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The site covers how to begin, how to operate, and how to make Web-based courses successful and enjoyable. Its contents are developed over years, and is intended for my current students, and sharing my personal experiences and exchange of ideas with other educators.
Kindly e-mail me your comments, suggestions, and concerns. Thank you.
· Companion site I: Teaching an Online Course - The Debriefing: Dr. Arsham, The E-Learning Post
· Companion site II: A selected parts of this site is appeared as an invited paper in the Journal of the United States Distance Learning Association, Vol. 16, No. 3, 2002.
· Companion site III: Report From The Front Lines (A review), Eduprise: Enterprise e-Learning
· Companion site IV: The CourseWare: Introduction to Prometheus
To search the site, try Edit | Find in page [Ctrl + f]. Enter a word or phrase in the dialogue box, e.g. "learning" or "quality" If the first appearance of the word/phrase is not what you are looking for, try Find Next.
There have been many technological dawns in the last 30 years, during which the desktop computer and the Internet have been developed; but there have been similar dawns throughout the 20th Century - film, radio, records, broadcast television, audiotape, videotape, programmed learning machines, etc. Each time enthusiasts have announced the transformation or even the end of the school/college/university. In fact, the impact on the bulk of teaching and learning has been minimal. Developments in paper/printing technologies have had far more influence, with the consequence that face-to-face discussion and paper resources still dominate public education. Audio-visual media have been treated more as an icing-on-the-cake than as something at the very heart of learning -- and likewise their long-suffering support services (though the new media, particularly video, have fared somewhat better in the development of corporate training programs). In fact, there is debate in the instructional design literature about whether there are any unique attributes of media that can promote improved learning [see, e.g., Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate, Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19].
Internet technology allow teachers and students keep up with their minds. It let them try their ideas as soon as they come up with them.
On hiring an online graduate, employers are likely to be cautious, if not skeptical. The belief is that an online degree is an interesting exercise, but it is not going to be as rewarding or valuable as a full-time traditional degree. This is partly, because most employers have traditional degrees and may be reluctant to hire someone with a credential not yet established.
As a broader array of communication tools is developed, course designers need a better understanding of what kinds of communication each medium is best suited for learning/teaching environments. The single biggest advantage in online learning programs is the interactivity they offer.
A good interactivity is hinged on the mainstreaming of instructors with their specialized background, getting into more generalized leadership roles. It is only there that they can ensure that creative collaboration and orchestration of online teaching/learning. A good Web-based design might not be in design at all, but in bringing design into mentoring and the leadership.
One of the biggest issues facing universities wading into online learning is interactivity, both in its level and mode. How can the instructor make Web-based teaching more interactive? How can the instructor create a virtual classroom environment that maximizes participation? Just what constitutes 'interactivity' is hardly clear for some instructors. To some people, it means enabling learners and instructors to share ideas in a virtual chat room; to others, merely posting a question on a bulletin board qualifies as interactivity. Despite the popular conception of the Internet as our most interactive medium, on the great majority of Web-based courses the interaction all goes in one direction. Students interest, motivation, questioning, and interaction must be on display throughout the learning process.
Throughout this site, the terms Web-based learning, distance learning, distance education, distributed learning, learner-centered programs, and online learning will be used interchangeably.
As the cost of technology decreases, many universities are finding ways to bring the benefits of the classroom into a distance-learning setting. However, distance teaching has been described as an industrialized form of education, characterized by rationalization of process, division of labor and mass production. The new information and communication technologies can facilitate this development, but only if policy makers are sensitive to the opportunities, especially at an international level. Web-based teaching and learning call for a serious reconsideration of the effectiveness(especially in light of increased demand for education and the opportunities for increased student motivation by new technologies) if integrated with knowledge-based design sites. Well-thought instructional design for any Web-based course contributes in moving students' expectations from promises to performance while taking the course.
The operational infrastructure of creating a more effective, efficient and accessible learning environment is critical to Web-based learning/teaching success. Yet all too often this element is overlooked or seen as incidental to the design and quality of the learning materials themselves. These are the key success factors in teaching/learning which is orientated towards the students, who will become autonomous self-learners using the media and the support services. The high quality of the Internet education process means the molding of abilities to learn. The advantages of online learning must outweigh the disadvantages for both the learner and the teacher to make the conversion process cost effective. However, there is no doubt that we have already entered the global information society. And there is no way back. Nowadays, content on the Web seems to be inexpensive. But knowledge is nearly never inexpensive. The importance of content will increase to become a critical issue for the Web-based teaching/learning.
Nearly three years after the dot-com fizzle began; Web-based teaching/learning has emerged from the wreckage as one of the Internet's most useful applications. By considering the Web-based pedagogical issues for creation of new ideas about teaching/learning have an impact on the educational strategies which are deeply rooted in the cultural environment. The advent of the Web, coupled with a new way of teaching/learning, places increased demands on students, lecturers, and the ways in which they process this particular Web form of extracting knowledge. The demands are still on pedagogical challenges in relation to the use of the Web-based teaching/learning. This pedagogical issue should be viewed as blending and integrating in order that it will no longer be identifiable as a discrete medium compared with traditional methods. There are more collaborative and community-building activities that bring learners together. Interactivity and tutorial supports are not a luxury anymore. To some instructors who once taught on the Web that it is just one more excuse to step back with relief--after all, this stuff is hard. But that's the wrong move.
