I'll be blunt: I think the worst of classroom teaching is normally what's dragged online and presented as e-learning.
In the following paragraphs, I've described several mistakes in designing e-Learning that you should avoid if you can. Please. Otherwise people look at the mistakes and think that they define e-Learning, and it gives the rest of us a bad name.
1) Pretending Google doesn't exist.
If your goal is to have the student "learn facts," please don't bother. Captain Kirk doesn't need facts--that's why he has "computer" and his friend Spock. Ignorance used to be remedied with learning, but now that's as temporary as a Google search.
Building a test that students can answer by having a second tab open . . . that's akin to educational malpractice. Multiple choice questions are almost always Google-able, though with practice you can write questions that get up to Analyze or Evaluate in the taxonomy, and those are Google-proof. It really does bring down the whole "testing" house of cards, now that our students have unlimited access to the collective knowledge of the world by touching their communicator and saying "Computer, how long will it take to reach Alpha Centauri at present warp-speed?"
2) Climbing Free-Solo
Learning online without any peer support isn't as dangerous as climbing free-solo, but it's not very fun, either. If at all possible, set up your classes so that kids keep pace with each other throughout the term of the class. This is beneficial to the students because they are social beings--we were all created to be in relationship. This is beneficial to the course designer because it allows for productive forums, discussions, and peer-reviews, all of which are off-limits if students are to go through the courses entirely at their own pace without a cohort to go with.
Obviously one of the attractions of e-learning, from an administrative standpoint, is the ability to start kids at any time and have them finish at any time. And all of us that ever had to endure sitting in a classroom for an entire term where the work required could have been done in two days . . . we all empathize and so we embrace the concept of work-at-your-own-pace. But e-Learning already allows for that self-pacing! When I assign projects (in my virtual classroom) that are calibrated to take students five hours in a week, the fast student that gets it done in three hours isn't sitting in my classroom being bored--he's either onto other projects or spending his time as he feels is valuable. However, it's not in his best interest or in mine to have him blaze through a semester of 5-hour weeks in just three weeks, even though it's possible to do so. Spending three weeks "finishing" the Studies in Shakespeare class is NOT the same as being released to go forward into the next projects, week by week, for 18 weeks. Duration matters. And we're not holding kids "back" by not allowing them to finish Shakespeare in three weeks, because virtual learning doesn't share that boredom-engendering speed-of-completion paradigm with F2F classrooms.
This may be beyond your control, if you're developing e-Learning in a system that embraces start-whenever scheduling, but it's worth thinking long and hard about.
3) Crowning Yourself "King Curator"
Do you remember the old days of the internet? Back when people still capitalized the "i"?
In the nineties, Yahoo was developing a fabulous service of categorizing the knowledge of the Internet. If you wanted to find the homepage of the Raiders, you had to either know the URL or try searches that would pull up all kinds of irrelevant results, OR you could navigate your way into www.yahoo.com | sports | football | NFL and look under the R's. I thought that's how the future would be, that the best categorizing service for websites would win. So did Yahoo.
When I was taking my first online courses to earn my Masters in Educational Technology in 6 A.G. (for those of you who still use the A.D. or C.E. methods for reckoning years, that's 2004), I noticed that the course designers thought their job was to curate the best links and resources into the classroom so I'd read them and learn. I bet those course designers really cemented their understanding of the content as they curated links! As with any teaching/learning, the person who does the most discovery makes the biggest advances in learning, and usually it's the teacher, not the student. Okay, the problem? The problem was that the links were already outdated and broken by the time I got to them! Not all, but many--enough that I got really handy at using Google to search for the parts of the URLs that seemed most likely to get me to the article the teacher wanted me to see. The articles were still online, but the URLs were too brittle and easily broken, in that shifting environment of the early-internet.
So should we curate no links for our kids? Maybe. To reference my Studies in Shakespeare class again, there is one assignment where I basically say "So, there's this guy named Shakespeare who wrote plays. Please go educate yourself about him and create this timeline using such-and-such online timeline creation tool and give me the link. Here's a Project Checklist you need to use as you work, so you know your project meets my requirements." That's an example where I really gave them no leg up at all, because I know that it's hard to go very wrong with a search like "guy named Shakespeare." Then there's another assignment about iambic pentameter, and for that one I give them four good links and ask them to find three more that are similar and better. I tell them that I'll use their better links in the next round of Studies in Shakespeare, but really I want each student to see some pretty okay links and spend the time to find the better ones for himself.
