I recently completed my participation in the online course, Learning to Teach Online, offered through Sheffield College in the UK. A friend of mine recommended that I take this course a couple years ago and I am glad that I finally found the time to actually do it. The course began in late February and finished in early July, which was a perfect time for me to delve into this field as I am in the process of designing an online course on nonviolence that I will then be facilitating in the fall.
I learned a tremendous amount about effective online teaching. Continue reading to see some of my key take-aways.
(1) the importance of creating and developing community and ownership over the course from the very beginning. At the start of the course we all shared information about ourselves and then found commonalities. This was a great way to see ourselves as a community of learners, not just a group of individuals pulling what we want on our own from an online library and posting just for the sake of posting.
Forum discussions, such as this intro, “getting to know you” one, were all led and facilitated by participants. Our online tutor (the main facilitator) would chime in on discussions and raise new questions, ask people to elaborate, or help draw connections between participant comments, but the initial question and the summaries were provided by another participant. Everyone knew that they would be responsible, at some point in the course, for leading and summarizing one of the discussions. Because of this I immediately felt a sense that people wanted to contribute on time and with substance.
(2) “Curation not creation” is a mantra that I will keep with me as I develop online courses in the future. There is soooo much great content out there and there is not a need to reinvent the wheel, but rather find the right content and incorporate it effectively into an online course.
The mantra makes me liken teaching and facilitating to being a DJ. DJ’s develop an extensive library of music and become familiar enough with the genres, artists, and songs so they can know which ones to play for which audiences. A DJ’s goal, at the end of the day, is to choose the right songs and to then sequence and link them together in such a way that gets people dancing and immersed in that moment.
Teaching and facilitating are similar, in that a facilitator builds up an extensive library of facilitation skills and becomes familiar enough with the topics, themes, and concepts that are to be covered in a course or workshop. The facilitator’s goal is to then choose the right activities/exercises and content and then sequence and link them together in such a way that gets the participants immersed and engaged in that topic.
This is related to the curation vs. creation idea because, in these digital times, great resources (videos, articles, podcasts, websites, games, etc.) have already been developed for countless topics. What has been missing is how to organize, sequence, contextualize, and leverage those resources for quality, educational purposes. The online learning space would be best served by spending just as much time, if not more time, curating the informative resources already developed, as opposed to trying to re-create the wheel.
(3) Tutoring and learning sets. This was a HUGE learning for me. Online courses can seem distant and burdensome when a lot of people are all contributing at the same time with little to no feedback from the teacher or interaction with one another. Having learning sets made up of a smaller group of learners who can get one on one attention from the tutor and can interact more deeply with one another is, for me, essential for a quality online learning experience.