Ahhh…. Closing up the fifth week of this course, so it’s time for a little reflection. I have learned some extremely valuable information throughout this course that I am looking forward to implementing over the next few months as I begin to develop my upcoming courses!

When designing and developing completely online courses, we are doing more than inputting information into digital formats; we must create a digital learning environment where students can collaborate, learn, and grow (Morrison, 2013). Tan and Hung (2013) shared their beliefs of the learning process as being active construction based on our everyday lives instead of information overload which is fed to us by other individuals. I see learning as this active process wherein the learners (or students) are actively involved, engaged, and connected with the information at stake.  Mims (2003) adds to these thoughts with the idea that active learning takes place when students have opportunities to connect the new information with knowledge and information they have previously experienced. Tan and Hung (2003) tell us that we can motivate and engage our students by encouraging them to take ownership of their learning by using interesting, authentic, real world scenarios and problems. This is accomplished by using actual field-based problems that we, as learners, can directly relate with.

My goal is to challenge my students and push them to their learning limits where they will begin to embrace the struggle, find motivation, and collaborate to troubleshoot, problem-solve, and think critically when things are not always ‘black-and-white’. Having this as a priority, I tend to lean toward discovery-based learning theories to help create and mold my courses. Discovery-based learning is built upon the ideas, beliefs, and discoveries of psychologists and supporting advocates such as Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, and Vygotsky (Pappas, 2017). This theory suggest that learners play a more active, significant role in the learning environment where they are pushed, challenged, encouraged, and motivated. Students are engaged in self-guided exploration where they eventually reach the end result on their own. Discovery-based learning is thought to result in learners retaining more information and newly learned concepts after exploring, struggling, and experimenting with various solutions (Pappas, 2014).

Realizing that I wanted an active, engaging, collaborative learning environment, where students feel comfortable and encouraged to participate and communicate with each other, I began utilizing my UbD template and 3 column table to start re-designing an originally face-to-face course into a productive and effective online course. Fink (2003) offers worksheets with questions, prompts, and ideas to help you think through the process. These worksheets were extremely helpful when it came time to fill in the 3 column table. This model started with broad learning goals depicting exactly what outcomes we want for our students. From these goals, I then derived activities and assessments that would help me see when these goals are met. Grant Wiggins’ and Jay McTighe’s (2005) UbD plan is also a backward design process where a template provides sections to detail exactly what the students should understand, what they should be able to do, and what type of assessments will be used to measure the progress of these goals.  UbD also includes a section for us to plan the instructional steps that we will take in order to help our students reach the end goals successfully.

Both of these models use the backward design theory. I think this practice is very important and effective in helping educators ensure they are accurately assessing the students’ progress in relation to the desired goals and outcomes.  I believe this is especially true in online settings where we do not have the opportunity to see our students on a daily basis, some students do not feel comfortable emailing us each time they have a question, and things tend to be overlooked a bit easier than if it were a face-to-face class. I used the 3 column table as a tool to help me create a simplified outline for my course. I then used my UbD template to help fill in the details of that outline, locate resources that would be used to support various learning objectives, and build assessments to help identify when each goal was met. If we design with the end in mind, we ensure that everything we do in class is relevant and essential to the ultimate goal we are trying to reach.

In a world as digital as today, we must transform the way education has been presented in the past. They days of teachers standing in the front of classrooms lecturing to a group of students, then sending them on their way is a thing of the past. If students are no longer graduating and getting jobs that were once held, and are instead venturing out to new, exciting, advancing, technological careers, we must change the way we are teaching to help better prepare our students for their futures, not ours. In respect to this transitioning generation, educational leaders now have a sense of urgency to close the gap and ensure their students have not only the knowledge needed, but also the skills, competencies, and ethics to compete in a technology driven workforce (Project Tomorrow, 2015).  Providing online learning to students allows them to take ownership of their learning and encourages them to dig deeper than normal classroom settings where information was once spoon fed to students.

A majority of parents (78%) agree and say that the best way for their children to gain a fighting chance and a competitive edge in today’s 21st century society is to use technology on a regular basis in school settings and for school activities and assignments to obtain college and career ready skills (Project Tomorrow, 2015). Implementing online learning brings an abundance of benefits and value in various environments. Online learning helps increase student engagement, extends learning beyond the four walls of a classroom, increases relativity to the material, provides innovative teaching and learning techniques and styles, introduces students to various technology tools, resources, and forums that can be used for years to come, and helps enhance the sense of continued learning after the particular courses are complete (Project Tomorrow, 2015).

Throughout this course, I have planned, designed, and built an online course stemming from a previously face-to-face class I have been teaching for the last 3 years. My first thought was, “This is going to be a piece of cake! I take what I do now, every. single. day. and plug it into an LMS”. Boy, was I wrong! The last three and a half weeks (the first week I was still convinced I had this in the bag) I have been racking my brain trying to figure out exactly how everything needed to be laid out, how it needed to be organized, what type of resources my students would need, how I will judge their learning and understanding, and how much detail to provide. It was much more intense than I ever thought.

I have to say my biggest take away from this course is prepare, prepare, prepare…. Then expect the unexpected and be ready to adjust and correct the problems that are sure to arise along the way! I have never taught a completely online course, but now, I am definitely looking forward to it. I have used Blackboard as an online LMS for all of my face-to-face classes. In the past, I have utilized Blackboard as a tool to help me share resources, announcements, and every now and then, an assignment or two with the students; however, I have not been using it correctly. Through this course, I have learned that the key to an effective online course is planning, organizing, and clarity! There is no shooting from the hip and posting and uploading items as you go. A well designed, quality online course is one that displays comprehensive material from beginning to end with clear instruction to the learners of what is expected! I am now looking forward to updating and enhancing each of my classes I currently teach. Even if it is technically a face-to-face class, I have learned some valuable information that will definitely help me communicate my ideas and expectations more clearly with my learners, as well as help me provide effective resources to them in an effective, legal way.

Below, I have listed a few successful online programs that I have learned about over the last month:

San Jacinto College- Houston, TX: Eye Care Technology Program

University of Arkansas- Online Master of Science in Engineering

Lamar University- 2+2 Program: Students complete 2 years at a technical school such as LIT for Instrumentation, then complete the remaining 2 years online to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering

References:

Fink, L.D. (2003) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mims, C. (2003). Authentic learning: A practical introduction & guide for implementation. Meridian6(1). Retrieved from https://www.ced.ncsu.edu/meridian/index.php/meridian

Morrison, D. (2013, May 7). Why online courses [Really] need an instructional design strategy | Online learning insights. Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/why-online-courses-really-need-an-instructional-design-strategy/

Pappas, C. (2014, October 8). Instructional design models and theories: The discovery learning model – eLearning industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/discovery-learning-model

Pappas, C. (2017, March 31). Top 5 instructional design theories for modern online training – eLearning industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/top-instructional-design-theories-modern-online-training

Project Tomorrow (2015). “Trends in Digital Learning: Empowering Innovative Classroom Models for Learning”. Retrieved from http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2015_ClassroomModels.html

Tan, S. C., & Hung, D. (2003). Beyond information pumping: Creating a constructivist e-learning environment. Educational Technology42(5), 48-54.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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