A technical assistant can help transform Web-based programs into trouble-free, fast moving, interactive technology that keeps learners involved and the instructor on track. Having a technical assistant enables the instructor to stay focused on content while the assistant takes care of everything else.
It is a common misperception that delivering courses online diminishes the personal connection between students and teacher. On the contrary, online learning tools present a new universe of possibilities for creating an individualized, highly effective environment that enhances and personalizes the learning experience.
Other issues related to students include their psychological reactions to the new way of learning. Some may have a fear of technology. Others may have a low level of technology skills, though this is changing as more universities are training students more thoroughly. Some students may struggle with independent learning and feel insecure with an amorphous teacher.
Online teaching/learning are not fixed in time or space. Students can interact with the instructor and their classmates at any time from anywhere to seek clarification for issues they encounter in their homework assignment, to discuss topics raised in the course contents, or to initiate new discussions on related topics. A successful online discussion has the same synergistic effect as group or in-class discussion, in which students build on one another's perspectives to gain a deeper understanding of the materials form different perspectives.
Change may not be easy, but it is necessary, inevitable and often beneficial. Whether your students succeed or fail depends in part upon how well you leverage your full intellectual capital -- and your Web-based course is taking a starring role. Also, think about engaging students in implementing such a learning environment -- combine your teaching and students learning together. Keeping interactivity with students, and following the factors outlined in this site will help to ensure a comprehensive, well-thought-out Web-based teaching/learning system -- and helps to safeguard both instructor and students in the process.
The main question and concern is that: Will technological study aids, from crib notes posted on the Internet to online degree programs, enhance education? Or will Web-education supplant bricks-and-mortar classrooms and perhaps degrade the quality of learning and instruction?
The issues and techniques discussed in this site, together with your students' feedback, can help you to enhance and become a better architect of your Web-based courses.
This site identifies the issues to consider in the definition, selection or evaluation of an effective Web-based course system, regarding both the learning process and the system management in higher education. It presents state-of-the-art learning tools and the lessons learned from my past experiences.
This site constitutes also a report from the "frontliner" of e-learning, since the University of Baltimore was the first school to offer an all-online AACSB-accredited Web MBA. I taught the first course in this Web MBA program, which was Statistics & Relevant Resources on the Web. A second course in this same program was Applied Management Science.
Is there something new Under the Sun?
The promises of distance education to provide high-quality educational pro-grams that can be undertaken anywhere and at any time are not new. Similar promises were made early in the 20th century by correspondence study programs. These programs failed to realize their promises because they were confronted by a fundamental trade-off between quality - personalized education - and quantity - the widespread communication of the message to large numbers of students. When higher education confronted this trade-off, they opted to choose the quantity model. That choice eventually led to a widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of correspondence education.
Like everything new, at first people refused to believe that this strange new way of learning/teaching can be done, then they begin to hope that it can be done, then they see that it can be done. Rapid advances in information technology and easy access to the Internet are reshaping educational institutions by providing new learning environments and new ways to teach. At its worst, Web-based learning is a poor substitute for the classroom experience. But at its best, the unique attributes of online courses enable learning modes that are not possible in a face-to-face model. To achieve the best possible effective learning environment students must have access to the technology, and the needed training in how to use effectively the technology, and the role of the instructor as expert in learning process design, control and implementation process. Availability of the instructor to serve, each individual student as a motivator, a mentor, and a caring communicator is the key to success. Finally, it is already realized that technology on its own does not improve learning/teaching.
Learning is the act or process of developing skill or knowledge. Modern, Web-based learning provides the means for changing fundamentally the way in which instruction is delivered to students. Multimedia learning resources combined with CD-ROMs and workbooks attempt to explore the essential concepts of a course by using the full pedagogical power of multimedia. Many Web sites have nice features such as interactive examples, animation, video, narrative and written text. These Web sites are designed to provide students with a "self-help" learning resource to complement a traditional textbook.
In a few earlier pilot studies, [Mann, B. (1997) Evaluation of Presentation modalities in a hypermedia system, Computers & Education, 28, 133-143, and Ward M. and D. Newlands (1998), Use of the Web in undergraduate teaching, Computers & Education, 31, 171-184.] compare the relative effectiveness of three versions of hypermedia systems, namely, Sound, Text, and Sound/Text. The results indicate that those working with Sound could focus their attention on the critical information. Those working with the Text and Sound/Text version, however, did not learn as much and stated their displeasure with reading so much text from the screen. Based on this study, it is clear, at least at this time, that such Web-based innovations cannot serve as an adequate substitute for face-to-face live instruction
Stoll (1999) in his book, High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections, Random House, 1999, argues that schools should use funding to improve real education rather than invest in computer technology and rely on telecommunications for education. Furthermore he indicates that the computer was often a crutch which diverted time and resources from programs, taught students to think and evaluate information. Online learning education does for knowledge what just-in-time delivery does for manufacturing: It delivers the right tools and parts when you need them. However, developing online learning is typically an intense process, which should take much of the faculty development time.
