Teaching Online: A Practical Guide

The Book

Teaching Online: A Practical GuideKo, S. & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide (3rd ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.

The target audiences of this book are post-secondary instructors and instructional designers. It is extremely thorough and covers three main topics of Getting Started, Putting the Course Together and Teaching in the Online Classroom.

Getting Started is an overview of online teaching, including answers to many common questions or concerns, reasons why classes should be offered online and also a detailed look at your institution’s level of readiness. At the University of Saskatchewan we fall into the high-readiness category, which bodes well for any instructors that are moving into teaching online.

Putting the Course Together looks at the process of building an online course. It explains that you should not plan to use all of the same materials as face-to-face course. Instead you should begin with an instructional design process of Analysis, Writing Outcomes and Design. This does not mean you will need to build everything from scratch, but rather suggests that the online medium may provide or require different approaches for some outcomes.  Chapter 3 on Course Design and Development is a chapter that I would highly recommend be read by all instructors that are exploring teaching online.

The Putting the Course Together section of the book also looks at:

  • working with others to design content
  • building the syllabus
  • putting the content together
  • organizing the content online
  • student activities, including discussion boards, guest speakers,  group work and so much more
  • copyright
  • web 2.0 tools
  • assessment rubrics

This section of the book may be better to scan through to find topics that you are looking for rather and coming back to when necessary rather than reading straight through because it goes very in depth and covers an overwhelmingly large variety of topics and tools.

Teaching in the Online Classroom begins with a look at technical problems that students will undoubtedly face and gives suggestions on how to deal with them, including how to orient your students to online learning. It then discusses classroom management with a focus again on how to effectively run asynchronous discussion boards. There are even examples provided of how to deal with more serious classroom management problems. The second to last chapter looks specifically at how to effectively run Blended Courses.

This book is great for anyone who is designing online courses or is taking on the task of teaching online courses. It covers every topic I can think related to teaching online and does so in a very practical way. Be warned that this is not a book that you would want to read just weeks before beginning to teach online, but rather should be read about six months to a year in advance of the course in order to start framing your online teaching style and philosophy. The book should then be referenced again when designing and teaching the course.

Ideas that ‘Stick’

The Book:

Heath, C. and Heath, D. 2008.  Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die.  New York: Random House

Why do we remember certain things, like the scary music from the movie Jaws, but forget others, like the name of that theory we learned in economics class years ago?  Why is it easier for some people to remember an urban legend about missing kidneys than a concept they studied in the college or university classroom?  Why do some ideas “stick” while others are just as easily forgotten?

This question is the premise of the New York Times bestseller book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die in which a sticky idea is described as “an idea that’s understood, that’s remembered, and that changes something (opinions, behaviors, values).”

Made to Stick

For many professionals, including educators, journalists, politicians, marketers – and even bloggers- the job is about communicating information in a way that it will “stick.”  Using provocative examples, humorous anecdotes, and real-life success stories, the book champions the six following principles for transforming an “unsticky” idea – think of a mathematical function – into something that is “sticky” – think of crickets (If you want to know how mathematical functions and crickets are related, go on and read the book):

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Story

Using practical examples that tap into the cognitive and affective domains, the book explains how to make ideas from any discipline “stick” in a multitude of contexts.

The free online article, “Teaching that Sticks” (at http://www.heathbrothers.com/resources/) is an excellent guide that explains how to use simple yet engaging tools such as generative analogies, schemas, stories, and curiosity gaps.  Beginning your lecture with a curiosity gap, for example, is as simple as designing your lecture with a question to pique students’ curiosity and then slowly unfolding the lecture in such a way that the answer to the question is explored like the plot of a mystery:

“Piquing curiosity is the holy grail of teaching.  Cialdini said, “You’ve heard of the famous Ah ha! experience, right?  Well, the Ah ha! experience is much more satisfying when it’s preceded by the Huh? experience… Movies cause us to ask, What will happen?  Mystery novels cause us to ask, Who did it?. . . Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt.  They mark a big red X on something that needs to be discovered but don’t tell you necessarily how to get there” (pg 4, Teaching That Sticks).

Do something unexpected for your teaching and pick up a copy of this book.  Maybe you’ll discover a link between the theme music from Jaws and that economic theory that students always seem to forget.  At the very least, you’ll discover some fresh ideas for making your teaching “stick.”

Reducing Confusion and Improving Teaching by Sharing Who We Are as a Discipline

The Book:

The University and its Disciplines: Teaching and Learning Within and Beyond Disciplinary Boundaries. Edited by Carolin Kreber (2009). Routledge, Taylor and Francis*

Each time I meet with individuals from across campus I am reminded how disciplines are not just collections of faculty, rather they encompass specific ways of knowing: What constitutes evidence? What questions do we ask? What ways do we conduct research and to what end? Such answers form the epistemological foundation guiding our scholarly activities. However, this foundation is often implicit, not explicit, and thus a mystery for students. The result?

The encounter of student and instructor can degenerate into an ugly clash of cultures, in which the demands of the instructor can appear arbitrary and vindictive, and the student’s inability to produce adequate results can be viewed as evidence of stupidity or laziness. We can minimize such unfortunate collisions by systematically studying what makes our subjects difficult, and we can learn to more effectively welcome students into our disciplines and to expand our ability to offer more students a place at the banquet of higher education

— (Pace, Chapter 8, p. 103).

At its core The University and its Disciplines is an edited book about the nature and purpose of higher education for students and faculty. Scholarly grounded in theoretical frameworks and prior research, the reader is invited to reflect deeply on the often implicit assumptions, practices, and ways of knowing of one’s discipline and departmental contexts.

Included are approaches to characterizing and clarifying disciplinary ways of knowing and thinking (e.g., Donald, Chapter 3; Hounsell & Anderson, Chapter 6) and to clarify this foundation by encountering other disciplines, active learning, and asking questions about one’s one disciplinary and departmental culture such as “What assumptions are we making about teaching and learning and do those stand up to critical reflection?”(McCune, Chapter 19, p 236).

Related Resources

*If you are interested in reading this book yourself, there is a copy of it in the Education Library.

Surface or Deep Learning?

While I was reading Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Executive by Lindblom-Ylänne, I found myself reflecting on my own learning and asking which of my experiences and courses led me to deep learning? Conversely, what types of activities that I as an instructor have employed have led to deep learning for my students?

Surface approach to learning is described as adopting minimal effort in the learning process. One example of this approach is when reading a text as an exercise the student concentrates on reading the text itself.  A deep approach to learning is based on a genuine interest in the subject matter and the aim is an interpretation of the text.  Lindblom-Ylänne emphasizes that the deep approach leads to higher quality learning while surface learning approaches are institutional creations shifting the focus from the task itself to rewards for task completion (p. 64).

How do faculty design their courses in order to move towards deep learning? Some of the techniques offered include:

  • encouraging students to self-regulate their learning,
  • facilitating student mastery of threshold concepts,
  • teaching students to engage in processes of inquiry,
  • providing congruent learner-environment frameworks; and
  • ensuring students have positive perceptions of teaching as perceptions of good teaching influence a student to move towards a deep approach.

As an instructor, have I tried to use a variety of techniques that lead to deep learning?  Am I conscious of the learning environment ensuring its congruency with my learners’ backgrounds and learning preferences? I try my best but reminders are appreciated and increased research into deep learning is welcomed.

If you are interested in reading this book yourself, there are copies of it in the GMCTE library.