Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups – an Interview With Author Michelle Glowacki-duka

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What is web-based or online education and who needs it?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: Web-based or online education is a method for instruction that uses the web and Internet as the primary medium for communication and teaching. It serves many people who may work full time and not be able to get to a traditional class. It also serves people who may be homebound because of illness or who have other responsibilities that don’t allow a consistent schedule.

During my doctoral program, we had a deaf student who could participate in the online forum much more easily than in the face to face forum because he didn’t need a translator. It was very exciting to see his strong voice online, rather than through someone else’s interpretation.
An online course curriculum needs to be designed differently from a traditional campus degree curriculum. How far is this true?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: I believe that it is very important to re-examine your learning objectives and approach to the curriculum for online courses. Since the students are more independent in an online forum the assignments and discussion groups need to be engaging and build on the learner’s experience. Those who simply put their powerpoint and lectures online are not providing the opportunity for students to engage with the material or connect it to their other learning.

Without the connection and engagement through discussion or dialogue with other students, the transfer of learning is not as successful.
Lack of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers in online education hampers the learning process. What are your thoughts on this?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: Learning in a fully online setting provides a different experience than a face to face classroom setting. Students have to be active to be present in the online forum, and teachers have to be present as well to provide some comfort and feedback to the process. If either group is not present, then the level of trust and enthusiasm drops and the learning diminishes. I enjoy a mixed or blended method of teaching when possible so that students can build some physical connection and then be more able to connect online. Sometimes with only online courses, the anonymity can provide a wall for inappropriate behavior (like flaming) or misunderstandings of humor or irony.
What qualities are essential in a good online teacher?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: A good online teacher needs to have a strong classroom structure with clear expectations. They need to be present, although this doesn’t mean responding to every posting. They should be willing to be a co-learner and facilitator of knowledge rather than being the center of the course. By acknowledging that the students have power in the class, the relationship is much more reciprocal and worthwhile.
What role does technology play in teaching online groups?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: Technology is the medium for this teaching, so it needs to be effective and consistent. There should be a contact for technical help if and when problems arise. And all the learners need to be able to access technology in order to participate.
Are there any shortcomings of online or distance education?
Michelle Glowacki-Dudka: Like any medium for teaching, online or distance education is only as useful or effective as the instructor lets it be. In our book, we provide a framework that guides the development of an effective online classroom. I have used it effectively and know of many other people who take bits and pieces from the model in their own teaching. Certainly online teaching takes more effort than a face to face course, but the in-depth responses and opportunity for reflection on teaching and content make it satisfying.

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