CyberPsyc V: Pleasures, Promises and Pitfalls
Dr. Diane Finley
Presented at Eastern Psychological Association Annual Conference
April 21, 2001
For information, contact the author at Department of Psychology Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Road, Largo MD 20774
Teaching online requires the development of new teaching skills as well as ventures into the sometimes confusing and often frustrating world of technology. It requires that the online teacher management class interaction and deal with issues of diversity without seeing the students in the course. In this presentation, a relatively new online teacher will discuss moving from the classroom to the Web. Dealing with issues of diversity and managing group discussions and projects will be considered. The pleasures, promises and pitfalls of teaching online will be examined. Suggestions for those considering a move to the online environment will be included.
Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching. There are 4 components: the learner, a task, knowledge needed to complete the task, teacher. I say art and science because I think teaching is both. And I deliberately put the teacher last because I am not convinced that the teacher is the most critical component. Traditional approaches to pedagogy put the teacher first but the online environment is shifting that hierarchy.
Traditional theories of behaviorism and cognitivism have dominated the pedagogical literature for a long time. These theories tend to be instructor-centered. Constructivism is the newest theory to appear in teacher education and educational psychology texts. Constructivism stresses the participation of the learner and active learning techniques and it shifts the role of the teacher.
Constructivism is really the theoretical model for online learning and teaching. Constructivism is based on the work of Jerome Bruner and Lev Vygotsky. The learner is actively involved and constructs knowledge for him or herself. Interaction among all parties, including student to student is important. In constructivist teaching, the teacher becomes more of a manager or a facilitator. This approach is what we see in the online environment. The online teacher becomes as has been stated in many places, the guide on the side, v. the traditional sage on the stage.
Learning becomes a team-focused approach: Instructor, Course designer, Web support, Administrator of distance education, Technical support people (and I think they are really the most important).
Moving to the online environment (or any constructivist classroom, for that matter) requires a paradigm shift in how we think about education. Let me share some thoughts from one of my students. We do have to shift our thinking. In doing so, we actually go back to denotative roots of education – educare – to lead out.
Along with rethinking about the education process and what that means for course design, it also means rethinking and restructuring the role of the teacher. Most importantly for me (and for most of us) we have to be comfortable giving up some of the control. In online courses you are much less didactic and more facilitating. Teaching online requires the instructor to shift thinking about the role of teacher and student. Just because you are a good teacher in the classroom does not mean you will be a good teacher online. Some great teachers in the classroom fail miserably online and vice versa. The two mediums require two completely different approaches to designing how you reach your course objectives and how you interact with students.
In preparation for this symposium I asked members of a faculty listserv for distance educators about teaching online. One of them said that one of the pitfalls is thinking that teaching online is like teaching in the classroom. There are some commonalities: if you really enjoy what you do and you really enjoy working with students and you know you are a good teacher, then the transition is not that difficult. It is a challenge but such challenges are often the most fun part of teaching. In fact, as in my case, the move to online can be a truly energizing experience.
In the online environment, the instructor becomes a manager. We organize our course content and design interactive activities that will help students understand the content. We manage the information exchange and the interaction. We really are forced to think about the course in total before the semester begins. We have to think about what we want our students to learn and to accomplish during the semester. Actually doing so makes us better teachers I think since things are more coherent.
Let me talk a little bit about the online classroom and some of the implications of that classroom.
Asychronous – not real time
– Can take longer to identify conflict and to reach consensus (keep group work in mind)
An uncertain environment
– Don’t know anything about others, except what they share
– Differing levels of comfort with the technology
– Can escalate quickly into flaming
– Greater potential for misunderstanding since we don’t know any characteristics
of other learners, except what they self-disclose (face-to-face is difficult enough)
Because of these differences, there are things an instructor
has to take into account. Richard
Powers in the Faculty Focus, a UMUC publication, identified 6 myths:
My subject is not really group friendly and I hate group work.
Students won’t scroll through all those notes (just like they don’t always listen in
face-to-face classes (f2f).
Students need interaction, particularly online.
I can just transfer that assignment to the web course.
about keeping up.
I actually took a course online (the instructor did not know who I was or
my background but I thought I should have the experience if I was
going to teach to get the other view) where we did this and I thought
I would die of boredom before the class was over)
And you might as well be teaching a traditional correspondence course if this is what you do.
My subject is not really group friendly and I hate group work.
Issues related to moving to the online environment:
Must plan a whole semester ahead. -
Must give up control
Online takes more time – some estimates are about 20% more
Nature of online environment: no physical and vocal cues of f2f
Comfort with technology
Training students how to act: Names on emails; Grammar, spelling;
Appropriateness of tone and content; Use of names of real people
MY HINTS FOR SUCCESS (or
what has worked for me)
any problem occurs (this is especially crucial in the first week).
and that they are clear. Be sure to open conferences or post other assignments
by the date which you promise. Many students are on tight schedules.
updates and information that comes up. Try to include information about the discipline
there as well as the nuts and bolts.
Give feedback on a regular basis – students like to know how they are doing.
Resources about online teaching and learning
Boaz,M., Elliott, B., Foshee, D., Hardy, D., Jarmon, C, &
Olcott, D. (1999).
Teaching at a distance: A handbook for instructors. Mission Viejo, CA:
Boettcher, J.V & Conrad, R. (1999).
Faculty guide for moving teaching and learning to the web.
Mission Viejo CA: League for Innovation in the Community College.
Going the distance:A handbook for developing distance degree programs. (1992).
Washington DC: Annenberg/CPB Project
Hara, N. & Kling, R. (2000). Students’ distress with a
web-based distance education course (CSI Working Paper
No. WP 00-01-B1). Bloomington IN: Indiana University, Center for
Horton, S. (2000) Web teaching guide. New Haven: Yale
Kearsley, G. (2000). Online education: Learning and
teaching in cyberspace. Belmont CA: Wadsworth Publishing
Norton, P. & Wiburg, K.M. (1998). Teaching with
technology. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt, Brace Publishers.
Schweizer,H. (1999). Designing
and teaching an on-line course. Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Syllabus Magazine www.syllabus.com - firstname.lastname@example.org
Verduin, J.R. & Clark, T.A. (1991).
education: The foundations of effective practice.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Wegerif, R. (1998). The social dimension of asynchronous
Journal of Asynchronous Learning
Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University [Online) http://www.aln.org/alnweb/journal/Vol2_issue1/wegerif.htm
White, K. W. & Weight, B. H. (2000). The online
teaching guide. Boston: Allyn & Bacon