Sunday, December 12, 2010

Impact of the Internet on Learning and Teaching

Hossein Arsham


There have been many technological dawns in the last 30 years, during which the desktop computer and the Internet have been developed; but there have been similar dawns throughout the 20th Century - film, radio, records, broadcast television, audiotape, videotape, programmed learning machines, etc. Each time enthusiasts have announced the transformation or even the end of the school/college/university. In fact, the impact on the bulk of teaching and learning has been minimal. Developments in paper/printing technologies have had far more influence, with the consequence that face-to-face discussion and paper resources still dominate public education. Audio-visual media have been treated more as an icing-on-the-cake than as something at the very heart of learning -- and likewise their long-suffering support services (though the new media, particularly video, have fared somewhat better in the development of corporate training programs). In fact, there is debate in the instructional design literature about whether there are any unique attributes of media that can promote improved learning [see, e.g., Kozma, R. B. (1994)]. Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate, Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19].
On hiring an online graduate, employers are likely to be cautious, if not skeptical. The belief is that an online degree is an interesting exercise, but it is not going to be rewarding or valuable as a full-time traditional degree. This is partly, because most employers have traditional degrees and may be reluctant to hire someone with a credential not yet established.
The single biggest advantage in online learning programs is interactivity they offer. One of the biggest issues facing universities wading into online learning is interactivity, both in its level and mode. Just what constitutes 'interactivity' is hardly clear for some instructors. To some people, it means enabling learners and instructors to share ideas in a virtual chat room; to others, merely posting a question on a bulletin board qualifies as interactivity.
As the cost of technology decreases, many universities are finding ways to bring the benefits of the classroom into a distance-learning setting. However, distance teaching has been described as an industrialized form of education, characterized by rationalization of process, division of labor and mass production. The new information and communication technologies can facilitate this development but only if policy makers are sensitive to the opportunities, especially at an international level. Web-based teaching and learning call for a serious reconsideration of the effectiveness, especially in light of increased demand for education and the opportunities for increased student motivation by new technologies if integrated with knowledge-based design sites.
The operational infrastructure for the effective delivery of a Web-based learning programme is critical to its success. Yet all too often this element is overlooked or seen as incidental to the design and quality of the learning materials themselves. These are the key success factors in teaching/learning that is oriented towards students, who will become autonomous self-learners using the media and the support services. The high quality of the Internet education process means the molding of abilities to learn.
Other issues related to students include their psychological reactions to the new way of learning. They may have a fear of technology. Others may have a low level of technology skills, though this is changing as more university are training students more thoroughly. Some students may struggle with independent learning and feel insecure with an amorphous teacher.
Change may not be easy, but it is necessary, inevitable and often beneficial. Whether your students succeed or fail depends in part upon how well you leverage your full intellectual capital -- and your Web-based course is taking a starring role. Also, think about engaging students in implementing such a learning environment -- share your teaching and students learning together. Keeping interactivity with students, and following the factors outlined in this site will help to ensure a comprehensive, well-thought-out Web-based teaching and learning system -- and helps to safeguard you in the process.
The main question and concern is that: Will technological study aids, from crib notes posted on the Internet to online degree programs, enhance education? Or will Web-education supplant bricks-and-mortar classrooms and perhaps degrade the quality of learning and instruction?
The issues and techniques discussed in this site together with your students' feedback can help you to enhance and become a better architect of your Web-based courses.

Is There Something New Under the Sun?

