The Perfect Fit: The Impact of Technoloy and Multimedia

Finding the Right Tool

The Christmas season is at hand, my daughter, a dancer, is preparing for the annual production of The Nutcracker. Toe shoesOne of her key tools, of course, is her shoes. I have learned how tricky getting the right pointe shoe is, how a bad fit can be disastrous, and how a good fit enables her to fly. I see a clear parallel to designing good online instruction. It’s complicated to put together, but the right tools, the proper fit with the design, sets the learner soaring. One of the reports I enjoy checking out each year is the Horizon Report for Higher Education. I find it interesting to see how technology will advance in education in the foreseeable future. One article this year discusses advances in online learning influenced by rapidly developing improvements in multimedia technology (“Evolution of online learning,” 2014). These advances, (largely voice and video tools), have improved the quality of interactive activities which, in turn, play a part in the increased the popularity of online classes. Beyond convenience, well-designed online education’s focus on student interactivity with the content and with each other, creates a successful learning experience. Roblyer and Wiencke, (2003) comment that distance learning theory and research indicate that successful online course designs include multiple opportunities for interaction as an important part of the course. In an online environment, technology is critical for creating activities that are interactive and engaging. The challenge becomes choosing the appropriate tools for the activity.

The issue with technology is it keeps evolving and new options are always on the horizon. However, the focus for every designer has to be the goals and objectives of the course, not some new tech wonder just for the sake of novelty. Purloff and Pratt, (2010) stress that the outcomes and objectives should always be at the forefront. If the designer decides that technology will help the learner engage with the content better, then the fit works. Roblyer and Wiencke, (2003) observe that technology should permeate the learner’s ability to interact within the course. The technology should bridge the connections and blend within the structure of the course as the proper support for student engagement with the content.

Access that Works for All

Another consideration the designer must keep in mind is whether or not the technology used is “usable and accessible” for all students. Cooper, Colwell, and Jelfs, (2007) describe usability as “being synonymous with ‘ease of use’” (p. 232) and accessibility as “. . .the ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners. . .thus determined by the flexibility of the e-learning system or learning resource to meet the needs and preferences of all users” (p. 232). The authors note the goal is a challenging one as the needs of users with disabilities vary greatly and their choices of how they interact with a computer vary as well. They recommend that designers include accessibility and usability experts as early as possible in the planning.

As I develop my skills as an instructional designer, I am finding how much I enjoy working with multimedia: video, animation, Storyline®, and audio. When I am developing these projects, I am able to let my intuition drive more. As an academic writer, so much of the work is “in my head” but when I work in multimedia, I have discovered the creative side gets to stretch itself, which has been fun and new for me.

It’s like a dance, really.

Online learning is not new, but its face is changing as technology develops how it functions. As Boettcher and Conrad, (2010) state, the best way to start a course is to focus on social presence activities for the learners and the instructor. Today’s technology provides a variety of tools to choose from for the best fit. Palloff and Pratt (2010) discussed a variety of Web 2.0 tools that offer students and instructors additional methods for interaction. Even though the list of options continues to grow, the instructional designer should always assess how the technology will support the learning process. Designing a course that delivers content with sound pedagogy, engaging, and interactive materials, within a strengthening community of learners is a daunting endeavor. From my previous experience designing an online orientation course, and as I work through this course, I am constantly reminded how important the right activity at the right time with the right tool is. With the many issues to consider, appropriate fit, accessibility and usability, skillful analysis and selection of the right tool will take some time and experience. The resources have helped me see how many options there are and that a good course uses tools that fit well. When it all fits together, the learning experience can be very like a good dance.


References:

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. Association for Learning Technology, 15(3), 231–245.

Evolution of online learning. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, 18–19. Retrieved from: http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2014-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN-SC.pdf

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Enhancing the online experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu

Roblyer, M. D., & Wiencke, W. R. (2003). Design and use of a rubric to assess and encourage interactive qualities in distance courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), 77–98. doi:10.1207/S15389286AJDE1702_2

Getting Your Ducks in a Row: Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

ducks-in-a-row-threeRemember walking into your early-primary grade classroom on the first day of school? Everything looked inviting: the bulletin boards, the welcome back notice written on the board with the teacher’s name, and the topics we would soon be studying placed around the classroom. Another element that was equally exciting was seeing old friends and meeting the new “kids” who would be joining our class. I always felt initial excitement at the sense of embarking on a different journey for the year.

