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Presentation? Motivation? Participation?
Simple Answers to Complex Questions

By Jennifer Lieberman

With regard to LESSON PRESENTATION, what are some of the issues to be addressed when converting a face-to-face course to online and in choosing the appropriate mode of instruction?

One of the main issues that must be addressed when adapting a face-to-face course to the online environment is the fact that the instructor, the traditional classroom, and students will no longer be physically present together at the same time. This concept is what shapes most of the issues that an online instructor considers with regard to lesson presentation. It involves new pedagogical skills on the part of the instructor since he/she must develop new learning materials and modes of presentation that are adaptable to the online environment. Also, the instructor must have excellent communication and moderator skills in order to develop a sense of community and synergy among the group because dynamic discussions among students and between students and the instructor are in themselves productive learning tools. Similarly, the instructor must know how to successfully handle heterogeneous groups of students who may be accessing the presentation material at different times (in asynchronous models of online learning). Another issue that must be addressed with regard to lesson presentation is the technology itself, and the instructor as well as the students must have access to the technology and know how to use it. The instructor may have to acquire new technology skills such as learning how to use email, newsgroups, live chat, video conferencing, etc., and communication with technical support people must be sufficient enough for the instructor to be able to use the technology as trouble-free as possible. Finally, handling these various technologies while focusing on the pedagogy of effective lesson presentation is the key issue to be addressed when adapting a face-to-face course to the online environment.

With regard to STUDENT MOTIVATION, what are some necessary guidelines to follow in an online course, i.e., how do you encourage online students to become actively involved in your course when you cannot be with them face-to-face?

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. In order to promote intrinsic motivation in an online course, the instructor can show the students how the course, assignments, and projects are relevant to their academic, professional, and/or personal needs by encouraging discussions that relate the learning material to the learners’ personal experiences, and also discuss how it can be used in their own workplace. When the learners perceive the relevance of the information to their own personal situations, they will be more motivated to learn and become involved in the course. Also, an important characteristic of online learning is that it gives learners flexibility in accessing the learning materials and participating in discussions. By creating a relaxed atmosphere in the online environment, and permitting flexible deadlines to turn in assignments, the instructor is promoting motivation because the learners will not be stressed and can complete the work on their own schedules. This will also help motivate the learners to become involved in the course.

Extrinsic motivation can be promoted if the instructor makes the assignments and participation worth a certain percentage of the course grade. In this way, the learners will be motivated to do the assignments and participate in class discussions, teamwork and pair work activities in order to get a good grade in the course.

With regard to STUDENT PARTICIPATION, what are some necessary guidelines to follow in an online course, i.e., what moderator skills does the instructor need to adapt to the online environment?

In order to promote student participation in an online course, the instructor must be a well-trained facilitator and possess effective moderator skills. For example, the online instructor must have excellent written communication skills, know how to create a relaxed environment and sense of community where students feel comfortable contributing their opinions and ideas, and most importantly the online instructor must create a dynamic atmosphere in which a synergy exists where interesting discussions can develop and all students feel comfortable participating. One sure way to promote participation is to create incentives for students to participate, for example, making class participation a certain percentage of the course grade. This may be effective, but it should not be the only method that an instructor uses. Other guidelines to follow to promote student participation are the following:

  • Set up group projects and/or pair work activities.
  • Assign interesting discussion questions -where each student answers a different question. Encourage students to read and comment on their classmates’ answers.
  • Give feedback in a timely fashion in order to show students that you are "listening." They will be motivated to participate more often if they feel that the instructor is paying attention to them.
  • Encourage students to contribute their own ideas about the discussion topics and examples from their workplace, and give immediate feedback when they do.
  • Encourage discussions by asking open-ended questions.
  • Set due dates strategically: for example, in a weekly seminar-style online course, if the "lecture" is on day 1, make discussion questions due by day 3 or 4 in order to give students time to read their classmates’ answers and comment on them.

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