Week 11: Managing the Online Environment – Winter 2021 Harrison

Overview

As in a face-to-face classroom, the online environment can get out of hand if it is not managed effectively. Managing the online environment involves a range of organizational and procedural measures that support the ongoing learning experience of the students. When teaching online, it is important to be aware of the distinct characteristics of the online environment and appropriate ways of communicating, interacting, motivating, and supporting students. Many teaching and communication strategies not necessary in a face-to-face setting are often needed in the online environment to avoid miscommunication or confusion. In addition, facilitating discussion and group collaboration in the online environment can require different skills and strategies than one might be accustomed to in the traditional classroom. Management of the online environment also involves skills in scheduling, self-monitoring, and time management to effectively deal with the workload. This module will discuss the various types of communication available in the online environment and discuss when they are most appropriate to use, will examine techniques for planning and moderating effective online discussions and group work, and discuss strategies for managing your time, workload, and administrative issues related to the online environment.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this module, you should be able to:

  • Identify the various types of communication available in the online environment and recognize when they are most appropriate to use.
  • Describe techniques for planning and moderating effective online discussions and group work.
  • Discuss strategies for managing your time, workload, and administrative issues related to the online environment.

Topic 1 – Communicating Online

Introduction

Many online management issues involve communication between educators and students, and among the students themselves. Communicating in an online environment often requires more thought and planning than communicating in a face-to-face environment. How you communicate with your students and the methods you use to communicate can make a difference in whether or not a student is successful in the online environment (Ko & Rossen, 2010). Having a plan for when and how you will communicate with your online students helps to ensure that you are able to provide students with consistent communications. Active and timely communication also helps to support teaching presence and fosters a sense of community, which helps students feel connected to the online classroom (Mitchell-Holder, 2016).

When planning your communications, Mitchell-Holder (2016) suggests that you first decide how often you will communicate with your students, and once you have made this decision, you should be consistent with the timing of your communication. It is good practice to make regular announcements to help keep students on task. You may want to post an introductory message at the beginning of the week to provide an overview of the week ahead or of upcoming due dates for assignments and exams, and then post a weekly wrap-up or summary. If you decide to post weekly announcements, you should try to post them around the same time each week so that your students know when to expect your messages. It is also important to decide how you want your students to communicate with you and to make sure that this is clear to students. Both asynchronous and synchronous communications have their advantages as well as disadvantages so it is helpful to consider this when selecting your preferred communication medium. With the increasingly diverse channels of communications available, Mitchell-Holder (2016) also suggests that you establish rules, procedures, and expectations for all chosen forms of communication.

In addition, Ko and Rossen (2010) encourage educators to specify a timeframe that they will respond to student comments or questions (usually 24 to 48 hours), and that if circumstances require them to change the timeframe, they should notify students beforehand. They also suggest that educators create a common space online for questions of general interest to the entire class, which can reduce the need for individual e-mail responses to commonly asked questions. In an online classroom “there is a shift and increased emphasis on words, particularly with written communication. Lexicon, semantics, and syntax can greatly affect how a written message is conveyed and interpreted…” (Betts, 2009). Ko and Rossen (2010) emphasize the importance of clarity when communicating online, and recommend that educators consider their words very carefully and think about how the student will perceive the words, and check the tone and clarity before sending all communications.

Topic 2 – Facilitating Online Discussions and Group Work

Introduction

Asynchronous discussions are one of the most common activities in the online environment and as such require skillful facilitation and management in order to function effectively. Baker (2011) suggests that successful facilitation of online discussion requires the pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical roles originally identified by Berge (1995). From a pedagogical perspective, online instructors serve as a facilitator of learning within online discussion. Socially, online instructors are required to nurture online discussions to encourage discourse. Managerially, online instructors need to determine the discussion topics, establish the format, develop the assessment instruments, and orchestrate the process. Technically, the online instructor leads the way in introducing the online discussion technology and troubleshooting and technical issues.

An essential component of successful online discussion board facilitation is to start by asking a good question that prompts engaged conversation. Rovai (2007) recommends that discussion topics are authentic and address “real-life” challenges that learners can relate to and connect with their own experiences. When it comes to facilitating ongoing discussion, online educators face the challenge of deciding how much, and in what way to intervene in discussions in order to aid learning, but without taking over. Novice online educators often feel like they have to respond to every student posting, which can quickly become overwhelming and can put a damper on student discussion. In most cases, it is suggested that educators need not respond to every student post but instead should determine the appropriate time to jump in, make a comment, ask another question, or redirect the discussion. White (2003) recommends that instructors use the following facilitation strategies to help manage online discussions:

  • Harvesting which involves extracting information from conversations;
  • Weaving which involves looking for and linking relevant information, thoughts or comments between different conversations; and
  • Summarizing which involves regular recaps done during online discussions to provide an overview and synthesis of the conversation.

Another common challenge found in the online environment is managing group work, both within discussion forums, and in general. Despite the documented benefits of group work which include skills in critical thinking, self-reflection, and co-construction of knowledge, it is still often dreaded and avoided by online learners and educators alike (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). Buhdai (2016) recommends keeping groups small and odd-numbered, setting clear expectations for individual contributions, and monitoring the online group space to catch issues before they escalate. Morrison (2014) asserts that social presence is critical for students to be successful in online group work, and suggests that students should be provided with opportunities to introduce themselves, make connections with classmates, and establish themselves in the learning community prior to participating in group work.

