Carmen De Sabata
Group project produced in the five-week online UMUC class
taught by Professor Richard Powers ( Spring 2001 ).
Short presentation of distance education
education represents the beginning of a new
paradigm for learning and teaching, that solves
some important aspects of today's society:
for continuous education of many categories of people
for allowing the participation to the same course of persons located far
one from each other.
main types of online learning environments
( the vast majority )
( like WebTycho, Blackboard5 )
world systems ( Multi-user Object Oriented Environments - MOOs
web-based environment the instruction is much more student-oriented.
teacher acts as a coach rather than a transmitter of information as usually
happens in f2f classroom, and also acts as a guide, pointing students to
the appropriate tools and resources for their own learning, for they become
most communication takes place via written messages, writing skill and
the ability to put thoughts into words are decisive. Also the asynchronous
setting, where you do not need to respond immediately, gives you the chance
to think more about responses.
The importance of learners interaction and communities in DE
from being impersonal, and standardized, online learning environments provide
individualized and exciting educational experiences
both for teachers and students, creating real online communities.
online environment must be conceptualized as a more open partnership of
instructor and self-directed learners, in which the learners decide, conduct,
and control much of the learning process.
community is built by using the features that permit the interactions between
students and teacher. The teacher can use a lot of strategies to begin
the creation of the community, to initiate the "atmosphere", based on his
philosophical orientation, and his chosen moderator roles, but ALL
the members must struggle for building it.
fact the community exists only if all the members of online class feel
it, after some common experiences , after all the members are somehow involved;
usually this happens as the students are adults with serious life and professional
don't have to push the things, we don't have to force the community assembling.
We must allow the students to integrate following each one's rhythm.
of talk can be done on the aspect that the community is formed by virtual
these better than the real ones or only parts of them?
we become someone else in online environment?
What to do for creating a community
the beginning, the teacher must use, even in lectures, a conversational
tone, be enthusiastic, give the same attention
to all, treat each student or student group as a distinct entity , provide
help, encouragement, quick feedback.
features that permit interactions must be used as much as possible - online
debates, group problem solving, creating communication groups via e-mail
or chat; threaded, hierarchical tree structure of conferences gives participants
a "sense of place".
conferences must be integral part of the course. If students are to make
the effort to learn the technology and be enthusiastic about its learning
potential, it has to be important to the course the way they are evaluated.
students would be encouraged to do work for
the conference off-line, for better and more
the students have questions, or need specific information, or have difficulties
in their project, they must be encouraged to address their messages to
whole class rather than just to the instructor.
course must be designed so that any student irrespective of his computer,
modem or bandwidth to be able to be in "classroom"; so the critical factor
is THE TIME needed to "enter in"
(not too many images, short and clear lectures -- so called netlectures,
without redundancy; some articles talk about Feng Shui of online environments).
the course must be designed in an attractive manner and the individual
or group assignments, conferences created in such a way that every student
to have to check often the newly posted information but to be eager to
do this, too.
week must bring something new
- besides the information itself -, be it the assignments style and/or
the presentation style, so that the students can hardly wait to enter the
"classroom". It's a difficult task out there :-)
conferences/subconferences must be created,
each one focused on one purpose (e.g., one for socializing, one for assisting
each other with technical advises, one for sharing online references, one
for each group, one for the weekly discussion topics, etc.).
metaphors creates a sense of architecture for orientation in the various
conferences; each conference environment should have its own standards
of (verbal) behavior - formal or informal.
excessive usage of terms like "cyber" or "virtual" (even though they sound
cool) could induce a feeling of artificial and cold environment. Choosing
natural names for the discussion spaces can help diminish the strange feeling
of talking to a wired box.
What to avoid
give low priority to conferences participation or collaborative projects;
think that all students learn and act the same;
give from the beginning a very difficult assignment;
to encourage the students with poor start activity.
A comparison with f2f education communities
in F2F environment, the teacher can really interact with only a part of
the students, in the online one peer can exist between every two individuals.
But in a f2f class it's easier to keep the students "plugged-in" than in
a distance class.
online education could be an alternative for people less skilled for prompt
interactions required by the f2f classes. In an online conference one can
expose his/her ideas without being interrupted.
cannot consider either of the two education types as being better or worse.
They are simply necessary, both of them.
technology must be used for improving the educational methods, but not
in the sense of replacing one form with the other.
don't have to encourage the tendency towards isolation manifested by some
people who prefer the computer "friendship". This could become a social
problem. The Web must be first of all an instrument for reducing the distance
between humans and not a spider web collecting victims.
online environment permits knowledge sharing and creation, but also social
interactions, that can resist even after the course ends.
experience of online learning is unique both for teacher and students,
producing many changes in their views on life, communities, sharing, learning.