Integrative Course Design and Pedagogy to Humanize Online Learning: A Case Study

Integrative Course Design and Pedagogy to Humanize Online Learning: A Case Study

Kuki Singh (Edith Cowan University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0968-4.ch012
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This chapter deploys notions of learning, design, and professional development to conceptualize practical techniques for humanizing teachers' experience in an online course. Course design is approached from an eclectic theoretical lens to transform teacher perceptions and attitudes, and develop web 2.0 skills for teaching. A synthesis of data revealed consistently high (90-95%) student satisfaction, including perceptions indicative of a cultural shift. Improved learner motivation, engagement, retention and success are attributed to design techniques perceived by students as having humanizing effects. These relate to the course environment and navigation, content design, communication and interaction, student responsibility, active and collaborative learning, support, technology integration, and teaching with video. The case raises implications for digital delivery, interest-driven learning and the development of 2.0 skills in the context of both short professional development and semester length courses.
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Online learning, frequently described as explosive, unprecedented, amazing, disruptive, and revolutionary, is characterized by phenomenal growth. With a 4.4% compound annual growth rate worldwide, the online learning industry is predicted to be worth about $107 billion by 2018 (Ambient Insight, 2013), and it is speculated that 50% of all classes will be delivered online by 2019 (Global Industry Analysts, 2016). Whilst the United States and Europe account for 70% of the global online learning industry, the fastest growing market currently is the Asia-Pacific region.

Rapid technological advancements are driving the growth in online learning. In the last five years, the types of learning technologies available have doubled in number(Ambient Insight, 2013), encompassing mobile technologies (smart phones and tablets), high speed internet, wifi, social networking, online media and gaming services, data storage, streaming, wearable technology, and augmented reality, to name some of the new and emergent technologies in use within higher education today (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2015), and their educational applications are expected to steer critical changes in the “development of progressive pedagogies and learning strategies; the organization of teachers’ work; and the arrangement and delivery of content” (Johnson et al., 2015, p. 35).

Digital technologies are predicted to have a bigger and stronger role in learning, raising two significant concerns. The first relates to the capacity of universities to optimally embrace the affordances of new technologies to support learning, particularly with one study estimating that only 49% of organizations have the instructional design skills needed to fully embrace online learning, only 28% of organizations have learning and development staff confident in using new technologies, and only 31% of organizations have staff capable of developing digital content in-house (Ambient Insight, 2013). Second, the complex area of rewarding good teaching is considered a “wicked challenge” that “is complex to even define and much less address” (Johnson et al., 2015, p. 32). These researchers surmize that the deeply engrained academic tradition of “research credentials being a more valuable asset than talent and skill as an instructor” is an impediment to the implementation of effective pedagogies for the 21st century (p. 32). These researchers argue that acknowledgement of this complex and multifaceted dilemma at a national level is a good starting point towards finding solutions. In this regard, in 2013 the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education recommended prioritization of teaching and learning over research, training academics to teach in contemporary technology-rich environments, and making quality teaching a foundational principle in universities (Johnson et al., 2015, p. 32). So, whilst the emergence of new technologies brings exciting opportunities for growth and transformation of learning, teacher capability to use these technologies optimally in designing for learning is framed as a significant concern.

Another pressing concern around rapid expansion of online learning relates to the enduring challenge of learners’ loss of personal contact in distance learning. In attempts to mediate the time-place separation of learners, an extensive body of research has guided improvements in communication and interaction giving support to the role new technologies can play to reduce feelings of learner isolation. Although new technologies have the capacity to mitigate time-place boundaries by connecting students anywhere, anytime, and on any device, the construct of quality learning involves more than technology solutions; it must be supported by sound pedagogical decisions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Presence: The techniques for establishing and sustaining connection with learners who are otherwise separated by time and place. Three types of presence (i.e., social, teaching, and cognitive) describe the dynamic and complex nature of online learning, framed as a Community of Inquiry model ( Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000 ).

New/Emerging Technologies: Technologies whose applications in higher education may still be distant, although their potential relevance to teaching, learning and creative inquiry in higher education is recognized.

Humanization: The design and pedagogies employed to enable students to feel connected to the teacher, their peers, the course content, the institution and relevant knowledge-based communities. This involves techniques to enhance sense of belonging, and sense of place.

Online Learning: Learning that involves the use of computer networks such as the internet, the world wide web, or local area networks. It can be synchronous, or asynchronous, instructor facilitated or solely computer based. Related terms are elearning and online education.

Designing for Learning: A structured, situated process involving four interrelated activities, namely investigation (i.e., analyzing the learning context), application (i.e., adaptation of principles to suit circumstances), modeling (i.e., implementing solutions), and iteration (i.e., reviewing, evaluating, and refining).

Professional Development: Formal education courses, usually short in duration (and sometimes, one-off) designed to help teachers extend their professional knowledge, competence, skill and teaching effectiveness.

Social Media Technologies: These well-established widely used technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace with phenomenal effects for communication and social interaction. The proliferation of free web-based tools make them highly accessible and their affordances for rich communication has the potential to transform learning interactions.

Educational Technology: Tools and resources that are used to improve teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. Whilst many of the technologies currently in use were not developed for the sole purpose of education, yet they have clear applications in the context of global higher education. Their use is widespread and varied.

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