Learning is the act or process of developing skill or knowledge. Modern, web-based learning and computing provides the means for fundamentally changing the way in which instruction is delivered to students. Multimedia learning resources combined with CD-ROMs and workbooks attempt to explore the essential concepts of a course by using the full pedagogical power of multimedia. Many Web sites have nice features such as interactive examples, animation, video, narrative and written text. These web sites are designed to provide students with a "self-help" learning resource to complement traditional textbook.
In a few pilot studies, [Mann, B. (1997) Evaluation of Presentation modalities in a hypermedia system, Computers & Education, 28, 133-143. Ward M. and D. Newlands (1998) Use of the Web in undergraduate teaching, Computers & Education, 31, 171-184.] compared the relative effectiveness of three versions of hypermedia systems, namely, Text, Sound/Text, and Sound. The results indicate that those working with Sound could focus their attention on the critical information. Those working with the Text and Sound/Text version however, did not learn as much and stated their displeasure with reading so much text from the screen. Based on this study, it is clear at least at this time that such Web-based innovations cannot serve as an adequate substitute for face-to-face live instruction
Stoll (1999) in his book, High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections, Random House, 1999, argues that schools should use funding to improve real education rather than invest in computer technology and rely on telecommunications for education. Further more he indicated that the computer was often a crutch that diverted time and resources from programs taught students to think and evaluate information. Online learning education does for knowledge what just-in-time delivery does for manufacturing: It delivers the right tools and parts when you need them. However, developing online learning is typically an intense process, which should take much of the faculty development time.
The Java applets are probably the most phenomenal way of simplifying various concepts by way of interactive processes. These applets help bring into life every concept, from central limit theorem to interactive random games and multimedia applications.
The Flashlight Project develops survey items, interview plans, cost analysis methods, and other procedures that institutions can use to monitor the success of educational strategies that use technology.
In a the knowledge corporate world setting, it might be true that two-way communication is not always something they need to have in order to get done with what they are doing, but sometimes one-way audio with optional two-way or with chat is sufficient. Whereas in university environment, the expectation is a lot higher and they require two-way communication in order to have the right level of interaction with students.
The impacts of the Internet on teaching and learning are highlighted in the following section of this site. In summary, a Web-based learning class is more effective learning experience, since the learner is participating in learning process and receives individual attention. Though the instructor and the learner are at different locations, this participation in learning is by itself a positive learning experience. The Web-based learning atmosphere allows more effective interaction between the students and instructor. Therefore, it can be effective as traditional classroom learning environment where the space, seating, etc., could be inadequate.

The Cost-Benefit Issues

Since the dawn of the Internet age, boosters have predicted the end of leafy college campuses as schools go virtual. The miracle of the Internet was supposed to let great teachers reach any student, any subject, any time, and anywhere.
