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Stepping up to the Why (Part 1)

Stepping up to the Why (Part 1)
There are a number of strategies post-secondary online educators can put into place to improve classroom performance.
Students enroll into online programs for various reasons. One thing that most of these students have in common is that they are enrolling to learn and enhance their futures. It is up to the instructors to build students’ theoretical understanding and knowledge within the course while making it practical for real-life situations. Online instructors are always trying new approaches and strategies to enhance the learning process. One way to increase critical and in-depth thinking is through the use of the Constructivist Theory, which can enhance reflective thinking and inquiry. Contsructivism involves a scaffolding process, or ladder effect (where new learning builds on past learning), for students to investigate questions, ideas and prompts while being challenged about their findings. This helps to create an atmosphere of learning that promotes rigor and internal knowledge.

Constructivist Theory

Constructivist Theory is part of the instructional decision-making process for instructors.  The basis of this theory is a scaffolding process that begins with direct instruction, then collaboration and leads to reflection and inquiry, therefore sparking new learning and understanding by students [1]. Through this process learners will create an internal depth to new knowledge through reflection and inquiry.

Adult Learners

There is a science to teaching adult learners known as andragogy. Adult students need to be active in their learning. Instructors can engage students, which leads to new knowledge and understanding.[2],[3] Adult learners need to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of community, which promotes internal motivation, a necessity in online learning.[4] Building a community online is not always an easy task. It takes energy and time for learners to feel connected with the material, instructor and peers. Constant communication through different platforms is essential to create this bond.

Direct Instruction

Online teaching promotes direct instruction through discussion boards where the instructor will directly explain a concept or situation. This can also be done through a collaboration session and or chat session. Direct instruction occurs when a topic needs to be thoroughly explained. The decision of what needs to be directly instructed is dependent on the students within the course room. Connecting with students and creating a conversation that accesses and displays their breadth of knowledge is important. This can be done through face-to-face conversations, via phone, email or discussion boards.

Research explains that true depth of thinking cannot occur unless knowledge is already present.[5] From the very start of a lesson, assignment, and/or unit, expectations and objectives for learning need to be upfront and clear. For example, if I am teaching students about leadership theories I am going to start by explaining the purpose of understanding these theories and how we are going to learn about them. This sets the stage for what is expected and how it will be presented. Through direct instruction I would explain what each theory is, what it looks like and how to observe leadership qualities in individuals. This direct instruction would occur through a lecture or online lecture notes. Once this information is disseminated to students, I can then prompt them for more in-depth personal and critical analysis through reflection and inquiry.

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[1] Jennifer J. Vogel-Walcutt, J.C. Gebrim, Clint A. Bowers, et al. (2011). Cognitive load theory vs. constructivist approaches: Which best leads to efficient, deep learning? Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 133-145. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00381.x

[2] Belinda Karge, Kathleen Phillips, Tammy Jessee, and Majorie McCabe. (2011). Effective strategies for engaging adult learners. Journal Of College Teaching & Learning, 8(12), 53-56.

[3] Kenneth Miller. (2008). Teaching science methods online: Myths about inquiry-based online learning. Science Educator, 17(2), 80-86.

[4] Leah Wickersham, Sue Espinoza and Jason Davis. (2007). Teaching online: Three perspectives, three approaches. AACE Journal, 15(2), 197-211.

[5] Imogene Ramsey, Carol Gabbard et al. (1990). Questioning: An effective teaching method. Clearing House, 63(9), 420.

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