Over this past academic year, I have had the pleasure of being part of the Online Faculty Fellows. As part of this experience, we were trained on Quality Matters standards and process for ensuring quality online courses. The training modules and group discussions were impactful, not only for online courses that I am developing but also the blended and face-to-face courses I teach. Developing the most effective course and module objectives then aligning these to content, activities and assessment in the course or module was a powerful learning experience that has affected all of my courses.
WSU is moving toward innovative and entrepreneurial focus in course work and instruction, as we become “The Innovative University”. To achieve this, learning methods need to not only develop a student’s skill set but also transform a student’s mindset. In particular, a modern pedagogical approach intended to develop innovative and entrepreneurial focused students’ deals with emphasis on discovery, opportunity, need identification and value creation. This pedagogy requires a change in mindset rather than a traditional skillset, and has been termed “entrepreneurially minded learning” or EML. This move requires changes in pedagogical approaches. Old, proven approaches to teaching need not be discarded, however by organizing both old and new teaching methods, we can form a pedagogy stack — a collection of methods for designing instructional materials and educational interventions.
As I developed stronger skills for online course development, a question continued to concern me as to how can we implement these new pedagogical approaches in an online format. In this brief blog, I give a brief summary of pedagogies in our stack and examine how they can be implemented in an online format.
Subject based learning is the first pedagogy instructors will use in their stack. However, in recent decades, educators have developed more student centric learning tactics. These include; active learning, collaborative (or cooperative) learning, problem based learning and experiential learning which have been added to our pedagogical stack. Following is a summary of some of the pedagogies in our stack and how they can be incorporated in online learning
- Subject-based learning is possibly the most common pedagogy found and is the classic tactic for traditional lecturing. This is typically an efficient way to transfer a skill set, and is sometimes referred to as the “stage on the stage” approach.
This is an easy approached to develop into an online class, with online content replacing lecture delivered content.
- Active learning is intended to engage the students in the learning process. To summarize, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities to assist them to think about what they are doing and so enforce the learning process. This is not exactly new, as traditional learning has always included activities such as homework, however in practice active learning refers to activities that are introduced into the “classroom”.
Quality Matters includes a very useful standard (General Standard 5) that helps instructors to consider learner activities and aligning them with the course and module objectives. Although, for online classes, these learning activities are typically achieved outside of a traditional class, they are nonetheless important active learning and can be easily accommodated into online classes. As with face-to-face classes, this can be challenging for instructors to develop active learning assignments. There are websites that can assist with example activities used by other instructors, but for me the most useful method is through peer discussion groups where different ideas can be distributed and discussed.
- Collaborative or Cooperative learning refers to any instructional method in which students work together in small groups toward a common goal. They can be assessed either as a group or individually. This often includes active learning components and thus can be combined with active learning as one type of pedagogy in our stack.
For online course, Quality Matter standards make numerous references to instructor-student engagement as well as peer-to-peer student engagement. In my experience as well as in literature, it is well established that group learning is very beneficial for learners and although this can be achieved online through discussion boards and other interaction methods, this more remote collaboration is more restrictive. Johnson, Johnson and Smith (1998) propose that collaborative active learning should contain five specific tenets, which are individual accountability, mutual interdependence, face-to- face promotive interaction, appropriate practice of interpersonal skills, and regular self-assessment of team functioning. When considering online classes, some of these tenets become increasingly difficult to include. Gamification of activities is a very effective method to achieve most of these active and collaborative tenets, however the development of online games is typically out of the skill set of most instructors, and instructors are required to use/purchase commercially developed options.
A significant component to collaborative learning is the developing the skills to work in teams. In today’s business environment, it is now more common to have open-ended projects with a number of people involved who are required to generate solutions on the fly. This dynamic environment requires a different type of skills for successful business teams. Together with some collegeaus, we are developing a deeper understanding of these skills or mindset and developing instruction modules. However, incorporating these into online skills is a challenge. New software, like Microsoft’s Teams and Skype, will be able to add some value, but to develop these strong teaming skills will be difficult without seeing the ‘non-verbal’ or subtle clues that will be missed in the online format. This will require carefully considered staged assignments and feedback from an instructor.