Rapid technological advancement may produce problems and challenges for educational institutions when their products and services are rendered obsolete virtually within a short time-horizon. The Web-teacher who has properly learned his/her craft will have transferable skills and knowledge perfectly adaptable to the emerging technology. The benefit of having transferable knowledge in such a volatile marketplace is readily apparent. It is insurance for survival of the Web- based courses. The Web sites have high dynamic rates of birth and death. The Internet is a graveyard of Web sites who tried but failed to keep up with the contents that the visitors really need from them. Many got on the Web very quickly once it was clear that many new sites were choked with flow and did not have any useful and interesting information. There is certainly a power in the Internet communication, development, and delivery of intellectual materials via this medium we are mastering in our educational institutions. The effective and efficient Web-based teaching/learning is just getting started and survival is the test for quality assurance.
The Internet is affecting the twin disciplines of knowledge management, and content management. Knowledge management is the thinking process of converting information to useful knowledge, while the content management is the published information. The author of a Web site must provide the efficient content management, and the visitor who uses a Web site must have the mental ability for an effective knowledge management. The authors need to learn more about the contents alongside the usability of their sites.
Online education is growing too fast to track. It is predicted a widespread shortages of qualified online teachers. However, educational institutions can train and capitalize on the talent of their teachers who may have retired from the traditional setting.
The rapid growth of information, coupled with the ability to exchange it more rapidly among more people than ever before, is creating a new environment for education. Many universities are negotiating for their standing as the de facto source of scholarly knowledge in new environment.
Hundreds of universities of every sort have been putting some basic courses up on the Web, using sometimes pedestrian software. And students seem to think they're okay. Community colleges and regional universities that have slowly, organically moved into the online arena -- doing their old job in a new way -- have succeeded where the flashy business types and big-time private schools have not.
Today, the web-based course offering continues to grow, however, much of the momentum has slowed, and realizing the enormous costs of launching efficacious courses' online. Programs that are pedagogically sound but not fiscally sound may not be endorsed by the administration because of financial strain to the organization. Conversely, the faculty whom it represents will not endorse programs that are fiscally sound but not pedagogically sound. The main approach is to develop or maintain programs that are pedagogically and fiscally sound.
The administrators are focusing on cost-effectiveness in which educators can deliver their intellectual materials whole targeting this transformation in teaching/learning. However, one may ask: What are the driving factors behind technology-based changes in teaching and learning? How does institutional culture fit into the picture? Do they have the necessary resources? Student-fee structures have always been unfair often, when online students live hundreds of miles away, must pay fees for campus services become a source of considerably greater discontent? Th main concern is in targeting the transformation of learning/teaching through technology while reducing the cost.
On the other hand, the new state and federal policies, advances in services to students, new costing of technology methodologies, evolving accreditation and quality assurance issues, new e-learning projects and new institutional practices.
For example, the impact of class size is of concern to all parties involved on Web-based learning/teaching. It takes 2 or 3 times as much time to teach an on-line course as a face-to-face course. An on-line course that works for 10 or 20 students may be impossible with 100 or 200 students. With face-to-face courses where the students are met simultaneously, the repetition in providing student feedback may be much less than in asynchronous teaching. Thus, on-line teaching may not scale as well as face-to-face teaching?

