Advanced Online Learning Skills and Techniques

Lesley Reilly, an experienced online facilitator and curriculum developer for EDC’s EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) program, has led the design of ETLO courses such as “Mobile Devices for Teaching and Learning,” “Learning and Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools,” and “Meeting Student Needs Through Differentiated Instruction.” Lesley also manages the content development and updates for ETLO’s training programs and online professional development courses. In this post, written in honor of Digital Learning Day (March 13, 2015), Lesley shares a sneak preview of a newly updated ETLO course, “Advanced Online Teaching Skills and Techniques,” that helps experienced online instructors hone their facilitation skills and keep pace with new tech tools.

Teaching in any learning environment, whether face-to-face or online, continues to be one of the most demanding, yet rewarding professions. All dedicated teachers are constantly seeking ways to improve upon their craft but often struggle to find the time for their own professional development. When it comes to teaching with technology in online environments, it can be especially difficult for busy educators to keep up with new web-based and mobile tools designed to help them enhance teaching and learning.

EDC’s EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) program is excited about the extensive update of our seven-week Advanced Online Teaching Skills and Techniques online course, which helps experienced online instructors take their facilitation to a higher level. The course encourages deep reflection and conversation about creating successful learning communities, promoting collaboration, and enhancing instructional techniques. Each session also addresses how to effectively integrate mobile devices to extend teaching and learning. Throughout the course, participants work individually and collaboratively to complete an Implementation Plan to help them synthesize what they learn in each session and apply some of the tools and strategies in a future online facilitation endeavor. Below, I share how the course addresses some common concerns about online learning and provide an overview of some of the course's tips and tools.

Creating Successful Learning Communities
Many people new to online teaching and learning express concern that online learning can be impersonal and believe that you must have face-time with students to build connections and relationships. In the course, we explore ways that facilitators can help build and strengthen an online learning community so that students get to know the “real person” beyond every email and forum post. Beginning with the orientation session, participants use Google Docs to participate in a “Two Truths and a Lie” activity. At the end of the week, we highlight the lie and reveal it to the group. Activities like this help participants get to know one another better right from the start while also modeling how tools like Google Docs can facilitate virtual collaboration. We continue the community building lessons throughout the course by using mobile apps like Pic Collage or Google PhotoGrid to create and share photo collages about ourselves in the first session and by modeling how to use voice tools like Voki, Telegami, and iPadio in the fourth session so that participants can associate names with voices.

Student Engagement
Another common concern in online courses is student engagement. How do you know if students are engaged when you cannot see them? Throughout the course, we discuss strategies to help both facilitators and course developers make course content more engaging and to meet the needs of a variety of learners. We also explore facilitation strategies that can help ensure ongoing interaction. For example, we explore and integrate into the course content creation tools like Powtoons, which allows you to animate and add voice to presentations. Participants explore web-based tools like Educanon and EdPuzzle that can help facilitators take any video from the web and turn it into an interactive lesson. Participants in the course take the time to select at least one of the tools highlighted to create a piece of interactive content to use in a future online endeavor.

Collaboration
As a final project for the course, participants reflect on strategies discussed during each session and articulate a plan to implement these strategies using an Implementation Planning Template. To encourage and model online collaboration, they are assigned partners so that they can give each other ongoing feedback on the planning templates. One session of the course is dedicated to exploring other ways to facilitate collaboration and group work online. Participants join a Google Hangout to explore the value of synchronous online meetings and explore Padlet to share previous challenges with virtual group work. In the discussion forum that week, we work together to brainstorm potential solutions to the challenges raised on the Padlet wall. 

Assessment
This course also ensures that participants understand principles of sound assessment practices in online courses and know how to use online discussions to assess learning. We also explore the potential of mobile-friendly tools like Poll Everywhere and Evernote as a portfolio tool.

Social Media
The course wraps up with a look at Web 2.0 tools and mobile apps that can help teachers easily organize and share the resources they find online with course participants. We explore curation tools and encourage participants to grow their personal learning networks by sharing the wealth of resources on the web using Twitter.

The newly revised course is currently running with educators and administrators in New York City, and ETLO will be running more cohorts in the spring. I am excited to learn WITH the participants in this course who will undoubtedly continue to help my own professional growth as an online educator.