“Thinking about the Mode of Delivering Content in an Online Course” by Cynthia Napoli-Abella Reiss, PhD


2012 graduation at WVC. Photo by Carl Jones.

One of the most interesting discoveries for me–as an online instructor –was “seeing” the gap between our students’ social media literacy and their technological literacy. Yes, it is clear that our students can text, Facebook, and tweet very well…but I was dumbfounded by their lack of technological proficiency when it came to using technology as a platform for academic instruction.

How then can we, as online instructors, use the “language” students use as a way of engaging, accessing, and teaching …when their facility with that language is not as comprehensive as we assume?

Well, to begin with, I toned down my “fancy tools.” I went from using many 2.0 tools in my virtual classroom–wikis, blogs, webcam videos, voicethreads, podcasts–to using just one, or two. And, I am always searching for new tools, but my criteria for integration is far more conservative: Is it easy to use? Will the benefits of using the tool far outweigh doing without it all together? In sum, is it worth it? I continue to use Voicethread; I find it essential because it is easy to use, because students love it, because it creates community in what could otherwise be a very cold, anonymous mode of delivery, and because it offers a dynamic, interactive way to learn from each other and hear/see others’ ways of seeing/understanding the world.

Making my online class effective necessitates that I think about the uniqueness of the mode of delivery as a means of maximizing learning. I cannot teach the same way in an online class as I would a physical class. But, I am able to do many things in my online class that I can’t as easily do in a physical classroom. The luxury of time exists in an online classroom, the ability to connect ideas through various online resources, the freedom to make quick real world and local/global community connections with the instantaneous click of an URL. This expansive, open-ended learning allows our students the ability to learn through the language they love…while we,  as online instructors, can choose our modes of delivering content and can therefore layer their knowledge base by guiding them to a) credible sources; b) sites which expand, build on, and challenge what they know; while c) giving them the tools to be both critical and reflective as architects of their own knowledge.

As we all know, online academies are now available to K-12 students and many have embraced online learning as the solution to the “drop-out crisis.” I am not sure how I feel about this at such an early stage, but I do agree that we are at a turning point in the state of education, and I am glad–I guess–that there are options that exist which may be more appropriate for meeting the needs of students’ different learning styles.

Below is an excerpt from the Michigan Virtual Report entitled Understanding the Role and Applicability of K-12 Online Learning to Support Student Dropout Recovery Efforts which discusses the potential impact of virtual schools:  

4. Rigorous and relevant curriculum. Inferior and high quality content exists in both face-to-face and online programs. The difference is that students in face-to-face programs do not necessarily have a choice in the content that is provided to them. With the number of online programs and online courses available, students and parents can find programs that meet the student’s individual needs.

9. Real-world connections. Students do not often see the connection between the skills they are learning and the things they will do post-graduation. Online education offers “students the opportunity to engage interactively with businesses, museums, scientists, artists and any number of resources connecting classroom learning to the real world” (47).

10. Local and worldly community connections. Getting studets involved in real-world activities is critical to their success, particularly for students who don’t see value in the skills they are learning. Online classes can provide access to local community resources, businesses, and agencies; however, they can also let students explore a larger world through virtual field trips and connections with other classrooms and students.

Teaching online has compelled me to ask myself the following questions:

▪   Have I created a student-centered learning environment?

▪   Do I remain in a teacher-centered teaching environment?

▪   What is my role as an online instructor in a student-centered learning classroom?

This post is just a moment in my own ruminations… More to come.

Cynthia Napoli-Abella Reiss teaches art history and is the Art History Program Coordinator at WVC. In addition to being an Academic Senator, she is Chair of the WVC Global Citizenship Committee and serves on the ACCJC Site Visit Evaluation Committee


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