It is good to curate resources for your kids in order for them to have a starting place, but to allow them to curate is better.
4) Now it's Your Turn
I've listed several of the mistakes I've seen committed in e-learning. What have you seen that wasn't done as well as it should have been? What paradigms accidentally got brought into online learning from the classroom, that really should have stayed in the classroom? Make this your soap box--what will you add to our "Mistakes to Avoid List"?
Michael was a low-performing student in the first class I ever taught fully online. I was good friends with the Campus Facilitator for the school that he attended, and we talked on the phone nearly every week about the progress of "our" kids. One day he said "Michael is sure frustrated, but I can tell you that it's good-frustrated." Michael had done only a half-hearted effort on the first project of the class and I'd sent it back for a re-submit. Then he'd resubmitted it with only 2 of the 3 feedback points done, so I'd given it back to him with a 0/40, again, and asked him to resubmit. He'd finally earned his 40 points and my praise, only to go on to the next assignment and repeat the process!
"Is he too frustrated? Do I need to ease up on him?"
My friend responded, "No, I don't think so. He complains loudly in the computer lab about how hard you are to please, but these might be the first projects in his life where he's been made to get it right. Usually he just finds the lowest level of work needed to pass the class and stays there."
"Right--he's one who lives in the ZMA. The Zone of Minimal Achievement."
We maintained course, and Michael . . . well, let me tell you more about Michael in just a bit.
To make the completion grading work for me, I conclude every online assignment with a project checklist like this one:
____ Create a Fakebook page for a non-lead character in the Shakespeare play you're working on.
____ Include a profile pic of someone you would cast for the role based on his/her appearance.
____ Include bits of profile information such as hobbies, relationships, favorite quotes, favorite Bible verses, shared Pinterest boards, etc. Blend fact and fiction.
____ Embed this FB page onto a page in your Portfolio and submit the URL into the Turn In area; also submit this Project Checklist, with every completed element marked __x__.
Some of my kids go all-out, making a beautiful specimen for their Portfolio. Other kids do the bare minimum. Both sets of kids get the points if they meet the criteria, and I let the reward of positive Peer Reviews be the driving factor to promote excellence. If a student does not fulfill the project checklist, that gives me an opportunity for feedback, and the feedback-loop is the best part of online teaching. I give SO much better feedback to my online students than I was ever able to give to the students who cycled through my classroom back in the brick and mortar days.
When you transition from a F2F classroom into the domain of online education, the paradigm of grading each assignment with a percent or letter grade comes with you like an invasive-water-species sticking to the bottom of your boat. You didn't try to bring the grades-paradigm in with you, but in it came. Grades reflect and shape so much of our modern educational theory/practice, but with e-Learning we need to leverage the strength of the LMS--by establishing completion grading with a good feedback loop for resubmissions.
Will singing to Annie in OKLAHOMA.
My student, Michael, needed to hear me sing (metaphorically) "With me, it's all er nuthin'!" It was with pleasure that my friend and I watched him leave his ZMA and level up to the point where he was, by the end, turning in projects that fully met the criteria. Completion grading didn't get him an "A" in the class, but it wasn't because he was earning anything less than full points for each assignment. Rather it was because he earned full points on only 70% of the required projects, and he got to only that number of projects due to the constraints of time and his slow start at the beginning of the term. He felt successful, and I wasn't ever faced with "is this project good enough for a B?" or such questions. If the the project met the checklist, he got the points and a "feedback high-five." If it didn't meet the checklist, we began a resubmission feedback loop until it was up to par.
Is completion grading something you can implement into your classroom? It's a real question--comment below if you have a moment to articulate your thoughts.
(found low-quality on internet and re-made it into this one 6/12/13)
On my laptop, I use Chrome and my wife uses Firefox--that's just the way we separate our personalities on the computer, so my email and her email can both be open simultaneously. Our kids, when they use the laptop, use Safari so they don't mess up mom and dad.
There's nobody in the house that we dislike so much that we make them use Internet Explorer. True.