04 maio, 2010

Tips for online teaching and workload management.

Developing and manage an online course it's no ride in the park. It's really hard work! 
As an e-tutor, I'm amazed with the amount of offline work a online teacher has when starts an online course. And I'm not talking about designing the course. I'm talking about the massive load of email reading and students assessment and support.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss this issues with colleges and professors in one of the courses I'm having in the Master "Pedagogy of elearning". Every student was invited to present thoughts or recommendations for online teaching and workload management.

I decided to share some tips  I developed has an online tutor and elearning trainer and I'm going to share them also here:

1. Prepare your course in advance:

It's vital that you have all the course planned in advance. Never produce learning material during the course, because it increase your time limitation for discussion with students. The activities must be well planned, although you might consider change some specific aspects according with the students skills. If you feel that they are more digital friendly you might promote more use of multimedia elements, but try not to chance a lot your initial plan.

2. Develop a quick assessment guide:
Beside the content and activities, it's important that you develop the assessment criteria that you want to use for the students works and participation. Don't get to much evolved in large and never-ending criteria. For each activity decide what competences and skills you want to evaluate the students. Don't forget that for each activity you may select a range of criteria. Do not use them all in just one activity or you will me suffocated with the assessment and don't have the time for feedback and support for the students.

3. Master the tools:
Before using a new tool for the course, master it. Do not attempt to learn a new tool during the course. Do it between courses!
Imagine you want to try a new authoring tool to develop a e-content or use a LMS tool for activities with students (example: wiki or quiz). You don't know if the end result it's what you wanted or if it is compatible with your LMS, for example. Result: you probably develop a bad e-content or delay your initial plan (read rule 1).
Use the time between courses to learn how to use the new tools. And master them! Know the full potential of that software or LMS feature!

4. Develop a personal FAQ

Students tend to express common  doubts and requests for help. If you collect those doubts and the responses you give in a personal document, it will be easier to answer each time a new student request your help. It'll save you a lot of time! Usually, students don't read a FAQ in the course page, but it's useful to have one, especially with answers regarding software and more technical doubts.
Also prepare some screencasts videos and pictures to visually give more impact to your answers. Sometimes, an image can be more powerful than 20 words!

5. Use webware to manage your email and quick content production:
I highly recommend Gmail to manage the massive load of emails that you receive during a course. You can access it anywhere with any computer. If you are on a trip or your computer dies on you, you still have access to the new emails and the older ones. Also use webware to produce quick content like video, audio or image.
If I need to create a quick screencast tutorial I use Screenr to create and share it online. Also it's always available and I can embed it on the course.  For audio and image I use Aviary suite. Again, all webware (online use) and embeddable features. This is a more geeky tip!

6. Promote cooperation between students.

Avoid getting in all the discussions. Promote the participation between students. Give extra credits for those students that help others and develop more complex ideas.
Also promote students peer-reviewing. This has two advantages: one, students can give a more personal view on each others works. Secondly, by reviewing others works, they develop a more critique analysis of their own work. This will increase the quality of their works and give the teacher more  ime for assessment.

These are some of the most important tips I can share with you. Hope they can be useful.
Personally, I've learned a lot hearing other teachers strategies and doubts, so my last advice is learn from others teachers and share your expertise!

Talking about sharing, I've a surprise!
It's an online debate I'm having with my colleges, using a great tool - Voice Thread.  
Using Kate Butler "How to Manage your Online Teacher Workload" paper has a background for discussion, several colleges have shared their toughs and ideias. Check it out and feel free to participate with your own recommendations!

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