- Problem-based learning is an instructional method where relevant problems are introduced at the beginning of the instruction cycle and used to provide the context and motivation for the learning that follows. It is always active and usually (but not necessarily) collaborative or cooperative. Through this pedagogical method, students solve an identified problem while determining required information, strategies, and gathering domain knowledge (Bond and Feletti 1997). Learners must first extract and refine a problem statement, asking, “What is the root problem we are trying to solving?” The method promotes situational curiosity and connected thinking. Typically, no single solution is uniquely correct. As a result, the pedagogy promotes an important type of thinking for entrepreneurially minded engineers called effectual thinking.
The ambiguous nature of solutions, make this approach more difficult for more structured face-to-face and online classes. Although not impossible, carefully staged problems can be given to students or teams with continuous instructor feedback to ensure their solution direction will achieve the desired learning outcomes. This can be achieved as effectively in an online format as it can in a face-to-face format, but it does required more carefully considered instructor interaction. In both online and face-to-face classes, although this pedagogical method is conceptually easy to implement, in practice developing appropriate problem sets and phasing become very challenging. Again, some websites may provide useful example, but there is no substitute for a group of peers developing these problems sets.
- Experiential learning has become an increasing focus at WSU. Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”. Hands-on learning is a form of experiential learning but does not necessarily involve students reflecting on their product. This pedagogical method is more common in some disciplines than in others. Take for example a learning object to teach a student to ride a bicycle. Comprehensive content, including active learning of balance, peddling techniques, etc., can be provided, but a student will not be able to reach the learning objective without experiencing riding on an actual bicycle including failing and reflecting a few times! Again, this is not a new technique, physics and chemistry laboratories have been included as learning techniques from Isaac Newton! However, certain disciplines, Engineering for example, are finding that graduating students become more effective in their discipline if they are able to translate their academic knowledge into practical experience.
This pedagogical method becomes much more challenging for online courses. Through animations, there are some interactive labs, for example McGraw-Hill Biology Virtual Laboratory as well as actual interactive labs. With the development of low cost microprocessors, signal acquisition as well as 3D printing technology, I am looking at developing online classes with experiential components. These are, however limited to certain disciplines but also to specific classes. With more low cost technology, creative instructors will be able to develop more online experiential courses.
- Entrepreneurial Minded Learning focuses on identifying unexpected opportunities that have opportunities to deliver significant value. To achieve this, typically learners must be well informed with a broad set of skills. Due to this broad base of skills, this is often best achieved through diverse teams. Students are then encouraged to develop a mindset of explorers, constantly curious, connecting information to gain insights, and always on the lookout for value. Research on both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs indicates that they often begin an endeavor with an incomplete strategy (Sarasvathy 2008). This pedagogical card promotes a tolerance for ambiguity and deeper acceptance or understanding of risk verses failure, to avoid the “paralysis of analysis” that can sometimes limit action. With any type of project or discipline, gaining stakeholder feedback is essential because it affords the re-evaluation of opportunities. We believe the most effective way to impart these skills is by addressing them repeatedly throughout the course program, using small modules.
Again, this become increasing challenging when considering online courses. Being even more open ended than problem based learning, developing this mindset becomes difficult in a structured course approach. Learners and more often teams of learners will need strong tools to allow for rapid and easy communication, as well as structures to encourage contribution. Instructors will need to diligent in monitoring and giving feedback in individual and team communication. Online interactive game type modules could be very effective in developing this mindset, although the development of these may be outside of an instructors skill set.
Whatever the collection of methods in your stack, examine the view of authors such as Mascolo (2009) who I believe gets it right; regardless of pedagogical methods, learning is afforded by effective guided participation from the instructor. Online courses create some excellent opportunities to implement some of these pedagogical methods to develop both student’s skillset and mindset. However, to implement some of these methods, instructors will need to be creative, precise in problem staging, detailed in instructor feedback, all of which will require additional effort to be effective. As we tell students, instructors can heed the same advice; if you want to be effective, it is a mistake to think that online classes require less effort.