The Java applets are probably the most phenomenal way of simplifying various concepts by way of interactive processes. These applets help bring into life every concept, from central limit theorem to interactive random games and multimedia applications.
The Flashlight Project develops survey items, interview plans, cost analysis methods, and other procedures that institutions can use to monitor the success of educational strategies that use technology.
In the knowledge corporate world, it might be true that two-way communication is not always something they need to have in order to complete what they are doing, but sometimes one-way audio (with optional two-way or with chat) is sufficient. Whereas in the university environment, the expectation is much higher, and they require two-way communication in order to have the right level of interaction with students.
Clearly, the main question for students and those who will consider hiring them after graduation from an online degree, is this: Is online education a godsend to busy professionals who cannot otherwise take college courses, or is it a low-quality option that should be avoided?
What is becoming clear is that we are experiencing the same psychological response to today's new media from some old-timer educators . They have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy in face-to-face using the old rules. Consequently, they are often resistant to change and less likely to look for creative, innovative approaches to new opportunities. They must be encouraged to adapt their teaching style to the medium of the current generation of students, and in order to make a positive difference for them. The new medium emerges with great fanfare. Public pressure builds to employ it in education. However, those educators' adoption lags further behind.
The technology spare faculty members from having to photocopy and distribute course packs, and mean that students do not have to hike to a professor's office to look up grades that were posted on the door, or call classmates to ask about the next reading assignment. Such features simplify the administrative tasks of teaching and learning. At many colleges, not all faculty members use the technology; however, their usefulness depends largely on how much effort is put into giving them helpful features.
Facilitating creative dialogues between instructor students is the Internet's greatest contribution to enhancing education, much more important than just putting lecture notes online. Most face-to-face courses involve a low-level of collaboration among students and instructors. A good teacher in the classroom can be less sequential since he or she has the luxury of being able to evaluate the Students' reaction and adjust the teaching process accordingly --- something that textbooks cannot do. Feedback mechanisms do exist in Web learning, but are currently quite primitive in comparison to the face-to-face mode of teaching. The current Web-based courses also force decisions; users must interact in order for the narrative to progress because nothing new arrives until the user clicks another link. A "good' Web-based course environment is where the learner can think and experience a sequential flow of learning allowing "teach-yourself" by way of thinking for yourself. Subsequently, it must allow the learners interacting freely with the instructor whenever they need to.
Online delivery promises a new access route for millions of qualified, motivated students. The development of Web-based courses does indeed amount to a revolution in teaching and learning. At the heart of this revolution is a completely new pedagogy, for which most teachers are not trained, and which, for the most part, their administrators do not understand. What is currently happening, is that too many untrained teachers are fooling themselves, and being fooled into believing, that all they need do to be part of this revolution is to convert existing courses to Web-page format and be prepared to answer emails.
The concept of an online community is very broad. It is often a small group of classmates who email each other about, for example, comparing their course work assignment before submitting the instructor for grading. One of my former students find an effective collaborative technique: "I've noticed that while studying for this course, I tend to copy, paste and email content segments to myself as a form of note taking, and to my classmates who might be interested in the topic."
Online community is one of the tools for a collaborated learning environment. Web-based collaboration has the potential to enhance the learning process. Educators who value collaboration and implement collaborative activities are more likely to engage in student-centered practice. Constructivist learning, a revised and updated form of discovery learning, is also a student-centered learning approach that is based on cognitive psychology. In this active learning environment, students encounter thinking-for-themselves that enable them to construct personal knowledge through problem-solving and experimentation. Constructivist principles work particularly well on Web-based teaching/learning setting.
The impacts of the Internet on teaching and learning are highlighted in a later section of this site. In summary, a Web-based learning class is a more effective learning experience, since the learner participates in the learning process and receives individual attention, even when the instructor and the learner are at different locations. This participation in learning is by itself a positive learning experience. The Web-based learning atmosphere allows more effective interaction between the students and instructor. Therefore, it can be as effective as the traditional classroom learning environment where the space, seating, etc., could be inadequate. Online learning teaches you how to think before writing in a disciplined way of communication. It demands discipline of both instructor and student. There is less 'physical touch' but much more intellectual touch.
The major impact of the Internet is that the traditional teacher and student roles change significantly. Students assume increasing responsibility for their learning while teachers become resources, tutors and evaluators, guiding students in their problem-solving efforts. For you as a learner, the ability to concentrate and to use your time well is the key to succeed.
The Cost-Benefit Issues
Since the dawn of the Internet age, advocates have predicted the end of leafy college campuses as schools go virtual. The miracle of the Internet was supposed to let great teachers reach any student, any subject, any time, and anywhere.
