation.

The Galileo Educational Network has developed an extensive assessment rubric to help guide inquiry-based project work. Instructions about inquiry-based projects can be accessed from the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section.


Problem-based learning (PBL)

Problem-based learning is based on students engaging in solving real-world problems in collaborative groups. Problems are raised at the start of the topic, before students have been taught some of the relevant knowledge. By actively engaging with the problem, students develop skills around finding information, identifying what information they still need and possible sources of that information. Students are able to connect what they are learning in their online course to their own lives and important issues in their world. This promotes deep learning and the ability to apply knowledge to different problems.

A guide to problem-based learning can be found by following the link in the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section.


Project-based learning

Project-based learning involves students completing relevant and challenging projects that require them to learn how to utilise collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills.

A comprehensive guide to online project-based learning can be accessed from the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section.


Collaborative research paper

Students in an online course collaborate to develop topics, organise their paper, and collect web resources. The completed paper is submitted for class discussion.

More information about the collaborative research paper process can be found in the article by Bill Pelz, accessible from the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section.

Now that you have learned about some different approaches to help ensure an inclusive learning environment, the next activity will encourage you to think about how you could apply these in your own online course.

Now that you have learned about some different approaches to help ensure an inclusive learning environment, think about how you could apply these in your own online course.

In the following activity, consider the approach presented in the 'Question' tab and then click on the 'Example' tab to see an example of how it might be used in an online course. Think about how you could use the approach in your own online course and click the 'Your thoughts' tab to make a note of your thoughts. Then, click 'Next' to move to the next approach.

Your context

Be sure to refer to your institutional guidelines before introducing a...

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Being a successful online teacher
UNIT | 4 : Directing and leading an online course
PAGE TITLE | Respect and responsibility

Question 1 of 5: How might you use team-based learning in your online course?

Example:

Students could be assigned to a team during the first week of the online course. Each week students could be required to complete a reading assignment and take an individual quiz. Team members could then be allowed to compare answers and re-take the quiz as a group.

Your thoughts?


Question 2 of 5: How might you use inquiry-based project work in your online course?

Example:

In an online humanities course, students might investigate the question 'What are the implications of living in a democratic society within a larger global context?' The students could work closely with a specialist in Middle East politics and examine democracy in light of the invasion of Iraq. The study could culminate in a video conference where students from two different online courses present and defend their positions around this controversial topic.

Your thoughts?


Question 3 of 5: How could you use problem-based learning in your online course?

Example:

In online biology courses, students follow a DENT approach to solving a problem (define, explore, narrow, and test). The process begins by defining the problem carefully, then exploring possible solutions, followed by narrowing the choices of hypothesis, and then testing a proposed solution.

Your thoughts?


Question 4 of 5: How could you use project-based learning in your online course?

Example:

In project-based learning, the focus is on the creation of an 'end-product' through collaborative project construction. For example, students in an online English course could produce a series of short stories on their family history and identity.

Your thoughts?


Question 5 of 5: How might you use team-based learning in your online course?

How might you make use of a collaborative research paper in your online course?

Example:

The following steps guide this process:

  1. The paper is assigned at the beginning of the course.
  2. Students collaboratively discuss their research ideas, develop a topic, and accumulate resources and post these to a phase one discussion forum.
  3. Students submit their collaborative research paper to a phase two discussion forum where their peers provide them with formative feedback.

Your thoughts?

Learning contracts

Portfolio activity

Devise a learning contract for your online class. Use the attached worksheet...

Learning contracts can be used in a variety of contexts. They are often used with students with disabilities, or for preparing students for learning placements or employment, but are also a useful tool for helping students plan and complete inquiry-based project work in an online course. These contracts should be constructed by the student and reviewed by the teacher for constructive feedback and suggestions for modification. Both the teacher and student should sign the agreed version of the contract, which will then act as a project outline and help with assessment. Note that the contract may need to be modified as the project develops, in which case the amended version should, again, be signed by both parties. Here is an example of a learning contract:

What are you going to learn?
(Objectives)
How are you going to learn it?
(Resources and Strategies)
Target date for completion How are you going to know that you have learned it?
(Evidence)
How are you going to prove that you have learned it?
(Verification)
Teacher feedback
(Assessment)
Itemise what you want to be able to DO or KNOW when completed. What do you have to DO in order to meet each of the objectives defined? When do you plan to complete each task? What is the specific task that you are to complete to demonstrate learning? Who will receive the product of your learning and how will they assess it? How well was the task completed? Provide an assessment decision.
I have reviewed and find acceptable the above learning contract.
Date: Student: Teacher:
Source: Adapted from Using Learning Contracts: Practical Approaches to Individualizing and Structuring Learning., M. S. Knowles. Copyright © 1986 John Wiley & Sons Inc. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons.

Video interview

Watch the following video in which students of online courses give their...

In the following interviews, students of online courses give their opinions on...

Did you know?

Setting out your expectations with regard to academic integrity...

Direction and leadership by an online teacher can increase confidence and respect by managing potential conflict and ensuring that students are collaborating constructively. Strong leadership and direct intervention is sometimes necessary to maintain functional communities (to manage conflict and the storming phase in group work).

Giving students the confidence to succeed

From a teaching presence perspective, it is very possible that conflict will arise within a learning community. It is crucial that the teacher directly addresses these situations and resolves conflicts, perhaps by correcting a student who has behaved inappropriately or by negotiating expectations. Students should also feel confident that they can question the teacher and be treated respectfully.

Team-building activities will give students the opportunity to develop the connection and support of the community to accomplish the assigned tasks. One of the best ways to get a sense of how well these strategies work is to ask the students themselves. Watch the video on the right of this screen to hear from students of online courses about their opinions on group dynamics in the online environment.

