Enhancing Students' Online Experiences: Best Educational Practices Unveiled by the Mouse in the Presence of a Cat

Enhancing Students' Online Experiences: Best Educational Practices Unveiled by the Mouse in the Presence of a Cat

Maria Pavlis Korres
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6533-9.ch021
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many educational institutions offering mainly face-to-face courses were forced to switch to online ones. This chapter presents a compilation of good practices adopted during the synchronous online lessons carried out via Skype for Business in two undergraduate courses at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The results of the summative evaluation, obtained through questionnaires at the end of the semester, as well as through formative evaluation throughout the semester, support that using the proper communication and collaborative tools, increasing interaction, immediacy, and intimacy with the instructor, and developing an atmosphere of respect, trust, and collaboration, could immerse students in an interactive synchronous online experience and help them develop a positive attitude towards online learning. An exceptional issue, pointed out by most of the students, was the online presence of “Carrot,” the instructor's cat, that enhanced student-teacher and student-student immediacy and intimacy.
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Theoretical Context

Designing Online Courses

Most e-learning design approaches converge on the idea that participant interaction and collaboration, developing a learning community, and student-teacher immediacy and intimacy are important elements for an effective online lesson. Based on these approaches and considering that individual characteristics of students should be taken into account, given that the latter do not constitute a single and homogeneous group (Twigg, 2003; Pavlis Korres & Lefteriotou, 2020), an attempt was made to include and utilize multimedia in the teaching design of online courses, as well as a variety of communication and collaborative tools, in order to motivate all students and promote their interaction with the content, the instructor and their peers (Moore, 1989, 2007; Thurmond & Wambach, 2004; Guy, 2007; Kang & Imt, 2013; Mutalib, Halim, & Yahaya, 2016; Pavlis Korres & Leftheriotou, 2016; Tawfik et al., 2018; Oyarzun, Stefaniak, Bol, & Morrison, 2018). To promote interaction with peers and instructors as well as collaboration skills, which are considered critical elements influencing learning experiences within online courses (Park & Bonk, 2007a), we tried to select and make use of the proper collaborative and communication tools available on the platform, aligning them with the corresponding educational goals (Pavlis Korres, 2012). The educational practices further intended to increase social presence, immediacy and intimacy between instructor and students (Mehrabian, 1967, 1971; LaRose & Whitten, 2000; Rovai, 2002; Salmon, 2004; Pallof & Pratt, 2005; Finkelstein, 2006; Hrastinski, 2008; Schutt, Allen, & Laumakis, 2009; Garsisson, 2011). The creation of favorable conditions for students’ emotional connection and social interaction (Kim, Liu, & Bonk, 2005; Park & Bonk, 2007b) proved to be particularly challenging and the same holds for creating an enabling environment for the increase of student satisfaction, since, according to the literature, as learner satisfaction increases, the learning outcome improves (Driver, 2002; Hong, 2002; Allen et al., 2006; Schutt et al., 2009; Claus & Changchit, 2017).

In view of the fact that, for the vast majority of students, this was their first contact with online courses, one of the objectives of the course was for the educational experience to have a positive effect in terms of student attitude towards e-learning, following up on Dewey’s continuity of experience (1980). As he puts it “every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences” (Dewey, 1980, p.9).

In the following section we shall mention the collaborative and communication tools that can be used in the design and implementation of online courses, focusing on those used in synchronous e-learning environments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Immediacy: Immediacy refers to those communicative behaviors - verbal and non-verbal - that increase psychological closeness and interaction between teachers and students and reduce feelings of isolation in e-learning students.

Interaction: A dynamic process of communication in a learning environment between participants who modify their actions, behaviors, and reactions due to the actions, behaviors, and reactions of their interaction partners.

Communication and Collaboration Tool: Any tool which allows and promotes communication and collaboration between participants in an online educational environment (e.g., e-mail, forum, bulletin board, chat, whiteboard, blog, wiki, video conference, etc.).

Asynchronous Communication: The term refers to interaction and communication that do not take place simultaneously, thus permitting learners and educators to respond to each other at a convenient time.

Synchronous Communication: The term refers to “real time” interactions, in which participants communicate and interact at the same time (e.g., videoconferences, chats, etc.).

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