Online Teaching Strategies

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Robert Fouquette

online teaching strategies

Before becoming an online instructor for SNHU, I taught face-to-face in classrooms on campus. As I lectured and interacted with the student body — both traditional undergraduate “day” students and adult/continuing education learners — I began running across various studies that posited the same things I had observed firsthand in the classroom.

The statistic that stood out the most from the various classroom studies, something that I certainly recognized from my own experience as a teacher, is that at any given time, a third of the students were fantasizing or daydreaming during class. Their facial expressions and body language were undeniable. Another factor that concerned me was that, generally, only four or five out of 20 to 30 students were actively involved in classroom discussions.

It’s easy to assume that, for someone who loves teaching as much as I do, these problems are manageable and easy enough to overcome with the appropriate “bag of tricks.” After teaching about 200 courses in a physical classroom setting, I learned to accept spaced-out students as a constant.

In 1996, rumors of an online program being formed at SNHU were spreading throughout the campus. Even though I had previously found the use of computers distasteful—having disavowed the beige boxes at every opportunity — I jumped on board in 1997 and soon discovered a remarkable new mindset in education. And although I may be biased, I have never been involved in an organization where so much effort was put into improving and fine-tuning both the technology and the pedagogy behind the technology.

Teachers cannot apply the same techniques we used face-to-face and expect them to work. The online environment requires a different train of thought, and a different approach, than the physical schoolroom. As teachers, we now have the ultimate classroom in which to do our thing.
Here’s what I’ve discovered since “leaving” the classroom: Students don’t fantasize in online classes. They’re not “in” the class until they have read, contemplated and submitted their findings or views, so when they are in the class, 100 percent of them are there. Some are brilliant, some are average, but none of the students are spaced out. The end result is that a much larger percentage of students take part in class discussions.

Of course the medium, by itself, is only two-dimensional. And most of the input only tasks one of the five senses, that of sight.

A good way to expand on appealing to more than one sense in online education is to take advantage of video clips and other presentations on YouTube and other sites. With these you add auditory learning to the mix. In fact, some visuals even can stimulate taste and smell through memory manipulation, and of course, they have to type any responses to properly contribute to the class. In a way, now all five senses are at play, and according to one of the premises of learning theories presented over the years, the five senses are the complete learning kit we are given at birth.

Instructors already know to be wary of using too much humor in the classroom, and this is no different in an online course. Teachers still need to avoid sarcasm and cynicism, and if you make political comments of any sort, be prepared for an emotional outburst, or 10. Ideally used, humor can be a good way to initiate a thought or a topic for discussion, or for further probing into a statement made by a student. All of this is as true in an online course as it was in the physical classroom. Perhaps even more so, give the higher numbers of students participating as discussed earlier; since more students are involved, it increases the chances of someone getting offended or upset during the course of a class discussion.

I invite students to challenge anything I say in the classroom because that way they express their opinions and feelings about the subject at hand. It’s also gives me the chance to point them in a different direction or thought if they don’t quite know yet what their opinion is.

It’s all about interaction, and as long as they actively participate and influence each other in this fashion, students can learn much and retain more. They don’t just learn from an instructor. Many of the students have an enormous base of experience to bring into the classroom discussions, and in every single online class I have taught in the past 14 years, I have learned as well.

Since 1991, when he began teaching for SNHU, Robert Fouquette has led an estimated 400-plus courses. He currently teaches Organizational Management and International Management, and has also taught Psychology, Human Growth and Development courses, as well as leading seminars on starting up businesses in New Hampshire.

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