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The Rhythm of Online Teaching
September 14, 2010 - 9:45pm

Thought I'd try an experiment of sharing with you some of the best practices I'm trying to write up about the rhythm of online teaching, in the hopes that you will provide some ideas and feedback. Ideally this would be a wiki, but we are stuck with a blog platform. While I'm writing about online teaching, I think the principles apply to on-ground and blended learning.

The best practices below are intended for faculty who will be working with adult working professionals. The expectation, currently, is that each student will spend approximately 15 hours per week in the online portion of the course.

Best Practices:

Consistency: The course rhythm should be consistent both within the course and across courses.

Time: Time is the measure in which learning is budgeted. Each activity, reading, or deliverable spends down the time budget.

Tempo: Students may distribute their work throughout the week, completing their obligations and submitting their deliverables based on their schedule. However, each week has predictable highs and lulls of expectations. The highs come mid-week, with the first deliverable due and the team online syncrhonous meeting, and on the weekend. The weekend time can be particularly busy, with students completing any work on Saturday they did not have the chance to finish, and using Sunday to interact with fellow students and the instructors around their deliverables in the Discussion Board. Friday night is reserved as a "no work" night - in that the professor will not be on the discussion boards Friday night.

Expectations: Very clear guidelines are provided about exactly what is expected of both the student and the professor during the course. This includes a clear understanding of turn-around time for questions, as well as everyone being on the same page about the need to be collegial, supportive, pro-active, kind, energetic, thoughtful, and present (see below) throughout the course.

Presence: More than anything, instructors, course fellows and TAs must strive to model "presence". This does not mean answering every discussion post - as "sucking up all the oxygen" in a course can be counterproductive. This does mean constantly monitoring the discussion boards, providing feedback and guidance, and posting your synthesizing and guiding text and multimedia entries. Direct questions need to be answered within 24 hours (as a policy) - ideally much more quickly. Questions are actively pushed from e-mail to the Discussion Boards.

Balance: Student time commitments typically fall into three big "buckets" during a 15 hour week - each taking approximately equal time (5 hours). These include: a ) online interaction time, with the majority spent using asynchronous tools such as discussion boards, blogs, wikis and journals - complemented by some time in synchronous meetings; b) class readings, viewing asynchronous class lectures and watching curricular videos; and c) completing course work such as papers, presentations, problem sets, quizzes/tests and group projects. The balance may shift in a given week, say if a major course project is due, but an effort is made to maintain a good balance throughout the course.

A "Standard" Week

Below is an outline what a standard week could look like. The goal is not to fit each course into an inflexible structure, but to provide basic guidelines to what a week teaching online may look like.

Monday: Course module starts. The module has actually been open for the prior week - but on Monday the discussion boards become available to post, formative quizzes become available, and the assignment function goes lives. All of the materials and deliverables, with their due dates and time estimates, are clear and available from the beginning of the module.

Wednesday Night (late): First student deliverable. This is usually a small deliverable, often a post to a course discussion board around the curriculum (readings and videos) etc. One example is a requirement to ask 3 substantive questions about the materials. Requiring students to respond to each other (example: everyone must answer to questions) by Sunday night insures that the discussion board goes forward.

Wednesday Night: Weekly Online Synchronous Meeting held (9:00pm EST suggested). Meeting includes a review of the weekly objectives, a mini synthesis by the professor, and student led reporting out and discussion of deliverables and group projects.

Saturday Night (late): Main weekly deliverable due. Delivered to a Discussion Forum (each week has 2 forums). Deliverable could be a presentation (voice-over), case write-up, etc. etc.

Sunday: Instructor and student response to main deliverable.

Sunday Night: Module round-up. Synthesis often provided by instructor using presentation capture software.

Can you offer any additions to my best practices? I'm hoping to be able to fit this all on one easily digestible page. Where do you go to look for resources or ideas? Any books or articles to suggest? Any ideas where this conversation is going on?


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