Rapid technological advancement may produce problems and challenges for educational institutions when their products and services are rendered obsolete "virtually" within a short time-horizon. The Web-teacher who has properly learned his/her craft will have transferable skills and knowledge perfectly adaptable to the emerging technology. The benefit of having transferable knowledge in such a volatile marketplace is readily apparent. It is insurance for survival of the Web- based courses. The Web sites have highly dynamic rates of birth and death. The Internet is a graveyard of Web sites who tried but failed to keep up with the contents that the visitors really need from them. Many went on the Web very quickly once it was clear that many new sites were "choked with flow" and did not have any useful and interesting information. There is certainly a power in the Internet communication, development, and delivery of intellectual materials via this medium we are mastering in our educational institutions. Effective and efficient Web-based teaching/learning are just getting started, and survival is the test for quality assurance.
The Internet is affecting the twin disciplines of knowledge management and content management. Knowledge management is the thinking process of converting information to useful knowledge, while content management is published information. The author of a Web site must provide the efficient content management, and the visitor who uses a Web site must have the mental ability of effective knowledge management. The authors need to learn more about the usability in addition to content of their sites. Every penny of the cost of maintaining your site and keeping it up-to-date is worth it. As the size and complexity of web sites increase, and users and authors demand greater functionality and frequently updated content, effective site management becomes essential. Much web design has suffered from an over reliance on graphic design principles. Too many graphic designers have tried to force the Web to be what it is not, in the process creating ineffective and sometimes unusable Web sites. Quality web design is driven by information architecture design principles. Graphic design should support these principles.
How do you make sure that students learn? How do decide what to learn next and to bridge your weekly assignment to achieve the wholeness of the topics? What factors motivate your students? These questions are central to the challenges of knowledge management, and yet most online courses are designed in ignorance of their answers.
In general, people who use the Internet are reluctant to pay for content, and most people think that the quality of the content on the Internet is poor. Similar behavior exists among the administrators within our academic institutions; they want quality content, but they do not want to pay well for it. This is a circle that cannot be squared.
Like any product or service, Web-based course offering needs an adequately survey of potential market before trying to develop the course. Indeed, many institutions created online courses without determining whether they were even any potential students. As a result, they had trouble finding enough students to maintain the course.
An unhelpful myth is being spread about content. Web sites are being sold with the promise that one can create content once and then publish it everywhere --- to the Web, print, mobile phones, interactive TV, etc. Unfortunately, this concept of ‘reusable' content takes a very simplistic, commodity-based view of content.
Online education is growing too fast to track. Widespread shortages of qualified online teachers are predicted. However, educational institutions can train and capitalize on the talent of their teachers who may have retired from the traditional setting.
The rapid growth of information, coupled with the ability to exchange it more rapidly among more people than ever before, is creating a new environment for education. Many universities are negotiating for their standing as the de facto source of scholarly knowledge in the new environment.
Hundreds of universities of every sort have been putting some basic courses up on the Web, using sometimes pedestrian software. And students seem to think they are fine. Community colleges and regional universities that have slowly, organically moved into the online arena -- doing their old job in a new way -- have succeeded where the flashy business types and big-time private schools have not.
If administrators start with question similar to "If I replace my traditional classroom teaching with Web courses, how much will I save?" As a strong advocate for web teaching/learning, I find that approach flawed. Administrators may fail to recognize many non-cost related benefits that the new way of teaching/learning, such as reach for interactivity, consistent messaging and follow-up, and flexibility to meet the needs of individual students, brings to our educational institutions.
The highest cost component of high quality instruction is faculty. Despite the fact that the higher education community tends to treat quality, access, and cost as three separate and distinct issues, they are very much intertwined. Higher education has known for decades that substituting cheaper labor for more expensive labor reduces instructional costs. The use of graduate teaching assistants, adjunct and part-time faculty, and other instructional personnel has enabled institutions to keep their costs from rising beyond what they are now. The disadvantage has always been that our dependency on part-time faculty reduces the quality of instruction, and anecdotal evidence seems to support that view. The educational institutions that rely too heavily on adjunct faculty teaching on the Web, are concerned with two most important factors: control and quality. The academic program falling into the hands and control of administrators who make decisions based on financial expediency rather than academic quality. The quality assurance factor may be difficult to monitor, since the academy has neither the infrastructure nor the culture to support a close supervision of ubiquitous and disenfranchised adjunct faculty.
Web-based courses can be more effective than classroom, and it is becoming less expensive too. Nevertheless, to design a successful online learning program, you must address major learning factors such as customization and communication in teaching students based on their individual learning styles.
Effective course content depends on the protection of intellectual property - or, to be more direct, recognition that knowledge is a commodity to be bought and sold. However, most universities find it hard to accept that knowledge is a commodity. The best research and the best teaching depend on knowledge being "free". Web-based instruction extends the awkward dilemmas universities have already encountered in the commercialization of research.
Web-based education is not an e-training: To view Web-based teaching as just moving instructional programs online is extremely limiting. Such thinking may cause you to miss out on many other important and essential elements of Web-based teaching/learning; such as, interactivity, knowledge management, performance support, and virtual communities. Web-based communities are essentially student-to-teacher knowledge sharing networks. Communities of practice are usually thought of as knowledge management solutions, yet the time has come to leverage the powerful potentials of combining technology with human-centric approach to knowledge sharing. The right knowledge can make students more productive. An effective teaching strategy is a proven way of transferring knowledge. Students' needs, and not technology, should be the foundation of such a strategy, which include allowing students to think for themselves.
