Monday, October 5, 2009

Instructor interference with learning

So many blog topics... so little time... I have more to say about the circles I keep finding in my travels around the Internet and so much more to say about paper constipation however... today's topic stems from an idea I included in a posting on my friend Lisa Chamberlin's OpenPhD blog.

Lisa is pursuing an unaccredited but very real doctorate using only Open Courses. This is a new way of thinking about online education which is opening eyes in many locations, and is causing me to rethink what I believe about online education. Those topics are explored in a guest posting made today on #OpenPhd.

One thought I mentioned in my guest posting was how an online instructor could actually interfere with student learning. While this can also occur in a f2f setting I think the danger for this happening in online education is higher because the student is not directly in front of the instructor saying, "Hey, wait...I have a question"

In the online realm if the course is poorly designed students are often stymied and frustrated. Their issues may include not:
  • understanding course navigation
  • being able do course readings because of broken links or unavailable textbooks
  • understanding instructor expectations
These are just a few of the course design issues which may need clarification. Instructors who believe they do not need to read or answer discussion postings/emails/phone calls cause students to become even more frustrated. Would a face-to-face instructor refuse to clarify expectations or answer questions about locating readings?

Instructors can also interfere with student learning which should stem from instructor-learner interaction. There are three key sets of interactions which should occur in any course:
  • learner-content (student internal/mental interaction with the materials and concepts)
  • learner-learner (student communication with colleagues in the course about the concepts)
  • learner-instructor (student learning about the content from the content expert and having their understandings expanded, clarified, and corrected)
Probably 90% of the complaints I hear about online education have to do with instructors who refuse to communicate with their students. These students report to me their instructors do not answer emails, do not participate in discussions, and do not respond to questions asked of them. Student learning has to include communication with the content expert, that is THE JOB of the instructor.

The other job of the instructor is to clarify student understandings, correct misconceptions, and expand on student learning by adding new ideas or asking deep thinking questions. This can occur through discussion or it can occur as feedback on assignments. Formative assessment we call this... assessment which helps the learner's understanding grow and develop during the course.

To be useful to students formative assessment must be prompt, informative, and accurate. Responding to Assignment 1 weeks after it was submitted is of little use to students who have now submitted Assignments 2, 3, 4, 5... without any guidance or input. As one student told me,
"Oh he is real picky, real picky about things but I only know this because I had a class from him already. All my colleagues in this class have no idea what he expects because he hasn't told us what he expects and he hasn't returned any assignments. He won't hand anything back until the course is over and then it will be too late."
This instructor returns all student work in a flurry at the end of the course. If students were failing to meet his expectations how would they have known what aspects of their work to fix as the course progressed? The answer is, they don't. And some fail or get poor grades. That does a lot for student morale! The failure is the instructors but the instructor still got paid for doing his job, even though he DID NOT do his job.

And this is today's point of ignorance... How does such an instructor look themselves in the mirror with a clear conscience? How do they cash their paycheck and not cringe just a little? How is it this person is still employed, still teaching, still perpetuating this farce called online instruction? I don't get it! Yours in ignorance!


  1. Personally, I use Showdocument for online teaching and web conferencing. I'm not saying these programs aren't good,
    But I think a web-based application is always better, since there's nothing to download or install.
    try it at . -josh

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