Itemized Factors to Optimize the Learning Environment

What is the best we can do to optimize the conditions for the instructor, and the learner? How do you maximize learning in a short amount of time and still emerge with a deep, internal body of knowledge?
It Works If You Work On It: Unlike Web-based courses such as Information Systems, where the medium is the message The first question to ask is whether the context determines the nature of the knowledge to be learned? This is an important question, because different sets of contextual practice related to the knowledge in question need to be acquired in order for learning to be successful. Computer competency is becoming as necessary in the modern workforce as writing competency, and it is necessary for educational institutions to adopt computer literacy requirements for their students.
Since the University of Baltimore was the first school to offer all-online accredited Web MBA, I had to make fast and important decisions, such as how to begin, how to operate, and how to make e-learning successful and enjoyable. In creating the Web sites in both courses, it was beneficial to see what is taking place on the WWW. I've devoted a considerable amount of time, searching the Web and collecting reliable relevant information (which was available at that time) and then published a few articles for professional journals entitled, such as, "Statistics on the Web".
Although the content of my course is the same, the means of delivering are different. Launching headfirst into Web-based instruction is not for the timid. Many are jumping on the "bandwagon" and using Web based materials in their teaching, but just how effective are the efforts? If you can't teach better with technology, don't use it! Merely using Web-based materials in the classroom or assigning URLs for supplementary reading may not be an effective use of these materials. There must be forethought and careful planning in order to make this a meaningful experience for the educator and the student.
Traditional Education emphasizes learning content; learning the "what." The information age, however, requires people who are competent learners, who understand the process of learning, the "how." Although I believe that real learning occurs in a social context because of the quantitative-based contents of my courses, my courses have not much use of the Chat Room. I feel from my own point of view and my own standards, my first online teaching experience was a success. I am glad to share my conscious findings with my colleagues who may wish to teach via the Web. My experience is based on teaching two particular courses to some groups of students; therefore, one must be careful in making any generalizations.
In the very near future, we will be a "learning society" in which education is universally accessible, and lifelong learning is promoted among young students and working adults alike. To learn is to face this transformation.
Learning and Teaching Style: I would like to insist that most parts of my courses required a particular learning style known as learning-to-learn. The effective and efficient learning style for these courses is doing your homework assignments on a regular weekly basis and learning from your mistakes whenever I provide feedback to measure the effect.
The teaching material and teaching style must reflect the change in the real world, which students may not know because they have not been there yet. Unfortunately, some instructors are still using their well over 10-years old lecture notes. Adding to this problem by doubling the difficulties for students, some instructors are devoting not some but most of class time for students presentation and group work. The instructor does not want to lecture most of the time. A few do the extreme opposite "I know, you don't, I'm going to tell you." Some instructors may buy a reputation by many false means such as giving good grades to all (sometimes all A's), not giving any exams/test or projects.
Satisfying the Needs of Your Student: The following items are proven useful to student's learning process:
  1. Know each student's level of knowledge of the prerequisite(s) topics: Give them your prepared questionnaire to fill-in without writing their manes on it. Analyze the data and update your lectures to meet their needs.  
  2. Provide an overview of the course material in the first lecture. Ask them to write a 2-page essay what this course is about. This assignment required reflections from students, motivates them, and increases their interest about your course.  
  3. Assign, collect, and grade homework on weekly bases. This enables you to find the weak spots of each student. Ask students to re-do the needed parts for a "full credit". If in the second attempt still some students have problem, then give him/her the solution set, together with a few word of encouragement to revise and resubmit for a few points credit.  
  4. Put aside one class for review and students preparation for the midterm examination and one for the final. This review session encloses putting together the topics they have learned every week to the wholeness of the material they have learned. Provide also a past sample exam to do as part of their homework.  
  5. Prepare a "My response to the last class questions" in writing and distribute. This reinforces and encourages students to ask good questions. It also helps if any student missed your last week lecture. You may like to put this collection of good questions on the course Web site under FAQ. This page also enclosed a section titled "How things can go wrong" which contains all common mistakes students made during weekly homework and their exams. This will be helpful for their later review and learning from their mistake not to repeat it.
  6. In your midterm and final exams you may put some open-ended questions such as, "What are the three most significant topics you've learned up to know" Ask them to write a short paragraph for each.
Evaluating Your Success: Have Your Student Learnt It? Web-based courses are being used either as credit or non-credit, While the use of these means of knowledge delivery may offer many advantages about developing more independent learners, there are also information handling skills which students must acquire.
