As corporate cost controls get stiffer, and corporate education budgets shrink accordingly, internet-based education is likely to increase, maybe exponentially. Whether you regard this as good news or bad news, it appears to be the wave of the future.
Granted, for many of us the internet experience may not be as comfortable as the face-to-face environment, but there are several things instructors (and students too) can do to enhance the learning and knowledge exchange online.
It goes without saying that you must be proficient with the technology, but the most technically proficient may not be the most successful in transferring educational content. We still have to make that connection with the student. I’ve taught about a half-dozen internet classes now and attended twice that, and based on my experiences on both sides of the equation, I’ve compiled some practical tips to help optimize the “classroom” interchange.
Some of my discoveries include:
1. Take time up front to make sure students know the technology basics. Volume adjustment is critical – have students introduce themselves and engage other student to get everyone’s volume under control.
2. Display a map with students’ locations if possible – have students ‘sign in’ on the map. You can update and correct the map after the first day and republish it on the second day. Distribute it via eMail to the students. Some will keep it available and reference it!
3. Start each day with something to engage everyone. If you have a geographically relevant event, discuss it. Something in the news … even the weather! In a recent class, I began by mentioning the unusually terrible weather we were having in North Carolina. As the students did their subsequent intros, they each gave a quick local weather update. We had a great time with it. On each subsequent day, the students actively offered their brief updates on the weather around the world. It was pointless, but everyone enjoyed it and it got them talking. I was shocked by how well it worked.
4. Have Instant Messenger (or similar program) running in the background so you can communicate with individual students or with the whole class in an offline mode.
5. Make the experience seem live and real, not packaged. Be yourself!
6. It is so easy for students to disengage or multi-task, so:
- Build in a few questions or surveys
- Look for reasons to give the mic to the students for their elaboration on classroom topics
- Don’t go more than five minutes without some interaction with students
- Take more frequent breaks than in the real classroom.
7. Encourage the students to “mark-up” or write on your PPT charts or blank white boards as a way of brainstorming. This is a great way to bring out the thoughts of the introverts, and may actually be more effective than the real classroom for them. Be patient. It might be a new experience for them. It might take them a few minutes to think of something. Ask for an explanation of interesting or salient input, and give them a chance to expound verbally.
8. If the group is culturally diverse, don’t ignore it, explore it! Students will typically enjoy the discussion.
This is just a brief ‘starter’ list of thoughts. Please add some of your own discoveries!