On, With Online Learning: A Reflection

As educators, we live in the world of both research and practice. Since my early days at UCLA Center X this became part of my educator DNA.  Icons like Jeannie Oakes, Tyrone Howard, and Jody Priselac built a center of social justice transformation based on this intersection.  During these past 18 months this would be tested routinely when it came to our world of online teaching. Personally, I had read the research, led districtwide ed tech practices, and was now in the midst of guiding leaders through their own scholarly intersection and knew that I had an insatiable appetite to learn more in this quest for quality online instruction.  As I have been reflecting on my own teaching and leading practices I had the opportunity to read this recent blog “What Went Wrong During Online Courses? And Five Things You Can Do About It” from our Preparing Future Faculty Department. Student author Noah Ringler, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student, Positive Psychology shared these 5 findings:

  1. Be prepared to provide both synchronous and asynchronous modalities: A portion of students may not have a stable internet connection or be in a setting where they can actively engage with the course in real-time. To make a more equitable classroom, we should be prepared to cater our classes to all students. For a high-level breakdown of the differences between these two approaches, follow this link.
  2. Intentionally build community in your classroom: Both teachers and students have reported more difficulty fostering community during online courses. Without intentionally carving out time to build community in the classroom, we reduce the likelihood of students actively engaging with the material we present. The chronicle of higher education and faculty focus provides some ideas on how to foster community online.
  3. Emphasize transparency: Students frequently reported not fully understanding the purpose of the course and specific lesson plans. To better make the purpose of our classes clear, it is vital to emphasize transparency in all aspects of your course: design, assignments, participation. Additionally, it can be helpful to add anonymous comment boxes to your LMS so students can inform you when they don’t understand what is taking place in the course. For a more detailed breakdown of how to incorporate transparency in your class, visit the Transparency in Learning and Teaching website.
  4. Reduce the workload: Both empirically and anecdotally, it seems as though many educators assumed that the workload they used on-ground would translate online. Due to the nature of online classes and the pandemic, this was an unreasonable expectation. The next time you build a course online, try to distill your course down to the essentials, which should be identified through your student learning outcomes. Reducing the workload allows us to teach for learning rather than coverage.
  5. Frequently utilize active learning principles: While students already had difficulty engaging with online material, educators who frequently utilized passive learning strategies (i.e., lecture heavy courses) tended to have even more difficulty engaging their students. The use of media (ideally under 9 minutes), peer interaction, and active learning activities can enhance student engagement and make for a more enjoyable online experience for students and educators alike. PFF’s webinar “Promoting Active Learning Online” may assist those who are looking for some ideas.

As leaders of learning, we’ve always said that our students are our best teachers! So, thank you to Noah for sharing these research and practice insights. With your practitioner and scholar hats on, what are you learning from the research and data you have collected? How are you making meaning? How might students and leaders be engaged in the meaning making of online learning together? Let’s continue to build our repertoire of powerful online learning experiences together! What will be your takeaway in this online teaching reflection? Comment below.