Random Thoughts on Instructional Design
“Effective distance education programs don’t just happen; they evolve as the result of systematic planning and a detailed understanding of the individual needs and diverse characteristics of the distance learners they are intended to serve.” — Barry Willis, Distance Education: A Practical Guide
Willis has been involved with distance education for quite a while. I like the words he uses to approach this process: effective, evolve, systematic, understanding, learners, serve. This isn’t an approach stating: “This is how I’m going to teach these things.” This is a perspective that asks: “What needs to happen for someone to learn.”
Exchanging the classroom for a monitor and eye contact for a keyboard requires a major shift in our thinking about our role as both an instructor and course developer. We have all come to depend so much on a quizzical tip of the head or a sudden arm shooting into the air for clues as to how the lesson is going. Many of us have spent time after class re-explaining a concept or listening to a student’s new idea. And, it is a rare instructor who has not, at the last minute, changed a lesson plan or added an activity to the day’s instruction. So, how is it that we can be expected to teach in cyberspace when we can’t watch our student’s faces, capture the teachable moment online when our lesson is already planned, or be assured that our students are really learning, when we can not even hear their voices?
The answer is that it does work and has been working for many distance educators. What we have learned is that the successful distance educator knows their students, “not by their faces or their seat position in a vast lecture auditorium; but instead by the words and ideas they express in their weekly assignmentsâ€. And, that the student in cyberspace knows us, the instructors, not by our cheerful smiles and quirky styles, but by the individual and personal comments we make to them as they complete activities and engage in weekly discussions. There is no doubt about it, we have moved into a very different format for teaching and learning. But when we really think about it, teaching at a distance just reinforces what we have always believed about learning all along – that is, real education does not occur in a classroom or on a campus. It occurs in the minds of our students.
Now that the NECC conference is over I am going to spend the next few weeks discussing engaging students in cyberspace. If you have anything to add to the discussion please chime in at anytime.