Making a Sudden Transition to Teaching Online: Suggestions and Resources

Editor’s Note: As a means of supporting those attempting to do their best under trying circumstances, SAGE Publishing has drawn from its large body of published and peer-reviewed research to offer resources in another post — free of charge — to serve teachers and students around the world. Click here to access ’16 Answers to Your Questions about Teaching Online.’

Suggestions and Resources from Janet Salmons


Connecting with Students by Being Present

Nothing is more disconcerting to online students than the missing-in-action professor! In online learning, presence is established differently than in a face-to-face classroom. The Community of Inquiry Model, developed in 1999 by Garrison and Anderson and further developed since then (Garrison, 2017), describes three kinds of presence: teaching, cognitive, and social. Finding a way to establish and maintain presence is essential, particularly in the current situation where students are accustomed to seeing the instructor and being able to ask questions in class or meet privately. Social presence is significant when students are worried about a global crisis, and in a teaching-and-learning context, social presence and community-building can diffuse tension and increase student motivation.

A majority of business schools and universities incorporate online pedagogy into curricula, yet scholars strive to understand the elements that influence student learning in these online communities. One framework that conceptualizes the elements of the online learning environment is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which suggests teaching, social, and cognitive presences exist in the online learning environment. However, the framework does not fully conceptualize how individual-level motivational factors influence student learning. Using positive psychology theory, the authors suggest the CoI framework include psychological capital (PsyCap) to capture positive student-level motivational states. Our analysis of students in online business courses finds that PsyCap is a distinct online presence. Specifically, we find that teaching presence significantly relates to PsyCap and that PsyCap significantly relates to both social and cognitive presences within the CoI. We offer implications for researchers and instructors interested in enhancing student-level PsyCap and learning outcomes in the online learning environment.

Online education has grown dramatically over the past decade. Instructors who teach face-to-face courses are being called on to adapt their courses to the online environment. Many instructors do not have sufficient training to be able to effectively move courses to an online format. This commentary discusses the growth of online learning, common challenges faced by instructors adapting courses from face-to-face to online, and best practices for translating face-to-face courses into online learning opportunities.

Social presence is a construct that has attracted the attention of many educational scholars involved in online collaborative learning settings wherein all the dialogue is happening through textbased asynchronous and synchronous communication channels. The social presence of the learning group members is associated with the degree of participation and social interaction amongst them and, as such, is therefore considered a critical variable for learning. In this article, the original social presence construct is disentangled, concluding that it actually represents two constructs, namely (1) ‘social presence’ (degree of ‘realness’ of the other in the communication), and (2) ‘social space’ (degree to which social interpersonal relationships are salient). It is identified that social presence in the CoI model is actually integrating both constructs but with an emphasis on social space.

Adult learners are taking advantage of the availability and convenience of online education. Mature learners in online higher education classrooms bring a wealth of experience filtered through cultural, generational, and socioeconomic differences. This research explore community building in an online graduate course by tapping learners’ prior experience using an autobiographical memory exercise. The authors found that building social presence through course design contributed to increased communication and learning and encouraged an active and engaged online learning community. Recommendations for improving online learning communities provide educators with ideas for practice.

The COI model identifies elements which are fundamental to a successful online learning experience, namely, teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence. The model has received empirical support as a useful framework for understanding the online learning experience. Emotional intelligence would support a much broader role for emotional presence in learning and embrace to a larger extent how emotions play out in the learning process, than singularly “emotional expression” in the original COI framework. Thus, the article presents a conceptualization of emotional presence in terms of emotional intelligence, discusses the relationship of emotional presence to teaching presence, and how teaching presence may foster emotional presence in learners.

Online student motivation is an essential ingredient for academic success. Student motivation requires the desire to learn with the self-discipline to acquire new information. 

Teaching & Mentoring

Face-to-face instruction is inherently synchronous – the instructor and students are together at the same place and the same time. Videoconferencing makes it possible to replicate this experience to some degree, allowing for what the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, 2017) calls teaching and social presence. However, when students are studying remotely, in different time zones, synchronous experiences might be more difficult. The first set of articles explores ways to make the most of synchronous and asynchronous communications with students. The second set of articles offer suggestions for collaborative or small-group work in online courses.

