#EDUC90970 Reflections on online learning

A fast transition from face-to-face to online delivery driven by COVID-19 has catalysed an increased interest in how to effectively teach online. Luckily for me, this year I had enrolled in the Graduate Certificate for University Teaching, which has a subject dedicated to Facilitating Online Learning #EDUC90970. At the beginning of this course, I had naively considered that online learning was commonplace already within higher education – every subject uses Canvas as an online learning management system. As I learnt, however, while Canvas can be a useful tool in online learning, in current practice students really valued platforms like this for managing their studies (e.g., keeping on track with subject timetables and assessments) rather than a tool for online learning (Henderson et al. 2017). A big shift in my thinking around online delivery therefore stemmed from a new understanding that just having an online presence does not mean that effective online learning is taking place, and subjects need to be designed specifically for online delivery.

Being a student in #EDUC90970 exposed me to how a fully online course could be designed, and introduced me to new technology to facilitate student participation and learning. How to develop a ‘Community of Inquiry’ (Garrison et al. 1999) was central to the subject and we immediately immersed ourselves in a variety of collaborative online tools, which facilitated synchronous and asynchronous communication and formed our Ecology of Resources for the subject. This included setting up an online portfolio using a WordPress site for blog posts, Twitter, Mendeley, Flipboard, Youtube, and Adobe Spark/Google Docs/Prezi for sharing presentations.

What really interested me though was the amount of freedom we had to explore subjects that interested us, and this heutagogical approach prompted me to explore more about self-directed learning and how this could be applied in my own teaching (see my blog posts 1, 2, and 3). In #EDUC90970 the online portfolios formed part of assessment, but the topic and structure of blog posts were determined by what had interested the students in the conversations throughout the subject. The learning theories were student-led during one Zoom session – each individual assigned themselves to the theory that interested them and presented on this to the rest of the class. This presentation did not form part of the assessment for the course. It is often said that students are assessment-driven, and so activities like this would not be successful as students would lack motivation to put effort into a presentation that was not assessed. However, I felt the opposite about this task, I wanted to do a good job so that my peers learnt from me, and felt empowered that I could explore the subject myself. This made me consider the value of self-directed and peer-learning in my own subjects, and that perhaps students should be given more activities (both assessed and not assessed) that support taking charge of their own learning process, rather than only receiving information from the teacher. In the final assessment task, which was the development of a fully online or blended subject as coordinator, I still struggled with how to apply heutagogical techniques in larger classes (200 students). I introduced a student-led group assessment, where the experiment was self-chosen and designed, however, I think there is still scope in some of my other subjects to introduce e-portfolios and student-led learning topics, which is my aim to continue to explore.

References

Garrison, DR, Anderson T, Archer W. 1999. Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education 2: 85-109.

Henderson M, Selwyn N, Aston R. 2017. What works and why? Student perceptions of ‘useful’ digital technology in university teaching and learning. Studies in Higher Education 42, 1567-1579.

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