First Things First

Creating a welcoming online environment is just as important to the adults who will learn in the “classroom” as it is to young children beginning in education, perhaps even more so. The online classroom can be daunting to those new to online learning. Making sure the course is properly prepared, not only in a pedagogical sense, but in atmosphere and tone ensures students feel welcome and are recognized as individuals. Dr. Pratt and Dr. Palloff, note that the first two weeks in an online course are the most critical (Laureate Education, 2010). Student attrition is most likely to occur during this time period, preparing the necessary support for students will help mitigate student withdrawal.

Getting started on the right foot means preparing before the course begins. Teaching a course online is different from teaching in a classroom, recognizing this fact and making the appropriate adjustments will make all the difference. Even if the course has been previously designed, it is a good idea to analyze what might need some modification. Reviewing previous student evaluations might help shed light on areas where the design might be weak (Bart, 2010). It is important to analyze which technology tools will best deliver content, clarify concepts, and provide interactivity. These tools used effectively help create a tangibility of the course content for the students, therefore careful consideration of the appropriate tool is key. Conrad and Donaldson (2011) caution that technology should not be the primary focus, but rather the vehicle to deliver the content most effectively, and therefore more successfully. Boettcher and Conrad, (2010) recommend focusing on the essential technology tools first. They also note that teachers should be sure they know how the technology works so they can guide their students when necessary.

Stepping Off

Providing students with the information they will need to succeed not just in the course, but in the online environment will reduce the amount of anxiety for them should they run into problems. Information such as where to find technical support, library support, and other academic support should be included in pre-week announcements or activities if it is not already provided by the institution (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). A top priority is to communicate a sense of presence, so students feel there is a human being in that “classroom” which helps lay the foundation for the community that is forming. Posting a syllabus, clear expectations for activities such as weekly discussions helps dispel the mystery about the online environment. Boettcher and Conrad, (2010) further comment that while students are familiar with a classroom environment, it is not certain they know how to communicate in an online environment. In a physical classroom students know who they can approach to clarify assignment questions, or to discuss some of the content. This is not so easily established in an online environment. Setting the tone for a collaborative community can begin with a good icebreaker activity where the instructor participates as well as the students. The goal is not just for the students to learn more about the instructor, but they will also get to know each other and, it is hopeful, they will feel more comfortable posting in discussion and be able to identify each other better as well. In addition to developing a strong online community, being clear about your expectations for student interaction, and course procedures for discussion and assignments provides students the knowledge they need to succeed. If they have questions, they will know how and where to get answers.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, the online instructor wears a number of hats. In the document “Assessing online facilitation instrument,” (2007) published by Humboldt University, the online instructor duties are divided into four roles: managerial, pedagogical, technical, and social. The document provides a checklist for instructors to review as they progress through the term. With so many different elements to keep track of, the checklist helps the teacher make sure the priorities are met. Finally, the instructor needs to review the course elements to be sure that all the pieces are there, if not, be sure they are designed and developed before the class begins (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

 What I Bring With Me

After reviewing all the resources for this week, I learned some essential tools for online instruction. While most are ones that are important to the successful online course: planning, communication, etc., the one that stands out for me is creating a strong online community of learners. As a student, I know how important the online community has been for me, but as a teacher, I would be even more dedicated to creating that atmosphere. I thought the suggestion in the video this week that the teacher use the student’s names in your comments as soon as possible was important to feeling recognized as an individual in a classroom (Laureate Education, 2010). I have been in physical college classes where that never happened. Being able to connect with the teacher and the other students in the class is the cornerstone of Constructivism, the theory of learning woven into much of online education (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). I believe beginning with the goal of providing students with a meaningful, community environment for learning will allow me to start on the right foot, and hopefully, the rest will fall into place. I would want my students to feel as excited about learning as I did when I walked into those early classrooms; ready to begin the journey.


References:

Assessing online facilitation instrument. (2007). Humboldt University. Retrieved from http://www2.humboldt.edu/aof/AssessingOnlineFacilitationInstrument.pdf

Bart, M. (2010). A checklist for facilitating online courses. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/distance-learning/a-checklist-for-facilitating-online-courses/

Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R.-M. (2010). The Online Teaching Survival Guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu