I learned to “design” online as an instructor. I had already spent about a year in a face to face classroom with high school students. High schools tend to require more evidence of planning your practice than colleges, so I already had design in mind before I was met with the challenge of designing for an online class. I also had been an online student for some of my master’s degree, so I had also been exposed to some different versions of online classroom environments. Finally, I learned from failure. My first two terms online, I included in part of my class to get feedback on some of the set up. I tried to create a space where students felt free to comment on how the class was going online. When students made requests for adjustments, I made them. A specific example of that is the layout of class notes. At the time, “lecture” was delivered in the form of teacher notes. I would often take the notes I would use for class and adapt them for students. What I didn’t do was give any emphasis to ideas in the notes. So, per student request, I adapted my notes to include headings and bullet points and more breaks between information to help disseminate the information for students. Ultimately, that process made me a more organized instructor and refined my writing.
So far, I think my best experiences as an instructor and a student were times where there was an online community present within the class. I know building a community can be difficult, but those experiences were the more rounded learning experiences as well as more memorable that I’ve had. As a student, I had an instructor who read our discussion forum posts and keep notes of them. At the end of each week, she would then have an instructor response that would discuss students by name with specific details from their work. She would talk about strengths and the good questions we were asking. She would also highlight areas for expansion and point out students by name who had work worthy of imitation for those who needed extra help. Looking back, I think her process of synthesizing our work and using our name helped build a sense that she was really listening to what we had to say, and that we as a class had things in common. When she used our names, I also brought forward a reminder that there were actually people in the class, not just names on the page. This is a constant challenge for designing an online class where you create a community.
I think designing for community is connected to social learning theory and community of inquiry theory. These theories help shape how discussion is used and created. They influence the value of utilizing peer to peer connections as well as teacher to student interaction since building a community requires interaction and communication. Social learning theory will drive assignment design to incorporate more collaborative opportunities that require teamwork. When I design, these things matter to me. They influence decisions I make. In fact, without incorporating opportunities for students to connect, communicate, and work with each other, I get bored as an instructor because the feel of the class is less engaging.