Strategies for Efficient, Meaningful, and Inclusive Online Learning Environments: It's About Time

Strategies for Efficient, Meaningful, and Inclusive Online Learning Environments: It's About Time

Naomi Jeffery Petersen (Central Washington University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0115-3.ch013

Abstract

Students and faculty rely on clear and unambiguous time targets to exchange information and pace their intersecting lives. Most students juggle work, family, and commuting demands, and increasing numbers also struggle with language needs and disabilities, requiring additional and flexible time to grasp the scope of assignments, read and gather information, process concepts into written products, and finally make sense of the experience. It all takes time. In this chapter, practical strategies for structuring time expectations are introduced in the context of a commitment to empower self-regulation and lifelong learning with particular attention to accessibility. The time dimension of each component of the syllabus, assignments, and gradebook are described with examples from a successful online course, with reference to theory and research on student engagement and satisfaction.
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Background

Student-Centered Instruction

This article is written from a student-centered, or constructivist, perspective, with a concern for multiple dimensions of student success (conceptual understanding, personal proficiency, and practical application) in the context of postsecondary education. Decades of research (e.g. Beichner, 2008; Hake, 2008; Hattie, 2012; Hsiao, Mikolaj, & Shih, 2017; Oliver-Hoyo, 2011; Schreiber, 2017) confirm the effectiveness of strategic interaction between instructor and students, as well as among students, combined with metacognition and real world application, which are key components of student-centered pedagogy.

Universities are no longer – if they ever were – simple ‘knowledge boxes’ with students hungry for knowledge, sitting at the feet of gurus. Instead, campuses are complex self-supporting institutions with a keen interest in student retention and satisfaction, both resulting in tuition-based income for sustaining the institution. Whether a faculty member is motivated more by a sense of the university’s business or by social justice, student success will be a primary goal.

Time management is widely recognized as a factor in student success in terms of both user experience and achievement. In France, Fernex, Lima, and de Vries (2015) explored time allocation for academic activities, noting, “At the heart of this exercise is the question of the time students dedicate to academic activities in competition with a whole range of other activities” (p. 399). They concluded that students’ choices were influenced more by their past and current experiences than by their goals for the future. This confirms the current psychosocial constructivist model (Phillips et al., 2000) of facilitating student metacognition of experience and reflection on its meaning. Internal constraints and tendencies toward counterproductive behaviors are recognized in this chapter as vulnerabilities, with troubleshooting strategies offered to strengthen both students and instructors’ capacities to manage the demands of learning and teaching.

The first vulnerability, then, is one of identity and purpose: both instructor and student are weaker if the instructor is in a traditional role of being the ‘sage on the stage’ focused only on transmitting knowledge and the student is in a passive role of absorbing information. The more progressive relationship of an instructor who is a ‘guide on the side’ facilitating the students’ active engagement leads to a better use of time because the learning process and the student experience is realistically anticipated and monitored. It is therefore helpful for instructors to consider the reality of current students’ lives. There are several individual vulnerability factors in the amount of time students have which in turn affects how they use it.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accessibility: Proactive approach applying principles of universal design in order to reduce barriers for people with disabilities so they may participate more fully in everyday functions to which they have a right.

Late Policies: Instructor-based criteria for determining procedures for students to submit evidence of accomplishing learner outcomes. Typically associated with penalties unrelated to learner outcomes.

Online Learning Environments: Instructional delivery model using web-based content and platform for course activities for perceiving, processing and producing evidence of mastering course objectives, typically asynchronous.

Engagement: Broad term referring to all student behaviors related to course-based prompts to develop knowledge, skill, and disposition of the content.

Accommodations: Typically, the decisions by individual instructors to allow variation in policy for individual students entitled to disability services recommendations in compliance with equity mandates.

Student-Centered Instruction: Psychosocial constructivism as an instructional ideology, assuming the importance of associating new information with existing mindsets and making meaningful and purposeful connections across contexts.

Self-Regulation: Theoretical model for explaining individual capacity to engage in tasks without close supervision or coercion. Typically including functions of planning, monitoring, and reflecting.

Vulnerable Populations: Groups of people with personal and context characteristics that constrain their capacity to function as is typically expected. Vulnerability is specific to context but may be conflated to limit individuals’ perceived identities to their particular disability.

Feedback: Communication between students or between student and professor focused on evidence of demonstrating learner outcomes. Typically regarded as significant for motivating student engagement and informing development of student knowledge and skills before summative performance.

Checklist: Differentiated tasks within an assignment, provided to help guide student accomplishment of a multi-faceted assignment that may involve an extended time period. Distinguished from a rubric which analyzes quality of evidence according to learner outcome-based criteria.

Time Management: General term for initiating control of limited temporal resources, e.g. budgeting a limited amount of time and prioritizing its use. Often regarded as a skill university students are expected to have but also often compromised by circumstances beyond student control.

Due Dates: Calendar dates set by instructors by which evidence of completing assigned tasks must be submitted according to course-based procedures.

Metacognition: Student engagement in awareness of own thoughts and feelings, typically in the context of learner outcomes developed during assigned tasks. An essential component of learner-centered pedagogy.

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