Today, Web-based course offerings continue to grow; however, much of the momentum has slowed, mostly because of the enormous costs of launching efficacious courses' online. Programs that are pedagogically sound but not fiscally sound may not be endorsed by the administration because of financial strain to the organization. Conversely, the faculty whom it represents will not endorse programs that are fiscally sound but not pedagogically sound. The best approach is to develop or maintain programs that are pedagogically and fiscally sound.
Would I consider an online course? Possibly. There are two key points to consider - the design of the course material and the level of support given to the student. Online courses are not a "cheap" option for universities. A high level of investment is needed in employing content developers who can use the full array of Web design tools (animation, hyperlink, interactivity) to develop unique online programs. Universities need to make long-term investments in order to obtain long-term returns. It is also unethical to deliver a course that does not meet the needs of the students.
The artless Web sites created during the Web's infancy were of necessity built only with simple HTML tags, and were forced to divide up their functionality and content into a maze (i.e., a web) of separate pages. This made a navigation scheme an unavoidable component of any Web site design, and of course, a clear, visually arresting navigation scheme was better than an obscure or hidden one. But many Web designers have deduced incorrectly from this that users want navigation schemes. Actually, students would be happy if there were no navigation at all.
Classification, including taxonomy, categorization, is to content as mapping is to geography. It is an essential tool that allows students to navigate it quickly and efficiently. Without clear classification a Web-based course becomes a jungle yard that is confusing and time wasting for both students and the instructor. Moreover, in designing your course Web site, avoid the following pitfalls: Poor overall appearance, Spelling/Grammar errors, No contact information, Broken internal/external links, Poor organization, and Confusing and/or difficult to read level.
The administrators are focusing on cost-effectiveness in which educators can deliver their intellectual materials targeting this transformation in teaching/learning. However, one may ask: What is the driving factors behind technology-based changes in teaching and learning? How does institutional culture fit into the picture? Do they have the necessary resources? Student-fee structures have always been unfair. When online students who live hundreds of miles away, must pay fees for campus services, this is a source of considerably greater discontent? The main concern is in targeting the transformation of learning/teaching through technology while reducing the cost.
On the other hand, the new state and federal policies, advances in services to students, new costing of technology methodologies, evolving accreditation and quality assurance issues, new e-learning projects and new institutional practices.
Instructor's Fee, Class Size, and Supervision: The impact of class size is of concern to all parties involved on Web-based learning/teaching. It takes 2 or 3 times as much time to teach an on-line course as a face-to-face course for both students and the Instructors. In almost all cases, the instructors teaching Web-based courses are being paid extra. The extra amount in ($) increases with the size of the class, and whether or not the instructor is the designer of the course content. This is a fair compensation that is practiced in almost at all educational institutions. An on-line course that works for 15 or 20 students may be impossible with 100 students. With face-to-face courses, where the students are met simultaneously, the repetition in providing student feedback may be much less than in asynchronous teaching. Therefore, on-line teaching may not scale as well as face-to-face teaching? In many institutions, the course designers are responsible for quality of the course by supervising (with pay) many sections of the same course being taught by their adjunct faculty members during the course delivery. The supervisor has access to the course site and receives automatically a copy of all written communication between students and the instructor. However, the instructor is the only person who is in direct contact with he/her assigned students.
Information technology allows knowledge to spread near-instantly, and makes it accessible to everyone, i.e., breaking down the walls of education. Given the ease and speed at which information travels, every institution in the knowledge society --- not only schools, and universities, but also businesses and increasingly government agencies too. This is a fact that, your online program has to be competitive globally, even though some educational institutions will continue to be local in their activities. However, the Internet will keep students everywhere informed on what is available anywhere in the world, and at what price.
An Effective Open-House Strategy for Online Programs: Making all your teaching material accessible on the Internet, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world is the key in the competitive online course enrollments. While this seems counterintuitive in the trend toward commercialization in today's educational markets, this strategy could prove successful not only economically, but could exploit also human capital resources that would foster innovation and strengthen the democratic foundation of a knowledge-based society.
Reducing the Dropout Rate: Why some students leave online courses without finishing them? One possible factor is most some Web-based courses are too long and unfortunately boring, not meeting the needs of the students. This could be also the feeling of isolation by the students meaning students had lost interest because of lack of engagement through interactivity.
The dropout rate for online educational programs is much higher than that of traditional educational programs. In my courses, the dropout rate was zero. However, I had a few cases where a few students became frustrated with the weekly demands on their time and effort. The reason was I had to make sure that every student understood the material. I used e-mail to encourage these students to persist and to express what they did not understand. The main reason for dropout is that the student feels no one cares. When the student receives e-mail from the professor, the student is more likely to continue. The advantages of continuous assessment include an increase in the time that students spend studying, a higher level of familiarity with tested material and of comfort with the testing process, immediate feedback, and the ability to see the result of effort on achievement. Assessing students' understanding of concepts is very effective in detecting areas in which students are not grasping the concepts, thereby enabling corrective actions to be taken in a timely manner, and in preparing students for higher-level activities in the computer labs. Weekly assignments help students keep up with the readings and recognize holes in their understanding, and they promote understanding of the content. There are always a few students in every Web-based course that needs their instructor's constant reinforcement and encouragement throughout the duration of the course. Once students are engaged in the learning process, it ensures maximum retention and understanding.
Assessment can be an effective means of gathering critical information about student and course performance. However, the preparation time required of instructors to create quizzes, to grade papers, and to provide feedback to students can be overwhelming, particularly in large courses.
The most effective means of reducing dropout rate is preparation. The creation and implementation of a required online student-orientation and preparation course certainly helps significantly.
Web-based courses must be viewed as student-centered activity that rely on a combination of high-quality, interactive learning, asynchronous and synchronous interaction, and individualized mentoring on the other end. They are modularized and self-paced, may include group experiences as appropriate and desirable, are delivered anywhere (sites, homes, and workplaces), diagnose students' skill and knowledge level as they begin the course.
What kinds of approaches to online learning will improve the quality of student learning? Greater quality means greater individualization of learning experiences for students. The ability to customize the learning environment so that each student can achieve in a variety of ways increases the likelihood that learning success online will be higher than learning success in the face-to-face setting, dominated by a one-size-fits-all approach.
The key goal is for the students to become engaged in active "doing" in the learning process-that is, to move beyond merely reading text. Helping students feel that they are a part of a learning community is critical to persistence, learning, and satisfaction. In many cases, email or other means of human contact is necessary for more than just learning content. Encouragement, praise, and assurance that they are on the right learning path are also critical feedback components, helping students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing that someone is there to help when they get stuck and to get them moving again gives students the confidence that they can succeed.
To summarize, the following items must be considered by the Web-based Course Delivery Center (including teams of faculty, instructional designers, learning theorists, and IT staff, sometimes in partnership with commercial providers) within the educational institutions:
Course selection: Was the course selected against criteria and assessed as being suitable for delivery on the Web?
Needs assessment: Is there evidence to suggest that the needed assessment was conducted and used to guide the development or redesign of the course content? Was a student's analysis conducted either as part of the needed assessment or as an independent analysis? A huge obstacle in the uptake of Web-based course is the current lack of a customized, tailored service. Any student requires a catered service. There is no single solution when it comes to learning.
Instructional design: Is there evidence to suggest that an instructional style was used in designing or redesigning the course content? The instructors should understand their students learning styles, introduce them to content they didn't know they were looking for, and--most of all--keep them from using the search function. Were there various adaptations to the media and materials to ensure that a variety of learning styles were accommodated? The instructor needs to think more creatively about how to develop course designs that respond to a greater variety of learning styles rather than concluding that online learning is more suitable for one type of student than another.
Taking this approach rather than limiting enrollment in online courses for some students requires real change, since it requires us both to understand our students as individuals and to offer many more learning options within each course. The instructor needs to treat students as individuals rather than as homogenous groups. Rather than maintaining a fixed view of what all students want or what all students need, we need to be flexible and create environments that enable greater choice in learning styles for students. From my own experience I know that students differ, for example, in the amount of interaction that they require from me.
Course reconfiguration: For existing face-to-face course, was the course specifically redesigned for delivery on the Web?
Weekly Lesson planning: Were lessons planned specifically with a Web-based delivery mode in mind?
Interactive instructional strategy: Was interactivity considered to be the most important element in the implementation of the course? Was technical support available to the students and the instructors to assist in learning and teaching on the Web?
Instructional delivery systems: Was there any evidence to suggest that an analysis of the delivery system was conducted to ensure that it was suitable and readily available for both the instructor and the students?
Program evaluation and learner assessment: Is there evidence to suggest that the course was evaluated or that learner assessment results were used to assist with the evaluation of the course? Is there evidence to suggest that the course was implemented with relation to other courses where information sharing provided a synergist impact on the outcome?
Itemized Factors to Optimize the Learning Environment
What is the best we can do to optimize the conditions for the instructor, and the learner? How do you maximize learning in a short amount of time and still emerge with a deep, internal body of knowledge?
It works if you Work on It: Unlike Web-based courses such as Information Systems, where the medium is the message, the first question to ask is whether the context determines the nature of the knowledge to be learned? This is an important question, because different sets of contextual practice related to the knowledge in question need to be acquired in order for learning to be successful. Computer competency is becoming as necessary in the modern workforce as writing competency, and it is necessary for educational institutions to adopt computer literacy requirements for their students.
Since the University of Baltimore was the first school to offer an all-online AACSB-accredited Web MBA, I had to make fast and important decisions, such as how to begin, how to operate, and how to make e-learning successful and enjoyable. In creating the Web sites in both courses, it was beneficial to see what is taking place on the WWW. I have devoted a considerable amount of time, searching the Web and collecting reliable relevant information (which was available at that time) and then published a few articles for professional journals such as "Statistics on the Web".
