I’ve just started my first fully online course through the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. Incidentally, this course is about learning to teach online, and I’m looking forward to learning in this kind of environment as a student so that the experience can inform any teaching I do online elsewhere.
I did find that online learning environments in my undergraduate experience supplemented my courses when used well. Most of the time it wasn’t an engaging space, and the common criticism was that they were just a data dump for PowerPoint presentations and lecture handouts. Those who didn’t turn up to lectures because these were online were fools. Studying from slides with words on is like buying a CD and listening to it with your ears covered. When esed well, the module spaces became a focal point for all sorts of stimulating material – mainly links to online articles and photographs relevant to the books we were studying.
Whether the online learning environment was used well or not was of relatively little consequence when we had 8(ish) contact hours of lectures and seminars. It is absolutely critical to the success of distance learning courses which I think will continue to be an expansion area in higher education.
Advances in technology (or perhaps just advances in our understanding of existing technology) can make online learning environments increasingly dynamic. What I’m learning in my online course is that no matter how spangly the delivery method, there are still key skills online tutors need to get to grips with. Communicating in a text-based environment, addressing challenging students and supporting online learners wherever they are based are all essential programme management skills.
With all my recent posts about online tutoring, Twitter in academia, interactive novels and OERs, I feel I should add a disclaimer (as much for me as for readers). I *am* still writing a thesis on poetry. I am. I will. I must.