Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Our New Blog List!

Effective January 2, 2013, The Office of Teaching and Learning with Technology (formerly Distance Education) will no longer be adding new feeds to their Online Instructor’s Blog. You will still have access to all of our past teaching and learning blogs from 2007-2012. For an up-to-date list of interesting and thought-provoking blogs that focus on teaching and learning, higher education, and technology used in the classroom, feel free to visit our new webpage “Teaching and Learning Blogs” at .

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Be There and Be Aware

Many authors have pointed to what is known as "presence" as an important component of any successful online course. Presence is that special perception that the instructor is there with and for the students as they learn in a distance course. Lehman and Conceicao (2010) discussed presence in terms of "being there" and "being together." For distance courses, this suggests students perceive the instructor as interested in individual learning and that there will be interactions with others in the environment. To support this idea, let's look at Moore's work (1989). He suggested three distinct types of interactions: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner. These interaction types form the backbone of what we know as presence. The intentional design of activities to explore content and materials is one way to encourage students to interact with the content. Communication between the instructor and one or more students is often what is described as learner to instructor interaction. Students working in groups and responding on discussion areas promotes learner to learner interaction. From the student's perspective, it seems as if the course has been built for them, that the instructor and others are there to assist the student, and that the technology assists the process.

Three dimensions of presence (cognitive, teaching, and social) have been suggested. Cognitive presence is seen as a combination of expert content knowledge coupled with an environment where communication is used for engagement. Teaching presence is the intentional design of instructional activities and environments to achieve stated educational objectives or outcomes. Social presence is about intentional steps allowing the instructor to project their personality and presence across distance to virtual students. Work by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) looked at presence from a community-building view. These authors also expanded the notion of types of presence and actively began to research the impact of presence on the Community of Inquiry model.

Humans are primarily social animals. Some experts say that learning is a social process. Presence is important since some studies have shown a relationship between the students' perception of the level of instructional presence and the students' perception of satisfaction with the instructor and the course. Additional studies suggested instructor presence was a much stronger indicator of perceived learning than peer presence. For both face-to-face and distance education, student contact with faculty, both in and out of class, appears to be a crucial factor in student motivation and persistence. We see instructor presence as one way to develop improved and increased contact between students and instructors. Remember, instructor presence includes cognitive, social, and teaching dimensions. The successful combination of all three dimensions creates a strong instructor presence in a distance course.

Students perceive strong instructor presence as if the instructor is beside them, guiding them in ways to improve their individual understanding. Students also perceive strong instructor presence as caring and compassionate. The only way students will know you are present in the course is for you to intentionally leave evidence of your engagement in the course. Your goal is for students to associate Announcements, feedback, comments on discussions, blogs, and wikis, and email messages with you. You want your username to appear regularly in the course in a variety of locations.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Importance of Examples for Online Courses

Give considerable attention to the use of examples in the distance course.  The initial examples that are associated with a concept are used as the benchmark for future judgments about the concept. (Svinicki, 2004).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TWU Online Instructor's Quote of the Week

"Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also." -- C.G. Jung

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Ways to Organize Content

When and where certain instructional strategies are used makes a difference. The order or sequence of instruction has a bearing on what is learned and how it is learned. One of the first choices you will make is to present an overview of the topic or to present detail on the topic leading to a finale. For purposes of this posting, we will term one the Overview approach and call the other the Climax approach.
The Overview Approach presents the big picture of your topic. It can be used to describe the field in general or be used to describe major sub-divisions in the field or textbook. The Overview approach is used to provide context and structure to the remaining instruction on the topic. You provide the general overview and then supply details that are connected to the overview. The Climax Approach deliberately presents details of the field leading to some conclusion or finale. Each approach can be used to achieve specific, but very different, learning outcomes.
The Overview approach is very useful if your intent is to build a structured knowledge base on the content. Since the focus of instruction is on where details fit into the structure of the discipline, students have structured organizational holders in which to group most details. Most learning theories support a structure where students can begin to insert details gained during instruction.  The highly structured Overview approach is particularly useful for novices, until they gain a sufficient knowledge base. The Climax approach favors a greater use of higher order thinking skills. Many studies have demonstrated that students with some prior knowledge on a topic favor this approach.
Either approach can be used in conjunction with a textbook. As the content expert, make deliberate decisions about how you organize the chapters in the textbook to support your organization of the topic. Most textbooks present a defined amount of content with a particular beginning and end within a chapter.  Most textbooks do not do a particularly good job of connecting content to an Overview or Climax approach. This is fertile ground for you to use your creativity to organize content in ways that aid retention. Most novices do not know the large overarching structures that permeate most fields and they do not know how the fragmented content presented in textbook chapters connects to these structures. This is a wonderful opportunity to deliberately teach those structures and demonstrate how you think about the content.
There are numerous ways to craft Overview or Climax activities into distance courses. Perhaps you begin with an overview of the content in general and then provide overviews for each learning unit or module. Perhaps you conclude each unit or module with a climax that provides rationale and connects the various pieces of content presented in the unit or module. You might consider providing a topical outline for each module in your course. You might use probing questions on a discussion forum or in a blog assignment to foreshadow the climax and encourage students to anticipate the conclusion of the module or unit. Be creative and design activities that help students see the connections between certain elements of the content.
Reference:  Svincki, M. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Views on Learning: Two Major Views in Three Centuries

The Human Brain
In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, serious attempts were made by the scientific community to study the human mind in earnest. This early work moved from introspective descriptions of thoughts to the study of observable behaviors and the stimuli associated with these behaviors. Behaviorists, following the empiricist tradition, assumed learning was the process of forming connections between stimuli and responses. Learning motivation was thought to be driven by drives and by the availability of rewards and punishments.

Early behaviorism, with a focus on observable behaviors and stimuli, was limited when studying less observable behaviors like understanding and reasoning. Behaviorism moderated somewhat and began to allow hypotheses about unobservable mental processes while retaining a data-driven perspective.

In the 1950s, the field of cognitive science emerged, due to more sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the human species. Cognitive science approached the study of learning from an interdisciplinary perspective, used new experimental tools, and developed new approaches. This field contributed to our understanding of the social and cultural contexts of learning. The study of learning came to emphasize learning with understanding. This approach acknowledges the importance of foundational knowledge (facts) while probing “usable knowledge.”

Inquiry into the application of foundational knowledge to novel situations brought ideas of “ways of knowing” into the study of learning. Humans come into any learning situation with pre-existing knowledge, skills, and beliefs that influence how they organize new information. This pre-existing knowledge may be accurate or full of incomplete understanding and misconceptions. Humans are not passive learners by nature. New developments in the study of learning also emphasize active, self-directed learning as important. Learners should work toward understanding what they know and what they do not know to grow as a learner.

Bransford, J., Brown, A, & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sixth Annual Online Educator Symposium

Register today for the Sixth Annual Online Educator Symposium that will be Thursday, August 23 from 8:30 a.m. – 1:45 p.m. on the Denton Campus.  Remember - the event is free, and lunch will be provided!

All participants will be able to network and reconnect with colleagues, get updates about Distance Education at the University and learn more about the innovative practices of some TWU faculty and staff members. Attendees will be able to  hear 17  presentations and see posters about:
·       Creative Uses of Technology
·       Faculty Showcase
·       Research in Online Education
·       Student Success
·       Teaching and Learning