Although the content of my course is the same, the means of delivering are different. Launching headfirst into Web-based instruction is not for the timid. Many are jumping on the "bandwagon" and using Web-based materials in their teaching, but just how effective are the efforts? If you cannot teach better with technology, do not use it! Merely using Web-based materials in the classroom or assigning URLs for supplementary reading may not be an effective use of these materials. There must be forethought and careful planning in order to make this a meaningful experience for the educator and the student. Traditional education emphasizes learning content; learning the "what." The information age, however, requires people who are competent learners, who understand the process of learning, the "how."
In the very near future, we will be a "learning society" in which education is universally accessible, and lifelong learning is promoted among young students and working adults alike. To learn is to face this transformation.
Learning and Teaching Style: I would like to insist that most parts of my courses required a particular learning style known as learning-to-learn. The effective and efficient approach for these courses is doing your homework assignments on a regular weekly basis and learning from your success and from your mistakes whenever I provide feedback to your individual work.
The teaching material and teaching style must reflect the change in the real world, which students may not know because they have not been there yet. Unfortunately, some instructors are still using their well over 10-years old lecture notes. Adding to this problem by doubling the difficulties for students, some instructors are devoting not some but most of class time for students presentation and group work. The instructor does not want to lecture most of the time. A few do the extreme opposite "I know, you don't, I'm going to tell you." Some instructors may "buy a reputation" by many false means such as giving good grades to all (sometimes all A's), not giving any exams/test or projects.
Satisfying the Needs of Your Student: The following items are proven useful to student's learning process:
1. Know each student's level of knowledge of the prerequisite(s) topics: Give them your prepared questionnaire to fill-in without writing their names on it. Analyze the data and update your lectures to meet their needs.
2. Provide an overview of the course material in the first lecture. Ask them to write a 2-page essay on what this course is about. This assignment requires reflections from students, motivates them, and increases their interest about your course.
3. Assign, collect, and grade homework on weekly bases. This enables you to find the weak spots of each student. Ask students to re-do the needed parts for a "full credit". If in the second attempt some students still have problem, then give them the solution set, together with a few words of encouragement to revise and resubmit for a few points credit.
4. Put aside one class for review and students preparation for the midterm examination and one for the final. This review session includes putting together the topics they have learned every week to the wholeness of the material they have learned. Provide also a past sample exam to do as part of their homework.
5. Prepare a "My response to the last class questions" in writing and distribute, during the next class. This reinforces and encourages students to ask good questions. It also helps if any student missed your last week lecture. You may like to put this collection of good questions on the course Web site under FAQ. This page also includes a section titled "How things can go wrong" which contains all common mistakes students made during weekly homework and their exams. This will be helpful for their later review and learning from their mistakes not to repeat it.
6. In your midterm and final exams you may put some open-ended questions such as, "What are the three most significant topics you've learned up to now" Ask them to write a short paragraph for each.
Evaluating Your Success: Have Your Student Learned It? Web-based courses are being used either as credit or non-credit, While the use of these means of knowledge delivery may offer many advantages about developing more independent learners, there are also information handling skills which students must acquire.
As a new online moderator, you will need to know how to carry out online the everyday activities of a teacher: how to build relationships with and among your students, how to encourage participation, how to start and stop discussions, how to deal with the shy, the dominating, the aggressive and the just-plain-awkward. I do encourage you to re-interpret your skills in terms of the new medium and to identify where online teaching can make a unique contribution.
A teaching portfolio is a tightly written, reflective document, summarizing an instructor's approach to teaching and learning, and providing evidence of significant endeavors and achievements in teaching. In is relatively easy for an instructors to make a case for his/her effectiveness as researchers, but it has not been so easy to justify effective teaching. Having a teaching portfolio can:
· help demonstrate your understanding of professional issues associated with effective teaching and learning and support this with documentary evidence;
· assist in self-evaluation and professional development.
The credibility of the case you present in a portfolio depends largely on how well you link claims about effective teaching practice to evidence. The evidence you select and present should make the task of judging competence or excellence both straightforward and reliable.
Self-Assessment for Continuous Improvement in Instruction: We all have high expectations of what Internet can do for our education institutions. While we all agree that e-learning offers great promise, we must be certain how to achieve it. Clearly, if we don't set our sights high, we could fall significantly short of our goals.
I do consider the following items as important factors for continuous Improvement in my teaching:
· Throughout the semester, information (objectives/content/assessment) was clearly given.
· Student was able to locate and use suggested resources.
· The various components of the unit were clearly linked to one another.
· Activities in my course enhanced my students' range of knowledge and skills in the content area covered.
· The professor presented material clearly at the level I could understand.
· The professor appeared enthusiastic about the material being presented.
· The professor used techniques that stimulated my interest in the content being covered.
· The professor assisted students learning by being available for discussion/questioning/clarification.
· The professor appeared to be well prepared. That is, the professor as a source, providing messages containing the relevant knowledge of the field.
· The types of assignments seemed appropriate. This provides a good channel of communication between the student and the teacher.
· Written comments on material returned were helpful, informative, and returned in a reasonable time. The feedback is used as a means to measure the effect of online learning and teaching.
· The professor displayed good skills in methods of communication.
· The methodology and tools used facilitated the learning process.
· The professor taught me to think for myself. The student as the receiver of the knowledge, understood the material.
