Friday, February 12, 2010

Online Courses

There is an explosion of online course opportunities. Some universities even offer programs that are solely online. As educators it is important to make the best learning experiences for each participant. Moore (1993) offers three tips/suggestions for successful online education.
1. Learner-content interaction
2. Learner-instructor interaction
3. Learner-learner interaction

This seems pretty simple but how would you integrate that into your own course? Learner-content is pretty straightforward you could assign readings, research, PowerPoint. Learner-instructor could be accomplished through email, Skype or videos. I had an instructor for a class for my masters that would video tape himself giving lectures and send it to the students. I would not recommend this because it does not facilitate interaction. Learner-learner interaction may be a little trickier. There is always email, blogs, message boards, phone calls but you really do (in my opinion) miss out on the face-to-face time with fellow students. Peters (1993) would agree, he believes online lacks the human dimension of group interaction, and alienates learners from teachers.

Just like any class that you would teach there is a lot of planning that is needed to make an online course successful. There are classes that do lend themselves better to online courses than others. Classes that are more research based or text heavy would do well as an online course but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make those courses more interesting and interactive. Just because a course is online doesn’t automatically make it cutting edge and interactive, be creative and try new ideas, like Skype or conference calls or I-chatting to encourage a face-to-face feel without actually being face-to-face.
I have included a few resources that may help you out when planning an online course.

An introduction to teaching online

Instructional strategies for online courses

Best practices

Instructor Workshops

Moore, M. 1993. "Three Types of Interaction." Distance Education: New Perspectives, eds. K. Harry , M. Hohn and D. Keegan. London: Routledge.

Peters, O. 1993. "Understanding Distance Education." Distance Education: New Perspectives, eds. K. Harry , M. Hohn and D. Keegan. London: Routledge.


  1. This is a great topic to consider in providing education. Some students at widener are facilitating online courses for medical students by using skype. However an issue they ran into is that the delay in technology causes everyone to appear to be talking over one another. So while technology may allow us access to a broader population, a facilitator still needs to be prepared to adjust when technology doesn't quite work the way it should.

    Also, I read an article recently about a math teacher who uploads videos (to the school website) of himself explaining tougher concepts as a way help students with their homework. Perhaps using teacher made videos of more complex topics would help students in an online course and they would be able to access the extra help at a time that is convienent for them.


  2. Time management and personal commitment are two challenges I contemplate when deciding if an on-line course is best for me. If you face similar uncertainties and are unsure how you will respond to an on-line course, a hybrid course might be a nice first trial option.

    A hybrid course couples on-line learning with conventional classroom education. In essence, you can get the best of worlds, traditional education and distance education, all in one package. Recently, I completed a hybrid course. The experience of blending the two types of education was very positive. Direct interaction with the professor and classmates provided a personal atmosphere, while instruction via the Internet allowed for greater flexibility with scheduling and decreased travel time.

    The following link discusses hybrid learning as an instructional model.


  3. From personal experience I can also say that learner-learner interaction is tricky. I took an online class last semester and I am currently enrolled in one now. There has been a vast difference in learner-learner interaction between the two classes. One class relied heavily on message board and the other has focused more on group projects. I have a preference for group projects such as creating wiki-spaces or PowerPoint presentations. National Education Association states that small group projects should be incorpated into online classes when possible. The group projects allow students to create something which can then be used as an additional resource for the course content.
    The tricky part is to include different types of learner-learner interaction in order to engage different types of learning styles. Also doing research on the population to use appropriate teaching methods would also be handy.
    Here's a short guide to creating an online course from the National Education Association:


  4. My experience is similar to Erin's - I have had one online class that was horrible, and one that was great. The difference was the way the professor addressed content delivery and assignments. Keeping students engaged and communicating with each other is key. Online classes are not like traditional lecture-based courses. You can not make students sit in a chatroom while you type notes for 3 hours. People check out, check facebook, and forget to check back when the prof finally gets around to asking a question. The web is a platform that allows for so many different educational opportunities. To try to make it conform to a lecture-based format is shortsighted and ineffective.

  5. You raise a really good point that teaching classes online poses some interesting challenges for interpersonal interaction, but I think both face-to-face & online classes have their strengths and weaknesses, especially in the realm of sexuality education.

    I think online interaction can be just as meaningful as face-to-face interaction - it's just different. For instance, if students are uncomfortable discussing sexuality in person, maybe the disinhibition effect of the internet can encourage more comfortable interactions, that students can then carry over into their face-to-face lives. Online classes can allow students to think before they add to a discussion, so their responses are more reflective. Before students can write a response to the instructor or a fellow student, they must engage in self-reflection to collect their own thoughts, and then they can interact and learn from one another via things like message boards, e-mail, chatting, even online games (e.g. Second Life, a virtual world/massive multiplayer online roleplaying game - see for more info).