As a new online moderator you will need to know how to carry out online the everyday activities of a teacher: how to build relationships with and between your students, how to encourage participation, how to start and stop discussions, how to deal with the shy, the dominating, the aggressive and the just-plain-awkward. I do encourage you to re-interpret your skills in terms of the new medium and to identify where online teaching can make a unique contribution.
A teaching portfolio is a tightly written, reflective document, summarizing an instructor's approach to teaching and learning, and providing evidence of significant endeavors and achievements in teaching. In is relatively easy for an instructors to make a case for his/her effectiveness as researchers, but it has not been so easy to justify effective teaching. Having a teaching portfolio can:
  • help demonstrate your understanding of professional issues associated with effective teaching and learning and support this with documentary evidence;    * assist in self-evaluation and professional development.
The credibility of the case you present in a portfolio depends largely on how well you link claims about effective teaching practice to evidence. The evidence you select and present should make the task of judging competence or excellence both straightforward and reliable.
Self-Assessment for Continuous Improvement in Instruction: We all have high expectations of what Internet can do for our education institutions. While we all agree that e-learning offers great promise, we must be certain how to achieve it. Clearly, if we don't set our sights high, we could fall significantly short of our goals.
I do consider the following items as important factors for continuous Improvement in my teaching:
  • Throughout the semester, information (objectives/content/assessment) was clearly given.
  • Student was able to locate and use suggested resources.
  • The various components of the unit were clearly linked to one another.    * Activities in my course enhanced my students' range of knowledge and skills in the content area covered.
  • The professor presented material clearly at the level I could understand.
  • The professor appeared enthusiastic about the material being presented.
  • The professor used techniques that stimulated my interest in the content being covered.
  • The professor assisted students learning by being available for discussion/questioning/clarification.
  • The professor appeared to be well prepared. That is, the professor as a source, providing messages containing the relevant knowledge of the field.
  • The types of assignment set, seemed appropriate. This provides a good channel of communication between the student and the teacher.
  • Written comments on material returned were helpful, informative, and returned in a reasonable time. The feedback is used as a means to measure the effect of online learning and teaching.
  • The professor displayed good skills in methods of communication.
  • The methodology and tools used facilitated the learning process.
  • The professor taught me to think for myself. The student as the receiver of the knowledge, understood the material.
  • The professor demonstrates confidence in his knowledge, well informed on technical and professional advances and his role as a teacher.
Clarity in Expectations: Goals and feedback must be unambiguous; otherwise, it is hard to mange your course.
Integrity of Transactional Distance: There must be a commitment to the integrity of transactional distance. The instructor must use effective strategies to increase dialogue interactively. However, the instructor must adapt to minimize the engagement on personal matters. Otherwise, there is a point at which the dialogue about personal matters takes over, and the original learning objectives are compromised. The other problem might be that a very few students took over the dialogue, and turned it into a monologue.
Continuous Evaluation for the Quality: The logical role of the professor has changed. Instead of evaluating the available texts and selecting the best, it is necessary to sift through a huge volume of possibilities and recommend the most legitimate. Even the most diligent scholar is unlikely to be able to read even a small fraction of the available material in his or her specialty. This is one reason that the traditional publication process still exists although the review process is done via Internet. The blind review process still serves the purpose of separating the valuable from the useless.
Quality Assurance as a Measuring Tool and Decision Procedure: Unfortunately, in some existing web-based courses the asynchronous communication is inadequate in both the turn-around time, and the lack of psychological connection between the learners and the teachers. A Web-based course provides new challenges for a student regarding interactivity with the teacher and other students. There must be a Quality Assurance (QA) process for all components of a Web-based course such as, hidden question within the notes, assignments, feedback, computer-assisted learning, and exams. The QA provides a measuring tool for these components and promotes a decision procedure for allocation of resources for creating an effective learning community.
The following are a few items for considerations while doing the QA process:
  • Organize: This good housekeeping ensures less confusion. Organization brings mental clarity and order.
  • Systematize: This focuses on efficient and effective methods.
  • Sanitize: Eliminate any junk files and maintain a clean and virus free environment.
  • Standardize: Students must be given sufficient information about all aspects of the learning process.
  • Sustain: This requires self-discipline to maintain a good practice of the above items.
Readiness to Start: Make sure each individual student has the preparation needed to enter the course. You might ask each student to fill in a Questionnaire Form. For example, for a statistics course, knowledge of Algebra is required. To make sure every student has a necessary understanding of Algebra, I first give them a test for diagnostic purposes. Then, I work closely with a few of them for a week, to bring their knowledge to the required level. This is done by me, (not by any tutors), prior to starting the main course.
Giving Them Credit: Don't expect virtual students to do something you ask them to do without promising to give them some credit for doing it.
Understand Student's Needs: Understand students' feelings and experiences. Communicating by email may make it harder to convey feelings such as concern. Prompt replies to questions at least shows we are paying attention. "One size fits all" seems to be bad advice. There are great differences among individual students.
Web-based Teaching Is More Time Consuming: Teaching on the Web is not really about distance learning. It is a new kind of education and a new way of learning. The teacher has to be available everyday. Students expect instant response. For each course you are teaching, you should expect spending much more (two to three times) amount of time compared with face-to-face teaching.
Giving Them Choices: Student must have a variety of possibilities from which to choose. I tried to give more flexible assignments, giving the students choice of the site to review. More motivated students pick the "harder" assignments and feel challenged by them.
Trusting You: Students must feel comfortable enough to set aside the defensive shield.
A Challenge to Teach Virtual Students: Match the abilities of the students to the task. When you're not in the classroom, you miss the glimmer of awareness in students' eyes. It's difficult to tell whether they are getting the subject or not. If you don't give them enough stimulation, they will get bored; if we apply too much they will feel overwhelmed. As every student is different, it seems the best approach is to give a variety of options. Again, the Internet can accommodate a variety of students better than videotape, but it's an exponential increase in investment in producing the materials.
Humanize the Topic: Learning process and product must have personal value to the student. Otherwise, on-line work is extraneous or even a distraction. I experienced this at first, but now I build the materials and tasks within the teaching framework and the assignment structure.
Partnerships with the Learners: To Educe means to bring out a potential existence. Education, therefore, is a process of intellectual growth. The biggest impact of the Internet is to change the point of view that education is something can and should be delivered. Education comes from learning, not teaching. The world's best teachers are not repositories of knowledge, but skilled navigators who lead young minds to discovery and understanding. Learning is about reinventing the wheel, and may all learners have the opportunity to do so. The educator is merely a midwife in this process.
The concept of Web content management systems removes the Webmaster bottleneck and put subject matter experts in charge of content creation by learners' interfaces that turn students into content contributors. Learning on the Web requires partnerships. People learn best when they learn in context. It requires partnerships between teacher and individual student, between the course and the relevant business discipline.
Hard Choices for Teacher and Easy Ones for Students: Teachers have to make choices before starting on new technology. New technologies can be seen as a means of linking students with each other or with you. The following questions are relevant to success of the teachers who create content for the course Web site by adding appropriate metadata to that content:
  • Are students familiar with the topic or not at all?
  • Does the learning process give the students the choice of choosing the resources?
  • Has the professor taught the topic before?
  • Has the professor published any articles on this topic before?
  • How much time is available? Is there only one author or is there a team?
  • What is the level of complexity of the content?
  • What skills and experience are students expected to have?
  • What resources are available for development?
  • What is the expected life of the materials?
  • What is the size of the class?
  • What media may be used?
  • What existing resources can be used?
  • What opportunities will there be for interaction with learners?
  • What will be the balance between resources directed at developing resources for learners and resources directed to supporting individual learners as they study?
  • What will be the balance between resources directed at initial development of resources and resources directed at ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the course?
Core Items for Teaching Effectiveness Evaluation: When evaluating Web-based course, one may get bogged down in the container and lose sight of what should be the real focus of the contents, and its interactivity. The following list identifies some characteristics of effective, interactive Web-based learning to help you sort the best from the rest.
  1. The professor made it easy for me to know the standard of the work expected.
  2. The professor motivated me to do my best work.
  3. The professor made a lot of comments on my work.
  4. The professor gave me a reasonable amount of time to understand the work I had to learn.
  5. The professor seemed to understand difficulties I might be having with my work.
  6. The professor normally gave me helpful feedback on how I was doing.
  7. The professor was good at clearly explaining new ideas.
  8. The professor asked me questions just about facts.
  9. The professor made the content of the unit interesting.
  10. The professor made it clear right from the start what she/he expected from students.
  11. Overall, I was satisfied with the performance of this professor.
Technological Aspects and Issues: One may provide the following Online Questionnaire to the students within the first few weeks of semester to for any opportunity to improve and/or modify the technology aspects of the course.
A Typical Online Questionnaire for the Technological Concerns:
Good relationships are built on mutual understanding. When students can use the course site to get the targeted information they require, they are more likely to be in touch with the instructor on a more regular basis. That kind of interactivity promotes stronger relationships and deeper bonds between the students and the instructor.
The following paragraph highlights the process of collecting feedback from my students to improve the course Web site intellectual materials, and its structure to fit the needs of your students:
Tell me you think of your course Web site. By filling out this form you are helping me to improve my services to you. If you didn't find what you want, or are dissatisfied in some way with the course site, or would like to see a resource added, or would like to tell me what you did like or just want to give some feedback. The form contains important components of the course site, and I will take your comments and feedback into consideration to improve it.
It Is Hard to Get Teachers to Discuss and Expand on the Material for Online Students: Direct communication is a key element to the online learning success. In many instances, unfortunately, the teachers write course guides for online courses and there is hardly, if at all, any involvement of teachers with students. Often when authoring course guides, teachers tend to make itemized lists of points or restate verbatim what the students' textbooks have already stated.
There must be interactions between the teacher and individual student for building a community of learners. Having the course material online is not the essence of online courses, but the energy that flows into it, throughout the semester. This energy is the enthusiasm of the teacher to care, motivate, and make sure student understand the material for themselves.
Some of my readers may even say, "It is hard to get teachers to discuss and expand on the material for online students." I do agree with you, it's an unfortunate environment, however, there are remedies for overcoming this fault, by means of asking the teachers the following two questions:
  1.  How do you know for sure that your students understood the material you've assigned?
  2. You do not want to find out, say at the of time period, that most of you students are left behind. How do you make sure each individual student's progress is adequate?
To enforce communication among teachers and students, I believe, the frequent homework assignment as I have already outlined on this site, is a must. Homework assignment and feedback from the teacher could be used as one of the performance measure factors for the teachers. An enthusiastic teacher changes problems into challenges.
High Tech and High Touch: Because the instructor cannot see their students he or she must maintain a high level of engagement. While lecture and other types of information dumps have their place, encouraging students to introduce their own experience and reactions is critical to the success of the online course. It helps to keep the training "high tech and high touch". Setting up an environment in which students may participate and share using multiple outlets, students stay involved and are motivated to come back to you.
Dialogue and Knowledge Sharing with Your Colleagues: Knowledge management and peer-to-peer enthusiasts share a common desire to realize the true potential of Internet course delivery. Establish dialogue among other faculties to make sure your course is relevant to what students are learning from other professor. This knowledge sharing aspects among faculty enables students to see the place of your course within the program they are pursuing. For example, every course in your MBA program is, without exception, about making good decisions in a particular aspect of business, from accounting to marketing. For example, Economists like to refer to their discipline as the science of choice. And they often use the definition "a set of principles for allocating scarce resources among competitive means" All courses in your MBA program, might possibly seem to you as pieces of a sculpture scattered around. I know that you have immeasurable longing to see the whole. Your course must bring together what belongs together by means of a unification, and integration with other courses.
Students Are More Than Your Customers: Question: What makes a restaurant experience at one establishment more pleasant and attractive to a customer? Answer: Delivery of timely, quality, personalized service. The same applies here for the educators. Technology helps us to deliver more personalized, timely service to students. It's the definition of quality for existing and coming technologies that we need to define. What is quality education in today's global society? What is quality use of technology in educational delivery? I do advocate individual mentoring. You should allow "jumping in". This brings about the needed trust and effective communication in mentoring your students.
Teacher as a Facilitator of Learning: Although the Web does not provide any novel pedagogic strategies it allows students to assemble coherent sets of media rich resources very easily. Meanwhile the role of teacher evolves from teaching of knowledge to being a facilitator of learning.
Educating is not a problem in search of a solution, but a matter of teacher and students trying to do things together that were intrinsically difficult; Teach & Learn. However, students in front of computers are as likely to be entering a state of 'entropic mindlessness' as anything else --- I've had an experience, but where is the learning?
Teacher and Student Are One: An important principle in teaching on the Web is that a good test of whether a student has learned the material or not is whether this student is able to successfully communicate it to others. Since we measure teacher performance in much the same way, the emphasis here is on having the student identify him or her self as "a teacher" early on in taking your course. In fact, after having some experience, you will realize that the teacher and student are one.

Student's Active-engagement Process Defines Success

Students will work in an active learning setting known as the collaborative learning environment. To accomplish this, I will pair you with another student to provide you with immediate support. Communication is a vital aspect of any distance learning program and it is especially true with this one. That is-- so that you don't feel isolated. You won't be, and I don't want you to feel like you are.
Since humans have evolved to speak face to face, it takes more brainwork to adapt to new forms of communication. With the phone, for instance, we can hear but not see, so our brains have to work harder to communicate. E-mail is a step worse, since we can neither see nor hear. Current study shows that e-mail takes five to 15 times longer to get the same message across compared to speaking face to face. Therefore, having a live person that students can talk to during the office hours is proven to me to be very effective in learning.
The single biggest advantage in online learning programs is interactivity they offer, even with the instructor and the learner at different locations. This participation in learning is by itself a positive learning experience. The Web-based learning atmosphere allows more effective interaction between the students and instructor. Therefore, it can be effective as traditional classroom learning environment where the space, seating, etc., could be inadequate.
As a new online moderator you will need to know how to carry out online the everyday activities of a teacher: how to build relationships with and between your students, how to encourage participation, how to start and stop discussions, how to deal with the shy, the dominating, the aggressive and the just-plain-awkward. I do encourage you to re-interpret your skills in terms of the new medium and to identify where online teaching can make a unique contribution.
To enforce communication among teachers and students, I believe, the frequent homework assignment as I have already outlined on this site, is a must. Homework assignment and feedback from the teacher could be used as one of the performance measure factors for the teachers. An enthusiastic teacher changes problems into challenges.
Student's Preparation for Taking Online Courses: I've observed that, some students enrolled in online courses have difficulty adjusting to the new environment. While others actively participate, e.g., in discussions boards. And the third group somehow is lagging behind. A preparation process can overcome these difficulties before taking any online course. This may include orientation sessions, efficient time managing skill, staying focused, etc.
Interactivity Is a Must: Students will enjoy the course more if they are able to complete the tasks. Interactive online materials can give the student more rapid feedback than when work is turned in on paper and the evaluation comes back in a week.
In interactivity, what I seek is "what's going on in the student's head", in the dialogue between 'what I already think I know' and 'what I am trying to understand at this moment with the help of these resources'. If the computer can facilitate this, then hooray. But let's face it; books have facilitated this dialogue for the 'mentally engaged' student for centuries! The problem we have always faced is that you can't see that interaction taking place in the student's mind, so there are no guarantees; and how do you get the mental engagement in the first place? It can be a cop-out to assume that interaction with a keyboard is a visible sign of mental engagement and interaction.
Whenever interactivity concept implemented effectively, the result is a self- evident. As in a real classroom, one can automatically feel a connection to the teacher, even without meeting in person. The learner is able in expressing his/her feeling of excitement in learning, or perturbed about something he/she has done wrong.
How to Promote Teacher's Interactively with Students: The Internet has brought about dramatic changes in interactively and knowledge development, but extended educators should promote the same kind of interactively, discussion, inclusion, etc. in print media.
One way of motivating students and instructors to get actively involved in learning and teaching respectively is to have a few hidden questions within each weakly lecture note. Students are responsible for those questions too. These hidden questions are open-ended type, and not exercises. I find this approach effective in promoting interactively with online students.
Knowledge Sharing with Students: Incorporating student knowledge sharing into the design of our computer mediated learning environments also allows us to create true online communities in which students communicate outside the boundaries of the classroom. Only the learning resources must be delivered that bring about the desirable results such as focused learning, diffused learning to open your students' minds to new ways of developing thinking-for-themselves.

Anatomy of Online Courses

The content of an online course is usually identical to the on-campus classes, but the delivery method is different. Instead of attending weekly on-campus sessions, students take the course as an Asynchronous Learning experience which means learning from anywhere at anytime using your own computer. Instruction will be delivered via Web pages, and e-mail.
Most likely, students will use the discussion forum for class communication. They are encouraged to raise questions and to respond to one another. The instructors also have online office hours, during which they will be in their offices and available by phone, fax, and for "live" discussion in the forum.
The instructors also arrange a "Student Orientation" session, during which you will learn how to study effectively and efficiently for the Web-based courses, prior to taking their course.
To succeed in a Web-based course, students should be motivated, and self-directed. The following are the minimum required items to complete the course work at a distance successfully:
  • Seriousness: Online classes aren't for goof-offs who seek easy credits. Virtual students should expect to spend at least as much time on homework as those in traditional courses.
  •  Self-Disciplined: It is up to students to budget their time and keep up with assignments. They must create -- and stick to -- their own schedules.
  • Self-reliance: The ability to independently solve problems or research information is needed. Questions can be answered by e-mail, but that takes time.
  • Careful Reading Skills: Because classroom lectures are replaced primarily by written words, students need to be careful and slow-thoughtful readers.
  • Computer Skills: Students must be comfortable using computers and the Internet. That includes e-mail, Web browsing, downloading, and word processing.
Online learning enables you to extract information from different types of resources anytime, anywhere.
No one need be ashamed of what he or she does not know or how long it takes to master new information. Learning on the Web can be nonjudgmental and self-paced. Using advantages of this technology to expand learning opportunities is particularly crucial, because we live in a time when learning is becoming a necessity not a luxury.

About the Author:

Professor Hossein Arsham is the Wright Distinguished Research Professor in Management Science and Statistics at the University of Baltimore. His web page is and his email is

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