· The professor demonstrates confidence in his knowledge, well informed on technical and professional advances and his/her role as a teacher.
Clarity in Expectations: Goals and feedback must be unambiguous; otherwise, it is hard to mange your course. The successful implementation of Web-based teaching involves navigating the territory of human perceptions, reactions, and biases. Understanding these human-factors that surround online learning are the critical element for success. The instructor must have some readily well-thought available implementation plans to deal with issues such as resistance, commitment, and culture.
Integrity of Transactional Distance: There must be a commitment to the integrity of transactional distance. The instructor must use effective strategies to increase dialogue interactively. However, the instructor must adapt to minimize the engagement on personal matters. Otherwise, there is a point at which the dialogue about personal matters takes over, and the original learning objectives are compromised. The other problem might be that a very few students took over the dialogue, and turned it into a monologue.
Continuous Evaluation for the Quality: Almost every instructor uses end-of-course evaluation forms - otherwise known as "happy sheets". However, all would probably agree that it's dubious just how valuable this form of evaluation is. Unfortunately, far too often, it is simply a token set of questions that focus on how well the instructor did, whether the trainer was liked, if the courseware was useful, and other questions irrelevant to whether the course delivered its stated learning objectives.
The logical role of the professor has changed. Instead of evaluating the available texts and selecting the best, it is necessary to sift through a huge volume of possibilities and recommend the most legitimate. Even the most diligent scholar is unlikely to be able to read even a small fraction of the available material in his or her specialty. This is one reason that the traditional publication process still exists although the review process is done via Internet. The blind review process still serves the purpose of separating the valuable from the useless.
It is a fact that Web sites have a high rate of birth and death in the cyberspace. In time most sites will disappear. Web sites that are not updated frequently quickly lose their audiences. Keeping your site fresh, with thoroughness of the coverage and relevant takes a lot of work to attract large, highly focused visitors.
Quality Assurance as a Measuring Tool and Decision Procedure: Unfortunately, in some existing Web-based courses the asynchronous communication is inadequate in both the turn-around time, and the lack of psychological connection between the learners and the teachers. A Web-based course provides new challenges for a student regarding interactivity with the teacher and other students. There must be a Quality Assurance (QA) process for all components of a Web-based course such as hidden question within the notes, assignments, feedback, computer-assisted learning, and exams.
Every page of your course could and should encourage feedback from students. It makes sense to hear what students have to say. The more you hidden questions you put on your course materials, the sooner you can create a user experience that really connects and encourage thoughtful readings.
The QA provides a measuring tool for these components and promotes a decision procedure for allocation of resources for creating an effective learning community.
The following are a few items for considerations while doing the QA process:
· Organize: This good housekeeping ensures less confusion. Organization brings mental clarity and order.
· Systematize: This focuses on efficient and effective methods.
· Sanitize: Eliminate any junk files and maintain a clean and virus free environment.
· Standardize: Students must be given sufficient information about all aspects of the learning process.
· Sustain: This requires self-discipline to maintain a good practice of the above items.
Readiness to Start: A first step in implementing a pull strategy in which students use as much instructional resource as they need is to assess their knowledge and skill level as they enter the course or program and determine their preferred learning style. Based on those assessments, students can then elect the most efficient path through the required course materials. Familiarity with students includes: An initial assessment of each student's knowledge/skill level and preferred learning style, An array of high-quality, interactive learning materials and activities, Individualized study plans, Built-in, continuous assessment to provide instantaneous feedback, and appropriate, varied kinds of human interaction when needed
Make sure each individual student has the preparation needed to enter the course. You might ask each student to fill in a Questionnaire Form. For example, for a statistics course, knowledge of Algebra is required. To make sure every student has a necessary understanding of Algebra, I first give them a test for diagnostic purposes. Then, I work closely with a few of them for a week, to bring their knowledge to the required level. I di this (not by any tutors), prior to starting the main course.
Giving Them Credit: Don't expect virtual students to do something you ask them to do without promising to give them some credit for doing it.
Understand Student's Needs: Understand students' feelings and experiences. Communicating by email may make it harder to convey feelings such as concern. Prompt replies to questions at least show we are paying attention. "One size fits all" seems to be bad advice. There are great differences among individual students.
Web-based Teaching Is More Time Consuming: Teaching on the Web is not really about distance learning. It is a new kind of education and a new way of learning. The teacher has to be available everyday. Students expect instant response. For each course you are teaching, you should expect spending much more (two to three times) amount of time compared with face-to-face teaching.
Giving Them Choices: Student must have a variety of possibilities from which to choose. I tried to give more flexible assignments, giving the students choice of the site to review. More motivated students pick the "harder" assignments and feel challenged by them.
Trusting You: Students must feel comfortable enough to set aside the defensive shield.
A Challenge to Teach Virtual Students: Match the abilities of the students to the task. When you're not in the classroom, you miss the glimmer of awareness in students' eyes. It is difficult to tell whether they are getting the subject or not. If you do not give them enough stimulation, they will get bored; if you apply too much they will feel overwhelmed. As every student is different, it seems the best approach is to give a variety of options. Again, the Internet can accommodate