Online learning

I definitely agree that a online course as we see them right now during Covid most often does not resemble a good example for a online learning and teaching [1].

Most universities did change very quickly from face-to-face- to online-teaching. Sometimes because it was in the middle of a semester, but unfortunately also sometimes because the management was more concerned about the right tools for the job. In one particular case I know that it took more then 3 weeks to get a zoom license setup and during these weeks no one did plan the change but just waited for the “tool”.

This is most frustrating as this time could have been used to at least instruct the teachers how to do online classes. In particular most of the teachers did not ask around or got themself help to make the change. They more or less thought that they can it pull it of by themselves.

And here we come to one of the underlying problems of universities today: Universities define themselves with the greatest science and professors and at the same time with them best learning experiences. But almost no professor has to undergo teaching or pedagogical training. Professors have most often not enough time and support to prepare courses.
In face-to-face this is bad. But in online classes this really bad as the social interactions are not their anymore.
Teaching personal has to have the time and also the education to do proper teaching.

But going online is in general not a bad idea in particular if it is not pure online but blended learning. Teaching online brings not only new challenges but as we all can probably agree on also a lot of flexibility for teachers and students. You can have a coffee brewing next door or have lecture from almost anywhere on the planet. While face-to-face is natural as the human species is a social species. Combining the strengths of online and face-to-face is the magic of blended learning.

So my advise for doing blended learning:

  • Adapting and designing courses takes the same amount of time than for face-to-face-only courses. So about 4-6 months [1].
  • Get advice and help from somebody else. Don’t try to do it alone. (Maybe even have the class as a student to see how it goes)
  • Think also about assessing the course. Does it have to be a standard exam?
  • Not all techniques work for every class. There are several different categories described in [1] and also [2].
  • Big courses (500+) will most likely less interactive regardless of the teaching method.
  • Just adding a online component does not mean the course is blended [2]. Face-to-face and online should be interconnected and also there for a reason.
  • Synchronous tasks can best be done face-to-face.
  • Asynchronous tasks can be done online.
  • Both the principles published by Chickering and Gamson (1987):
      1. Encourage contact between students and faculty.
      2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students.
      3. Encourage active learning.
      4. Give prompt feedback.
      5. Emphasize time on task.
      6. Communicate high expectations.
      7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

    and the principles described in [2]:

      1. Plan for the creation of open communication and trust.
      2. Plan for critical reflection and discourse.
      3. Establish community and cohesion.
      4. Establish inquiry dynamics (purposeful inquiry).
      5. Sustain respect and responsibility.
      6. Sustain inquiry that moves to resolution.
      7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended processes and outcomes.

    can give a good guideline how to start your change.

Now at last one important advice:

Make breaks during and between your online sessions. Breaks are important and unfortunately do get lost to easily if you do online classes.


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  1. You make some valid points. Perhaps the Covid-situation will bring about a need for (or awareness of) reviewing teaching skills in general, both in the physical and in the digital classroom? Unfortunately it is often the case that those who need to review their own teaching skills seldom do so, because they don’t focus on how they teach, but what they teach (and may not see how there should be focus on both, always). One can only hope that universities will invest in more collaborative learning opportunities for all employees, regardless of “rank”, and perhaps include more of teaching aspects in performance reviews?

    1. Yes more teaching aspects in reviews could be one way to fight against these behaviors.