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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Frustrations with Online Learning

Frustrations with Online Learning

Related Tags: Classroom Technology
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I thought we should have a discussion forum where we can discuss things that really frustrate us with online learning. Ideally, this would be a constructive discussion, with contributors suggesting solutions for our frustrations. So, here goes my biggest frustration: Assessment and Marking. How can we take the paper out of the online learning process? I can get students to learn and complete work online. I can get them to submit work online. But when it comes to marking the work and giving feedback, I am yet to find a system that is as quick and as efficient - as well as meaningful - as simply writing comments on a printout of student work. I've tried editing via word processing, but that is cumbersome. I've tried using a digital pen, but that lacked the precision I needed. So, any ideas out there?

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Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Michael,
Some great ideas here. I'm particularly interested in your ideas about cognitive training. Have you had any results yet from the trial you did?

Susan Henry's picture

(apologies; I accidentally posted twice due to a technology glitch so have gone back in and taken out this second posting!)

Susan Henry's picture

I currently teach in an all online teacher leadership certificate program developed by Massachusetts ASCD (www.mascd.org). We have paid close attention to developing an online community that is supportive, thoughtful, and connected. Based on the first cohort's interactions, last year, I would say there was a very strong and connected community that would rival any face-to-face community. Some of the ways we achieved this were:

1) creating varied small groups and partners for assignments, much like you would in any classroom, ensuring that participants had close interactions with the full range of people in their cohort, and

2) using varied interactive modes for assignments, including:
* collaborative work using GoogleDocs,
* partner work using Skype calls,
* small group discussion forums using protocols to guide/structure the discussion,
* large group interaction around a common focus using Voice Thread,
* whole group profile and ongoing feedback solicited using SurveyMonkey, and
* synchronous weekly chats using the chat function in Moodle where we also practiced using norms of collaboration (Garmston & Wellman).

Participants indicated that they especially appreciated hearing each other's voices (Voice Thread) and talking face-to-face (Skype) in addition to the other interactive forums. Synchronous chats also brought participants into the same conversation on a weekly basis, helping everyone to remain connected and aware of each other's contexts, projects, needs, and successes.

Because the program is online, it is open to teachers well beyond Massachusetts, helping participants to consider school and leadership contexts quite different from their own local contexts. This supports the development of a more diverse community of learners than we would be able to form in a face-to-face program.

As a result of co-developing and teaching in this course I am convinced that online courses and programs CAN be designed to foster rich professional communities of practice that support improved teaching and learning.


Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Susan,
Thanks for that valuable information. I think that you touch upon one of the key points of online learning (at least, I think it's one of the key points!)

It's important that practitioners provide a variety of different ways for participants to communicate with both the teacher and each other. If you think about your typical classroom (although, defining typical might be a problem in itself) the teacher provide a variety of different ways for students to communicate. It makes a lot of sense, educationally speaking, for students to be able to speak via journals and writing and debates and discussions and so on ad nauseum.

Therefore, online learning should embrace the same range of opportunities - and I was impressed at the vast list that you generated above.

The other point that I would make is that these modes of communication have got to have both synchronous and asynchronous possibilities. When I was completing some online studies a few years ago, I really appreciated being able to log on at midnight and discuss people's postings, knowing that in the next few days - when they got around to it - they would respond and reply.

However, for the above to be true, there needs to be a certain 'critical mass' of participants. It can get pretty depressing having a conversation over the internet with yourself!


Yvonne Kelly's picture

Keith not only can online assesment become a problem, distant education can be a problem too. I sometimes have no clue as to what an assignment is all about, I have to call a help desk who is closed on the weekend and that is the only time I can get major work done. I turned in work to a professor on Feb 6th and I have no clue yet as to what my grade is. Therefore I ask the question is online learning and a help or a hinderance. Give me your feedback..

John Thompson's picture

I'd suggest that you should contact your instructor, not the help desk, when you have have a question about an assignment. The help desk is typically there to assist with technical questions (e.g., cannot get into your online course). If you're not getting feedback from your instructor in two weeks, that sounds like a problem with your instructor. Contact him/her to inquire about the assignment in question, as well as when to expect your previous work to be graded. But be professional about it. :-)

JaBari Brown's picture
JaBari Brown
Educator Inc.

Educator Inc. offers teachers and students an opportunity to access complete online courses in math, physics, chemistry, computer science and more. We find that students and teachers benefits from the additional learning/instruction. Please view our site at http://tinyurl.com/educatorinc.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Yvonne,
I understand your frustrations, and I can certainly say that I've been there before. However, I don't think your concerns necessarily lie with online learning as such - rather, I would suggest that your provider is not very organised! I mean, if they've published an assignment that is unclear, or they are failing to mark your work within a reasonable period of time, then I think they are failing to embrace the opportunities afforded by online learning. So, and I agree with you on this one, the real frustration is people who don't organise their work effectively!

Brad VanSpriell's picture
Brad VanSpriell
Grad Student in Learning Technology M.Ed program; father of 3rd & 1st grade

[quote]...sometimes I want to give feedback that is much richer so I use a free sofware called Jing and make a very quick video of me looking at their submitted work. It takes a .swf video of my screen and records voice over it. It is actually extremely simple to use. I then upload the file to Screencast and then share the link with the student....[/quote]

Like Letty, at the University of Minnesota our instructors in Learning Technoogy often give feedback on assignments via a Jing/Camtasia screen capture and then share the video via Screencast or Vimeo. They will walk through your project and point out strong points, areas needing work, etc. The feedback is rich in direct information and indirect information (vocal emphasis, etc.) Speaking as a student, I have found it quite helpful to receive feedback this way.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Inspired by Letty and Brad, I'm going to give this a try with one of my classes. I'll use Screenium, since that's my particular brand of Screen Capture tool, but I'll also ensure that, as I discuss the merits of the work, I highlight the particular issues I'm talking about.

One question however: Does that mean that everyone can look at everyone else's feedback?

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