Synchronous Teaching and Learning

Participation in synchronous online learning is an increasing need for students’ learning outcomes. Teachers generally cannot be sure about the fact that students who are seen in the participation lists are really following the online tasks. Recent studies have shown that gamification can be an effective way to support learners’ participation in the tasks. This study intended to suggest sample scenarios in line with using gamification elements in online learning environments.

With the move away from the traditional face-to-face classroom interaction to a more impersonal computer classroom, many instructors have to deal with the fact that their online classes are not offering the same kind of feel of community that a traditional classroom can offer. Online classes are social classes that rely heavily on one’s ability to communicate effectively in a group setting. Community, the sense of belonging to a group of same interest, is something very key to the success of many face-to-face classes. How does one transfer that same community and closeness to an online class for students that may have never met each other in real life and have only ever interacted together across the Internet?

This qualitative study explores networked collaborative learning in the context of an online undergraduate education course, analyzing the talk, thinking, and media that students jointly produced during a discussion hosted via video conference. The authors’ work speaks to recent interest in online instruction, particularly in post-secondary institutions, as well as the challenge of making online courses engaging, critical, and inclusive educational spaces. Working from a sociocultural frame on learning and development, they demonstrate how synchronous engagement online with multiple digital technologies facilitated students’ knowledge construction and analysis of assignment content. They offer a definition of networked collaborative learning, positing that it is constituted by the dynamic convergence of ‘actants’ working toward multiple and competing goals, and we discuss its potential for teaching and learning in online spaces.

Asynchronous Teaching and Learning

This article addresses educators’ concerns about using asynchronous online discussions in lieu of face-to-face discussions. Drawing from research on asynchronous online education and Bloom’s taxonomy, the authors introduce the system of “original examples” and “value-added comments” that they have developed to promote engaging and meaningful discussions in which students learn course material from one another. The authors describe how to integrate this system into an online course and provide guidelines for instructor facilitation. They offer evidence that online asynchronous discussions facilitate students’ learning and may be more inclusive than face-to-face discussions for some students. Finally, the authors share their observations and suggestions for implementation.

For learners to actively accept responsibility in a virtual classroom platform, it is necessary to provide special motivation extending across the traditional classroom setting into asynchronous online learning. This article explores specific ways to do this that bridge the gap between ground and online students’ learning experiences, and how understanding learning preferences and extending the human touch in an asynchronous online classroom setting can be successfully implemented.

Collaborative and Small-Group Learning Online

University online course enrollment continues to rise at a rate higher than that of traditional, face-to-face university education, and several benefits exist to creating a collaborative online course environment. Therefore, a need exists to critically consider existing research about small group work in online courses. The present article provides a meta-synthesis of 41 articles related to this topic. This meta-synthesis includes a review of literature followed by a discussion of critiques and directions for future research about online course student collaboration. Findings from this meta-synthesis include a lack of consistent definitions within literature about student collaboration online, methodological issues in existing empirical studies, and the lack of interdisciplinary contribution to online course small group literature.

Despite the numerous studies on social interaction in collaborative learning, little is known about interaction forms in successful computer-supported collaborative learning situations. The purpose of this study was to explore and understand student interaction in successful collaborative learning during a university course which was mediated by two different types of virtual learning environment. Through a qualitative case study, we examined how students interacted with each other while working with collaborative tasks. Results indicate that interaction in collaborative situations was more often group-related than task-related. Group-related interaction concentrated mostly on coordination of group work, such as planning and organizing group activities. Task-related interaction was mostly in the form of comments or answers to earlier messages. However, there were differences in the interaction forms according to the learning environment. The results of this study provide teachers, educators and educational coordinators guidelines for how to organize and enhance successful collaborative learning both virtually and face-to-face.

Giving Feedback and Assessing Outcomes

Constructive, actionable feedback and fair assessment is always important. But when considering student progress and accomplishment in online participation in discussions, as well as assessment of papers and projects, more communication is needed to keep students engaged and moving forward.

