In a traditional face-to-face course, the instructor often has complete control over the organization of their own course. The online instructor is central too, but not alone in setting up the organization and management of the course. New administrative skills are necessary for the online instructor to coordinate institutional, pedagogical, and technological demands.
If you think an online course is simply a traditional face-to-face course replicated on a computer screen, think again! Long lectures are not effective online. A successful Internet course will reflect the communicative nature of the online environment and incorporate resources from the outside world. For example, the discussion element of an online course should be a major component, and links to related resources and support material should be a standard feature in lesson presentation.
The instructor really has to work at promoting student discussions in an online course, perhaps more so than in a face-to-face course. Facilitating and moderating group discussions may be necessary, especially to help different student subgroups blend together. One way is to incorporate collaborative learning activities online by asking students to work together in small groups.
Teaching an online course saves the instructor time which would otherwise be spent in a classroom lecturing. However, it also requires time online devoted to conferencing with the class and emailing individual students. The asynchronous nature of an online course offers more flexibility in terms of interacting with the course materials and participants both for the instructor and the students.
Knowledge has become more and more specialized; no one seems to know it all anymore. Technological personnel are experts with server software and hardware but don’t know what you’re trying to teach, how you want to teach it, or what your students know so far. Administrative personnel know who the students are and how important their satisfaction is, but they don’t know how to answer your technological questions. You’re in the middle and will sometimes have either handle technology or administrative issues yourself or know when to redirect questions to the proper resources.
“Open Entry” – “Open Exit”
Online courses can be set up to allow “Open Entry” and “Open Exit” in terms of when the class begins and when it ends. Web-based courses depend on a real-live instructor and interaction with fellow students to create valid educational experiences. Successful online courses should not be canned, self-paced tutorials that deliberately eliminate contact with other human beings. It is best to offer online courses over a full academic term. This allows students time to cover and assimilate the material, collaborate with fellow students learning the same topics at the same time, and work on projects and papers together and independently at a reasonable rate. Spreading a course out over ten to fifteen weeks also suits the many adult learners with other responsibilities and only a limited amount of time to devote to their studies.
Web-based courses with required labs might be taken by traditional on-campus students who have chosen to take an online course for the sake of its convenient asynchronicity. These students can simply complete their lab assignments on campus in the usual way. Students who are truly Distance Learners must make other arrangements to fulfill their lab requirements. They may spend one or two Saturdays on campus in specially scheduled all-day lab sessions, do their lab work at a local high school or other nearby facility, or run experiments at home using a lab kit provided by the college. The challenge of running lab sessions for off-campus students is one that all forms of Distance Education, whether correspondence, ITV, video, radio, etc., must face. Creativity and flexibility are the keys to serving the needs of a geographically dispersed student population.
Assessment should reflect the online medium in which the course is taught, and traditional testing procedures may not be practical in an online environment. Online test monitoring is still a technological challenge; however, there are strategies you can use to help minimize cheating online. For example, make exams open book and ask questions that require students to synthesize, analyze, or apply information from the class discussions, lecture-presentations, and text in order to solve problems or explain procedures. This forces students to use higher order thinking skills and permits you to assess whether they have learned the course material.