Tips for Converting a Classroom-Based Course to the Online Environment
DEFINITION OF ONLINE LEARNING
The definition of online learning has evolved over the years, but one definition is still not universally accepted. From my perspective, online learning has several defining characteristics. First, synchronous activity either online or face to face does not occur regularly as part of the course itself. Students may be required to attend on-campus residencies or immersions, but the weekly coursework is done within the learning management system (LMS). Second, and related to the first, is that the learning occurs in asynchronous small group discussions where students can coconstruct knowledge in a community of inquiry. Third, learning asynchronously supports reflective thinking, allowing time not only for independent research and reading of materials, but also for students to apply, analyze, synthesize, and/or evaluate what they have read in order to formulate a post for the discussion. And, finally, online education is anytime, anywhere learning. Blended online courses include a combination of classroom and online activity.
Distance education, on the other hand, is teaching and learning from a distance that typically includes a synchronous classroom setting in which students must be in front of a computer at certain times during the week. The main learning space is the online classroom, where students can actually see and hear each other. Although this offers the benefit of saving money by not having to drive to school and park, it is otherwise the same as attending class. This option requires thinking on one’s feet and little time for research and reflection unless the questions have been provided ahead of the meeting. In a study by Chiasson, Terras, and Smart (2015), faculty who taught online courses using synchronous activity did not find any major differences as compared to teaching face to face. Thus, the modifications required to convert a classroom course to distance education required few changes in instructional strategies. This chapter focuses on the changes required when converting a classroom-based course to the 278online environment, that include the preceding characteristics of online teaching.
Converting a face-to-face course to online can be a time-consuming process and one that is not necessarily given release time for faculty to complete. Time for revision is typically worked into a busy schedule as part of the faculty role (Chiasson et al., 2015) during the semester before you are scheduled to teach.
Let us consider how teaching online is different from teaching in a classroom. First, although discussions are important in the classroom to support learning, they cannot be assessed—at least not in a meaningful way unless you are using the clicker system, which records individual student responses to questions posed by the teacher. Online discussions, on the other hand, are pivotal to both assessment and learning. Second, class time takes on a broader meaning in the online environment, as it is anywhere, anytime. Gone is the worry of taking up valuable class time with quizzes that often served as a means of assessment only. Online, they become a meaningful teaching strategy. Third, lengthy lectures that reiterate the readings do not have a place in a constructivist paradigm—quite frankly online or in the classroom—but that notion has been slow to gain speed. Other teaching methods are far superior. Fourth, the playing field is somewhat leveled online. Everyone must participate if discussions are a part of the course. This is beneficial on two fronts. First, as faculty you can readily see who understands and can apply the content and who is struggling. In addition, participation does not rely on one’s verbal skills and the ability to think quickly. In online discussions, time for reading, assimilating the content, and reflecting exists.
Revisiting the Backward Design Process
Course revision is best accomplished by following the steps in the Backward Design process as originally developed by Wiggins and McTighe (2005), which I reconceptualized for teaching online. The two steps used to develop online courses are (a) identifying outcomes, and (b) determining students have met the learning outcomes (assessments) by authentic means that also double as methods of teaching.
Writing objectives is often the first step, but as they are already in place in the classroom-based version of the course, the same objectives must be used for the online course in order for the courses to be considered 279equivalent academically. So, your job is to interpret the existing objectives to determine appropriate assessment strategies and teaching methods for the online environment. Initially, your focus should be on assessing the learning outcomes reflected in the objectives.
Keep in mind that what are considered strictly assessments when teaching in a classroom, double as teaching methods online. Discussion boards and quizzes can serve as both. Because of this you may not need to devise additional assessment methods to assess the objectives, which decreases your workload. Avoid busywork for students by getting all the mileage you can from discussions, quizzes, drill-and-practice exercises, and additional methods that do support the construction of knowledge, long-term transfer, and learning (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006).
What About the Lecture?
Unlike teaching in a classroom, the lecture takes second stage to other methods of teaching and learning. Lectures cannot simply be uploaded to the LMS and be considered “teaching online.” When reminiscing about a former professor’s advice, Pelz (2004) mentioned that “a lecture is the best way to get information from the professor’s notebook into the student’s notebook without passing through either brain” (p. 33). The content from lectures already created for the classroom, however, can provide a basis for creating quiz questions and perhaps identifying complex content that students often struggle to understand. Mini-lectures in a podcast or YouTube video are useful for teaching complex content or when you want to be sure students make connections between concepts or content.