Arlene E. Johnson
Nursing Education Perspectives
January/February 2008 Vol. 29 No. 1, 17-22
Online learning can cause a paradigm shift in instructors. This is the key message of this article. Teachers' roles drastically change and the focus becomes the learner and how they can construct their own learning in new and often unfamiliar environments.
One important observation states:
"[...] before moving to an online teaching format, an infrastructure must be in place that includes policies, technology partnerships, and support systems for faculty." (page 17).
This is a critical statement that cannot be easily dismissed. In other words, moving towards online teaching cannot be a shortcut to fix resource problems or access to learners. Planning must occur not only within the design of the courses, but as institutions move as communities towards this new way of delivering formal education.
The study utilized interviews, interpretations and descriptions of participants in a nursing faculty, who recalled and relived their experiences in moving their course into online learning modes.
Lack of technical knowledge appears to be a significant hindering factor in the process, but as important is also the need to access and truly understand the new pedagogy that is the basis to online learning. IN reflecting about these issues, participants of this study admitted to know very little about the pedagogical approaches to online learning. Interesting enough, letting go of the face-to-face familiar delivery mode was not noted in the participants' reflections.
Another critical element of the study is the creation of categories of inquiry that can assist readers who embark in discovery journey about online learning in their own ESL departments. The categories utilized for the study include:
Structuring and delivering course content - even though at times participants felt they were going to be unable to move content into the online mode, they actually discovered how this is a possibility and that the element of flexibility of access is an improvement from the traditional delivery methods. Letting go of lecturing instructional styles was a concern; as well as the rethinking of instructors as facilitators, that guide learners through questions instead of delivering straightforward content. Online courses need to be carefully conceived - as they are much more difficult to modify once the course begins.
Faculty Development - letting go of proprietary feelings of course design and delivery. Collaboration is beneficial and almost essential. Increase in time and commitment from instructors. Instructors' personalities and learning styles influence delivery methods. But collaboration can help find strategies that work for all learners.
Students' Roles and Responsibilities - learners' roles change - the change may require intentional and explicit guidance on the part of the instructor, for first time online learners. Web-based courses tend to higher the thinking skills of learners - but this may require careful planning and scaffolding (especially for ESL environments).
Communication and Relationships - be intentional.
Faculty Role - teaching credibility is on the line. Lot's of trial and error. Instructors may find this a reason to resist adopting the new modality.
Overall the study supports the idea that moving online requires a re-thinking strategy not only at faculty level but at the institution level. More time is required in the new mode, new teaching and pedagogical approaches are required, collaboration often increases as well as deeper level thinking through asynchronous communication exchanges.
It was noted that ideal online delivery teams would have a content expert, a web-pedagogy expert (designer) and a technology expert. faculty would also be better off considering analyzing their own learning and teaching styles before moving into online deliveries. Participating in an online course as student could also be beneficial. Working with a mentor, a teacher who has also experienced the online method at least a few times before is beneficial as well.
"The conceptual framework, program outcomes and student learning objectives do not change in web-based education. Students can acquire and synthesize new knowledge in this environment much as they do in a face-to-face classroom." (page 22)