Wednesday, 26 October 2011

What can online teaching add to printed materials?

Here are 10 things you can do online, which add value to printed distance learning materials.

1  Make the printed materials available in digital form - for example, as a PDF or an ePub (e-book) file. This makes the materials searchable, portable (if loaded onto a mobile device), and copy-and-pasteable. (Even if students primarily read the materials in their printed form, they may find a digital version a useful alternative.)

2  Include time-limited subject matter. This is useful where a topic is essentially volatile (for example, because it is dependent on government policy), or topical examples or case studies are in danger of becoming dated. Rather than avoid them totally, you can include them in the knowledge that you can revise them if necessary later at relatively low production cost.

3  Provide exercises or learning activities - to help students develop their own knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Where a question or task is followed by a model answer, comment or feedback, the online medium allows you to hide this (for example, just by putting it on another web page), so that students don't see it immediately. (Even if you can't force them to answer a question, you can still make them pause - and the dialogic question-and-answer form can help support students' own metacognitive processes.) 

4  Include interactive presentations - for example, animated diagrams. These can repay their development cost by helping students develop their own mental models of structures, processes or concepts.

5  Provide self-tests - for example, quizzes, which (with careful writing) can test analytical or even evaluative skills, as well as knowledge and understanding. These are only practical where the subject matter allows for questions with closed, well-defined answers, but where they are students usually greatly value the immediacy of feedback on their study.

6 Link to external online resources - not only resources which present or teach the subject matter well (if they exist and are free, why write your own?) but resources which can you can use as objects or exemplars of different perspectives for students to analyse and critique.

7 Develop digital skills and information literacy - the skills of digital reading, writing and note-taking, and finding, evaluating and using online sources, which are now expected of graduates.

8 Integrate learning activities with digital resources - so that students can for example move smoothly between audio-visual resources and the accompanying analytic questions, or between their current learning task and their products from previous tasks held in the “cloud”.

9 Include cooperative activities - for example, through an online forum, to enable students to share their experiences or findings, or to form each other's conceptual development through discussion, as well as developing communicative skills.

10 Include collaborative activities - for example, through a wiki, in which students work together to produce a shared product, thus requiring them to develop the meta-skills of work organisation and negotiation.

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