This article is premised on research that suggests there is a gap between technology use for teaching and learning and the technology used in assessment. Digital technology such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, and news feeds are increasingly used in teaching and learning. On the other hand, assessment is often only in traditional essay form and frequently via pen and paper. There were three important findings from the data that indicated the importance of firstly having alignment of digital technology and course design outcomes, activities, and assessments and that this was clearly visible to the participants. The second finding indicated the content was relevant to the teacher–learners and involved them in constructing their own learning through authentic and practical activities and assessment. The third finding indicated that course outcomes, activities, and assessment tasks were aligned with multi-literacy skills.

Dialogic feedback demands an active role by lecturers and students to become effective. However, sometimes students do not engage with the feedback received. The use of technology and different channels to provide feedback (using audio and video feedback) in online learning environments could contribute to make students more active with the feedback and improve its effectiveness. The aim of this article is to investigate the use of different feedback channels (text, audio or video) and contrast their impact on academic achievement, as well as to analyse whether the feedback channel influences students’ perception of feedback in terms of their preferences.

Engagement in critical thinking and deep knowledge can occur through reflective processes. When learners move through the four phases of cognitive presence (triggering, exploration, integration, resolution), the processes of discussion and reflection are important in developing deep understanding. This study indicates that when instructors structure online discussions appropriately, learners are able to share and document their thinking and reflect on their contributions and the perspectives of others while developing new or deeper knowledge.

Also see: The book Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning (2004) is aimed toward K-12 instruction, however, these chapters might help an instructor whose students must suddenly work independently.

Chapter 4:
 Assessing the Conditions for Self-Directed Learning
Instead of demanding conformity and compliance, they assume a new role in mediating and supporting others to become more self-reliant, self-accountable, and self-referencing. It is easier to be and to teach others to be self-directed when the organization supports these efforts. 

Chapter 5: The Teacher’s Role in Self-Directed Learning
In this chapter, we will show how teachers mediate students’ self-directedness through designing instruction lessons, units, and activities; by creating classroom conditions for self-directed learning; by engaging and enhancing reflective dialogue; and by serving as a model for students to emulate.

Costa, A. L. & Kallick, B. (2004). The teacher’s role in self-directed learning. In Experts in Assessment™: Assessment strategies for self-directed learning (pp. 98-115). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483328782.n5

Technology

Some brick-and-mortar colleges and universities use blended or flipped classroom approaches. In these situations, faculty have access to Learning Management Systems and students are accustomed to having some learning activities and course materials online. For these instructors, a temporary gap in online meetings can be addressed without major disruption to course completion.

For faculty who do not have an established online component or access to secure websites and discussion boards, the situation is more challenging. This is especially true in a time when campuses are closed and IT staff are unavailable. These articles, not necessarily written with college instruction in mind, might be useful for instructors in this situation who are looking for freely available tools to use.

Understanding how blogs can support collaborative learning is a vital concern for researchers and teachers. This article explores how blogs may be used to support secondary education students’ collaborative interaction and how such an interaction process can promote the creation of a Community of Inquiry to enhance critical thinking and meaningful learning. This article discusses a series of issues that instructors should consider when blogs are incorporated into teaching and learning.

This study examined the use of Twitter for online discussions in one asynchronous online, journalism class. A content analysis of the transcripts of the tweets from 25 undergraduate students was performed, coding for social presence using the social presence density measurement tool, one of the three aspects of the community of inquiry framework.

This research explores two new feature-enriched learning approaches, LExLinC and LExTreC, to reconstruct linear structure and tree structure of conversation threads in email data. In this work, some simplifying assumptions considered in previous methods for extracting conversation threads are relaxed, which makes the proposed methods more powerful in detecting real conversations. Additionally, the supervised nature of the proposed methods makes them adaptable to new environments by automatically adjusting the features and their weights.

