What’s the difference?

Teaching in the classroom, teaching online, it’s all the same thing, right?

Brief answer is – no. It’s similar but it’s not the same thing and when you begin to examine differences between successful classroom teaching and effective online teaching those differences become very highlighted. This may not be good news to some or it may be a sense of relief to others because we all like to be successful at what we do but sometimes the things we do just don’t work out as expected. Techniques that were successful in one environment do not necessarily translate well to another environment and fundamentally the biggest difference between teaching in a classroom and teaching online is the difference between the environments in which those activities take place.

Let’s see what some of those differences are and how they might effect our pedagogical approach to teaching:

  • Environment;
  • Content;
  • Outcomes.

Firstly, a classroom is a controlled environment and as teacher you can control every aspect of that environment from comfort to seating arrangements, from learning materials to presenting information, from active to passive participation. In an online environment that degree of control is completely lost, in fact, you cannot even control when your students participate in your online course. That in itself can be scary!

Secondly, as a teacher, you will create content for a classroom environment. That’s what you have been trained to do but that same content is unlikely to be as successful when used online. For example, imagine you have created an information sheet on a Greek myth with the idea that this information will form the basis of an assignment, it’s pure information including text and images. You also add context and additional information in class and then set a homework to find out if your students have ‘learned’ what you have told them – all very controlled and passive.

Teaching online in this way is unlikely to be successful – why? Without your ‘live’ input the information sheet will not have been enough for your students to successfully complete their homework plus, the passivity will not encourage any further work by your students regardless of how excellent the content of your information sheet may be.

So, how can you achieve the same outcome online, ie. to find out if your students have learned the Greek myth you have been telling them about?

The content is good so it just needs re-purposing for an online environment and, in fact, there are also two big advantages for you as teacher under the heading of ‘reduced workload’ which I’ll mention a little later.

We can still include the content of the information sheet. We might include that as a web page within our learning platform or as a presentation which then brings us to a question, “How do we add the ‘live’ input that we can give in the classroom?” Today, there are many easy-to-use tools at our disposal to create audio and/or video presentations. In fact, a few minutes of audio which can easily be embedded within your online course is so simple to produce and your students can listen to it at any time. You can also add audio/video from other sources and web sites so that your students can experience a wider range of input.

OK, so far, this may appear to be very passive but in order for students to use this material they have to be engaged with the online course even if it’s only opening documents and clicking web site links – it adds a low level of interactivity but how can you ‘crank-it-up’ and get your students interacting with your online teaching?

So thirdly, as teacher, your outcome is understanding what they have learned and this can be done through a range of techniques with probably the most familiar being an assignment or a quiz. Don’t forget you can also utilise forum tools to create an online discussion and there is no ‘rule’ from preventing you joining that discussion so you can achieve a real insight into their learning and understanding or perhaps students in small groups collaborating on a presentation maybe an alternative approach. While you may think a discussion in the classroom would have been just as effective do remember that the group dynamic will also have changed online and students who may have been reticent in contributing in the classroom will find their voice online. This adds to a deeper understanding of your students learning.

Finally, what are the big advantages under the heading of ‘reduced workload’ I mentioned earlier?

Firstly, materials created for an online environment can work really well in the classroom and can enable greater engagement by your students both in class and online. If you are fortunate enough to have an interactive whiteboard or similar tool in your classroom, you can take full advantage of your online course content. Plus, it is well-known that students will re-visit work done in the classroom if it is online which in turn helps them internalise their learning and understanding.

Secondly, the point of formative assessment is to help students progress. A good online learning environment will include tools that aid that level of assessment and immediately report results to students. Imagine creating a quiz online which will, of course, include automatic feedback and assessment and the time that will be saved in traditional assessment, feedback, recording and distribution.

Teaching online requires a pedagogical shift not a change in pedagogy. It enhances teaching, it’s creative and exciting. It opens so many doors for students to learn and if embraced becomes a step towards true personalised learning without the workload of more traditional approaches to teaching and personlised learning.

We hope you have found this article of interest and if you would like to find out more about online teaching and learning, e-mail jeremy.meades@schoolsict.net.