    I also think it's possible to do affective education over the internet. People don't stop feeling once they sign onto the web - as a sexuality educator I really want to come up with some creative ways to facilitate affective education via the internet. So far all I can really think of is asking reflective processing questions for students to journal/blog about, or discuss on a message board. But there must be some other ways of creatively facilitating affective learning online... Something to think about, I guess!

    Last thing - though no source is perfect, I have to say, last semester when I took a class on teaching sexuality online, I got a LOT out of the following book:
    The Tools for Successful Online Teaching, by Lisa Dawley
    (find it at:

  6. From my experience as a student in Widener University’s human sexuality program, online course components seem to be particularly useful or helpful when they are used in conjunction with or as an alternative to in class seat time, especially in programs or courses that are tailored to working adults like ours. Our classes for the most part meet for only two weekends the whole semester. The classes that use web study, campus cruiser or some other online course format, to begin assignments before the class meets for the first time or to continue assignments after the last class meets, seem to run much smoother. As a student I feel engaged in the course work for the whole semester by staying connected to both the assignments and my fellow students, rather than just the two weekends I am physically in class.

    I took the HSED 501 cross cultural class with Dr. Sitron last semester and he had us complete assignments on campus cruiser prior to our first class meeting. By the time we met as a class for the first time we already had the opportunity to get to know one another and a knowledge base from our work as a class online, both of which enhanced class discussion, participation and engagement when we finally did meet as a class. When you only have two weekends together this pre-class work seems particularly valuable.

    Since our program consists of many commuter students the online course components seem to be essential for group project work. Some kind of forum is needed to stay connected and work together on projects when you live far away from each other and the class does not meet on a weekly or regular basis.

    From my experience as a student, weekend programs designed for working adults need some kind of online class components to replicate the traditional classroom experience.

    I also teach online classes for Delaware County Community College. The courses I teach are completely online with no face-to-face time. While it is often frustrating to never get to meet or physically interact with my students I try my best to take advantage of the fact that the course is online. I assign activities or discussions that require them to use the internet. For example, when we are doing World War II I will have them use you tube to find WWII propaganda clips to post and share with their classmates, or I will direct them to interactive history websites, such as virtual Jamestown, to complete some sort of activity. As an online educator I have found that you need to make the best of what you have to work with and in this case the internet can be a powerful and useful teaching device.

  7. I, personally, have always been afraid to take online courses becuase of the unknown aspects between learner-content interaction, learner-instructor interaction, and learner-learner interaction. I'm always nervous I will become laxed in my studies and not put in as much effort as I would if I were meeting with a professor and classmates in a face to face setting. However, with the introduction of Skype, I might take online courses a bit more seriously. I do enjoy, and find quite useful, the hybrid approach to the classes I've taken here at Widener. I think it is especially important with the way our Human Sexuality program runs here at Widener. Like Brooke mentioned, we only meet two weekends out of the semester per class, and it is important to stay engaged between those classes and even after our last class has met. It's easy to step away from our studies when we don't meet in a conventional way. Taking part of the class online is a helpful way to stay engaged with your professors and classmates. While I find value and use in hybrid courses particularly, there are a few things one should know before opting to take an online course or a hybrid course. This link gives an overview of what a hybrid course is, how it may look, and what may be needed from the learner (including a section on technology functioning).

  8. I knew something about this post reminded me of an NPR report I had heard recently, and I found it here, in print and podcast:

    The University of the People, which is free, is described as a social network medium meets school environment:

    "Coursework is built from simple materials — mostly text. The school does have paid instructors but Reshef says he relies heavily on social networking so students can help each other. The paradigm, he says, is peer-to-peer learning, with instructors available to help whenever needed."

    The school has 380 students from 81 countries and is funded by the students as well as the personal capital of the owner Reshef. He is also seeking outside donors.

    It's an interesting example of learner-learner interaction (since the school is based primarily on online text and communications between students), but it's also an interesting example of how people are coping with finding education in a difficult economic time.

  9. Online Education
    Certainly, there has been an extreme surge in the use of technology when educating. Using online education to educate and engage in professional knowledge exchange is convenient. However, it can exclude a huge audience and limit learning experiences. When considering online courses, the audience and type of outcome expected is vital. Educators seeking to have an affective impact and/or individualized personal learning experiences would not use an online curriculum. Although, online courses are not personalized they are convenient and global allowing participants from various countries.

    The following resources were helpful when considering online learning: