Published on 2014/07/30

Transitioning to Online Education: It’s More Than Just Computers

Transitioning to Online Education: It’s More Than Just Computers
Converting a course to an online format requires more than just making course material available online. Instructors must be prepared to offer supports and services uniquely required by online learners.
The purpose of online education was initially to provide a way to accommodate students with restrictive schedules and those trying to take additional classes in the hopes of graduating earlier.

The rise of many online universities — and their various accreditation approvals — was overshadowed by the movement of universities and various instructors transitioning traditional classes to the online model, and enhancing them for online delivery.

This process was a journey for me because not only was I an online student (and a former traditional student), but had also received approval to teach a global business class I had rewritten for Fox Valley Technical College. The first challenge was to use a standard university learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard and use the different tabs to help explain the class, requirements, curriculum and also the rubric. This seems simple and, in a traditional classroom, that would be true as the instructor can not only detail the needs, but also ask and answer the questions regarding the students’ needs. In an online format, instructors need to engage students so I usually start with a video introduction, a written bio and syllabus. Then, in each tab, I use a short video introduction indicating what’s required while also detailing ways to increase communication and also options for getting time with me, as their instructor.

There’s always the question about the preparation for this adventure taking a traditional class into an online format. The challenge is to drive the students with an interactive approach offering weekly communications using video-based conferencing or a conference call approach. The criticism is based on the fact that an online class needs little of this process and those who approach it in this fashion often fail. I like to give my students the ability to learn while also offering the needed support; it also allows me to educate students about the differences in online applications.

There are many good universities who will have a short two- to four-hour presentation about taking online classes, but the truth is that students need more than the basics.

They need time management strategies and scheduling practices, because in an online environment there are many flexible options … but if you become lazy and fall behind, you will fail. If you don’t take the multiple weekly interactions and become stressed out or complacent, you will fail.

The biggest challenge is to educate within the confines of the educational process. This approach teaches students basic process components they can use in the future and in their careers, while also gaining additional tools that can augment other classes. The conversion from face-to-face development of the classes must encompass this approach or you will risk losing the student. You also put yourself into a position of having to make adjustments or change your approach to make accommodations for student needs all because they were not ready for the course. We, as educators, often mistakenly assume that basic scheduling and planning are taught in high school or early on in college. This is where online approaches can take over and give students these tools. One final, critical element of the transformation is to get feedback from students on the movement to the online format and to be reactive to their reflections on the experience.

This is a three-way process in making a successful change and students must be open and accept change, while having the dynamic support from instructors to allow progressive changes in course delivery. Online and hybrid courses can help students gain a better understanding of course material through an array of technological enhancements — new instructional upgraded platforms and interactive coursework, for example — while connecting with them in profound ways by using multiple levels of engagements such as video conferencing, real-time discussions and advanced assignments.

Converting a course from a traditional to an online format is easy, but who accepts easy when you have the ability to build extraordinary?

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Readers Comments

Will Jenkins 2014/07/30 at 4:02 pm

Good article. Course designers and instructors need to look at online education as different from in-person education not only in terms of format, but even class demographics, expectations and teaching style.

Ellen Ramsay 2014/07/31 at 9:37 am

Online readiness is an important issue to raise. I believe it starts with changing the perception that online is somehow easier than in-person. This has led underprepared students to enroll in online, which has created problems when they discovered online was almost more difficult (because they had to master both the subject matter and the computer/web skills needed to access it). Institutions should do a better job of training all students for online, but also of setting clear expectations of the skills needed to do well in this format.

John A MacDonald 2014/08/09 at 11:22 pm

Thanks Will-You are very right as the engagement and also the retention based on the interest level is much different between traditional approaches and on-line facilitation. I also wonder why more preparedness is not being put into the education levels of degree seeking students? Teachers, Instructors and Educators who have not had on-line interactions might be looking at changes potentially leaving institutions to build and develop University specific approaches and training that might do a dis-service to the user and also the students who interact with the process. Thanks for reading.

John A MacDonald 2014/08/09 at 11:25 pm

I agree with your comments Ellen-The institutions need to better prepare all users of on-line systems while also incorporating a more functional on-line environment. I know everyone has their favorites and Blackboard is popular but because of the diversity of the students and institutions there also needs to be a more consistent approach in the process of delivery. Thanks for reading and responding.

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