This article explores the usefulness of podcasts as a pedagogic tool. It situates the adoption of podcasts for learning and teaching within the context of a brief history of e-Learning itself and briefly reviews the suggestion that e-Learning and social media suit the construction of a new learner – the digital native. The article argues that podcasting is a simple, cheap, accessible and powerful means to explore learning opportunities through the adoption of social media.

This research was motivated by an interest in understanding how social media are applied in teaching in higher education. Data were collected using an online questionnaire, completed by 333 instructors in higher education, that asked about general social media use and specific use in teaching. Education and learning theories suggest three potential reasons for instructors to use social media in their teaching: (1) exposing students to practices, (2) extending the range of the learning environment, and (3) promoting learning through social interaction and collaboration. Answers to open-ended questions about how social media were used in teaching, and results of a factor analysis of coded results, revealed six distinct factors that align with these reasons for use: (1) facilitating student engagement, (2) instructor’s organization for teaching, (3) engagement with outside resources, (4) enhancing student attention to content, (5) building communities of practice, and (6) resource discovery.

Technology & Inclusion (for ALL students)

Another aspect of technology choice is accessibility for students with disabilities. In an established online learning program, ADA-friendly guidelines and tools are in place. When choosing off-the-shelf tools, make sure they will work for all your students.

Little research is available documenting the success of students with various types of disabilities in online classroom environments. This study investigates which factors associated with learners with disabilities impact student outcomes in an online learning environment.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for the teaching–learning transaction that conceptualizes knowledge through learner-centered foci emphasizing accessibility, collaboration, and community. In this article, the history and philosophy of UDL are discussed and elaborated, followed by an explanation of how the principles of UDL were used to improve an existing online course offering for adult learners.

Putting It All Together

We are accustomed to communicating electronically, so why can’t we teach and learn online? Of course, we can! Distance learning has a long history, and online learning has been growing rapidly since the Internet became widely available in the late 1990s. Still, feeling connected by the written word or online conferencing is different than being physically together. Here are a few practical suggestions, using the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, 2017) as a framework:

  • Social presence: Keep in mind that many students are having a challenging time with the current COVID-19 pandemic. They are probably back at home, away from their college friends, or perhaps displaced from dorms and unable to travel home. A supportive and understanding tone will be appreciated. You might want to create a discussion thread or channel that is dedicated to the pandemic, so they have a place to share and vent apart from subject-matter discussions. Depending on the technology available to you and accessible by your students, try to meet synchronously so you have a chance to keep close contact and be available to answer questions. Schedule regular online office hours, when students can chat or talk with you.

    If your in-person teaching style includes stories and humor, continue to be yourself in online communications. At the same time, be clear about what is and is not acceptable in the online environment(s) you are using for the class. Make sure that all students feel welcome to participate in discussions, and feel they can trust fellow students. Guidelines for interaction should be shared, particularly in a large class that typically operated with a lecture format.
  • Teaching presence: Teaching presence relates, not surprisingly, to the instructional actions you will take to achieve curricular objectives. Importantly, be very clear and specific about your expectations during this time.If you are making changes to the syllabus or altering assignments, spell them out in great detail. Consider recording the instructions, so aural learners benefit from your explanations.

    Do you typically present lectures, or facilitate discussions or exercises in your classes? Which lend themselves to online delivery, and what might you need to adapt for this period of time? Look at the assignments due at this time in the semester. Could some be completed in dyads or small groups, so students feel connected? Can deadlines be adjusted so students have adequate time to complete the assignments? What new options could you explore, such as a guest speaker in a web conference space, or an interactive game, to keep things interesting?
  • Cognitive presence: Even when you do everything you can to present the material and engage students, some might find their learning styles do not fit with online learning. Give them space to ask for clarifications. If students are confused, schedule a call or online meeting to answer questions.

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice (3rd ed.): Routledge.

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Janet Salmons

Janet Salmons is an independent researcher, writer and consultant through her company,Vision2Lead and is the resident methods guru at the website MethodSpace. In addition to her latest book and numerous articles and book chapters, she has written Doing Qualitative Research Online, Qualitative Online Interviews, Online Interviews in Real Time (2010), and edited the Cases in Online Interview Research (2012) for SAGE Publishing.

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