Team-building activities will give students the opportunity to develop the connection and support of the community to accomplish the assigned tasks. One of the best ways to get a sense of how well these strategies work is to ask the students themselves. Consider the interviews in the second 'Interview' pod at the end of this section to find out online students' opinions on group dynamics in the online environment.


Foundations

Did you know?

One of the important responsibilities of the online teacher is to actively ensure that open communication is not undermined by insensitive personal comments or overly critical, unproductive postings. Students must be encouraged to question the substance of messages, but this must be done respectfully, constructively, and with academic insight. Communication and trust is a particular challenge in online environments and particular attention is required to ensure that the community and working groups maintain a collegial atmosphere if they are to stay collaboratively focused on the task.

Key terms

Cooperation: Cooperative group work usually involves students dividing up the tasks. For example, students may divide up sections of a report to write individually and then collate the finished work.

Collaboration: In the case of collaboration, the group members work towards a common goal rather than dividing up the tasks. For example, rather than each student working on separate part of a report they all work together on every section of the project, constantly providing one another with peer feedback.

Note: Cooperative group work can result in an uneven distribution of tasks and a lack of group decision-making.

Useful links

Your context

Be sure to refer to your institutional guidelines before introducing a 'learning contract' into your online course. It may be that learning contracts have a specific use at your institution, for example, with disabled students, in which case it may be necessary to refer to the contract as a 'learning agreement statement' or something similar.

Portfolio

Duration: 20 minutes

Devise a learning contract for your online class.

Use the attached worksheet to help you, or use the template provided on the relevant page of your Teaching Online portfolio.

Interview

In the following interviews, students of online courses give their opinions on group dynamics in the online environment.

What should teachers or instructors do to enhance a sense of community in an online course?

Cassie Todd
Second Year Student, Bachelor of Oral Health, University of Adelaide

I think it can be difficult to foster a sense of community on online learning. It can be really difficult because you don't have that face-to-face interaction with people. So, I think to try and encourage more online community learning you really need to have a lot of feedback happening between people and also between the tutors. And more questions being asked regularly rather than students just being left to do things on their own.

Arnold Gamboa
Graduate Student, Learning Design and Technology, Purdue University

One is creating a place where students can know each other, where they can post questions or where they can answer those. Another way that I can think of is, for instance, as early in the semester or the start of the course they can create like a wiki or discussion where an instructor can let students know who they are, what they like, what they do.


What should learners do to enhance a sense of community in an online course?

I think that learners who want to enhance a sense of community can, what they should do is more like interact with their peers. Don't try to do it by yourself, all alone. You should communicate as early as possible. You should try to make friends. Don't just wait until they communicate with you. Rather, fully immerse yourself in the learning environment. Use the tools that are available for you, like discussions or chat or, for instance, online meetings. So use those resources, and try to communicate. Don't try to do it all by yourself, because that is going to be really, really hard.


Can you give an example of how an online classroom can foster relationships between learners?

Dr. Kathleen Cool
Former Online Graduate Student, Nova Southeastern University

In a way, you can just sit down and write something that you might be thinking about an article or a book chapter that you've read. And it's not really something that you would ever say out loud in class. It's something that, because you're able to think about it and reflect on it in your own time, it's you know more I would say a part of you. And then you put it out, and then you have people comment on it, and that feedback or the discussion that it can create can be very special if there definitely is the motivation from those students to want to learn. I've seen that it's either very similar points of view or very dissimilar. And then you get you know sometimes a heated discussion, which you know as long as there is that sense of respect that you are in an academic setting and that all points of view are respected, you really get to learn a lot from that. It's something that when you are able to sustain that discussion and you really like start thinking about it outside of class too, it really does foster that sense of community, that you just want to go back.


What are the social challenges of an online environment?

Cassie Todd: I think some of the social challenges for an online environment is that you don't have that face-to-face communication, so it's really hard if you don't understand something to be able to communicate with people as easily, because you might have to do that through blogging or you might have to do that through email. Whereas it's a lot easier just to ask a lot of questions. So you really have to phrase your questioning a lot better, as well, to be able to get across to the tutor what you want to ask, because sometimes usually, you need to ask a series of questions, not just one or two, to be able to understand the content of something.

Arnold Gamboa: As an online learner, I think that one of the challenges in an online environment is making the wrong assumptions. For instance, if you are working on say a discussion, just because someone doesn't post as much as you do, or his or her answers are short or really long, it doesn't mean that he or she is trying to bully you, or he or she wants to be mean, or things like that. We always feel tempted to make the wrong assumptions, thinking wrongly about people. It is just that people work in different ways, you know, and you can tell that in an online environment. So, give people the benefit of the doubt.


In your experience, what are the social benefits of an online environment?

Cassie Todd: I think social benefits of an online environment are really good for people who are a little bit shy. So, face-to-face sessions can be a little bit daunting for some people, and they might not be those kinds of people that want to put their hand up to ask a question. So, in that way, hiding behind a bit of text there can really make it a lot easier to ask questions and communicate with people, because it's a little bit more detached.

Arnold Gamboa: Most of my classmates are, none of them are from here, from Indiana, and actually most of them could be from as far away as Alaska or Texas, and they share experiences. For instance, they could come out with things like, 'Well, the other day my boss did this,' or, 'My workmate did that.' So all those like real-life experiences enrich your learning experience.

Did you know?

Setting out your expectations with regard to academic integrity (including cheating, plagiarism and academic dishonesty) is an important element of fostering respect and responsibility in an online learning environment.

Being clear about the academic integrity policies within your institution and/or online course helps to foster trust between students and teachers, and encourages students to be aware of their obligation to maintain academic integrity.