She also recommends that clear instructions and an explanation of the purpose of group work are provide to groups, and that groups are provided with skill development resources for working in a group. When it comes to dealing with conflict that may occur within groups, Palloff, Pratt, and Stockley (2001) advise educators to try and allow students to work through issues on their own and only intervene if the situation warrants it as conflict is often a sign that a group is developing.

Topic 3 – Managing Workload in the Online Environment

Introduction

A final concern that often comes up concerning managing the online environment is the workload associated with teaching online. Increased workload is one of the most frequently cited concerns by faculty who are considering teaching an online course. In fact, Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) identified workload issues as the greatest barrier to faculty participation in online teaching. The 24/7 availability of the online environment can set up an expectation that educators will be responsive to student questions, discussion postings, and assignments around the clock, which is not feasible. Although the online environment can present workload related challenges, Lehman and Conceição (2010) argue that this isn’t necessarily an increase in workload as it is a different type of workload. Teaching online often requires a shift and re-evaluation of how you manage your schedule; some aspects of online facilitation can be more time-consuming than in face-to-face settings.

Identifying strategies for managing workload ahead of time and establishing a routine for regular and planned interaction can go a long way in helping educators remain in control of their workload. A report by Ragan and Terheggen (2003) found that shorter, more frequent course interactions help to prevent an overwhelming backlog of activity. Fusch (2014) suggests that in the absence of a set period of scheduled classroom time, it is critical for educators to define structured, set time periods for their online communication and instructional work. He encourages educators to manage both their own and student expectations from the beginning of the course and to set reasonable boundaries. Ragan and Terheggen (2003) also recommend that educators should attempt to conduct work that requires concentration at times when they are at their performance peak, and should use the full capabilities of the learning management system and online technology to assist in many of the tasks required to operate the online course. Lehman and Conceição (2010) conducted a study of experienced educators to determine the most common strategies they used to manage workload when teaching online, and discovered that these strategies could be grouped into the following four categories:

  • Design Strategies —Includes pre-planning, anticipating course responsibilities, prioritizing course activities, anticipating student learning needs, and reflecting on and revising courses already taught.
  • Support Strategies —Includes one-on-one support, peer support, institutional support, and external support
  • Teaching Strategies —Includes administrative, facilitative, and evaluative tasks
  • Time Allocation Strategies —Includes blocking out and organizing time, scheduling discussions, and creating content ahead of time

Online Readings/Videos

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select from the following online readings and videos to provide to the learners:

Readings:

Videos:

Learning Activities

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select one activity from the following to facilitate:

Learning Activity 1 – Communicating Online

Students will explore various types of communication available in the online environment and the educational technologies that support them. They will be asked to provide suggestions as to what type of communication is most appropriate for given communication scenarios. They will also be asked to describe what communication strategies they feel would work best within their own teaching and learning contexts.

Learning Activity 2 – Facilitating Online Discussions

Students will be asked to design an online discussion activity that they feel would be effective within their own educational contexts. They will describe how they would facilitate the online discussion to encourage participation and how they would manage the workload.

Learning Activity 3 – Online Group Work Case Study

Students will be presented with a case study that describes an online group project gone wrong. They will be asked to analyze the case and provide suggestions for how they can address the issues identified in the case and what suggestions they might have for managing online group work.

Feedback Activity

Students that were not facilitating this week will be asked to provide constructive feedback to the week’s facilitators. One strategy that you can use to provide feedback is the “I Like, I Wish, What If” method. Using this method, you can provide open feedback by providing three types of statements for your peers (Stanford University Institute of Design, 2016):

  • “I Like…” statements convey the aspects that you liked about the online facilitation
  • “I Wish…” statements share ideas about how the online facilitation could potentially be enhanced or modified
  • “What if…” statements express new suggestions for the online facilitation that might open up possibilities for new ideas that your peer can explore

Another strategy you can use for peer feedback of online facilitation is a Feedback Capture Grid, which includes four quadrants to note your likes, wishes, questions and ideas. You can use the following template (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) to guide your feedback if you chose to use this method.

Reflection Activity

Students that were facilitating this week will be asked to complete a ” FLIF ” ( F eel, L ike, I mprove, F eedback) reflection (Adapted from Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals, 2018).

Summary

The online classroom, just like the traditional classroom, requires effective management in order to ensure that it does not get out of hand and that students have a worthwhile and meaningful learning experience. When teaching online, it is important to be aware of how to communicate appropriately and to have a plan in place for managing ongoing communications with students. It is also helpful to be prepared with strategies for managing asynchronous discussions and online group work as these are often key components for learning in the online environment. In addition, the workload associated with teaching online differs from the face-to-face setting, so being proactive and having techniques in place to manage the workload can go a long way in making your online teaching experience rewarding. In the next module, we will focus on reflective practice and you will have a chance to reflect on your overall learning in this course.

References

Baker, D. L, (2011). Designing and orchestrating online discussions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7 (3), 401-411. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no3/baker_0911.pdf

Berge, Z. L. (1995). The role of the online instructor/facilitator. Educational Technology , 35 (1), 22-30.

Betts, K. (2009). Lost in translation: Importance of effective communication in online education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration , 12 (2). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer122/betts122.html

Bolliger, D. U., & Wasilik, O. (2009). Factors influencing faculty satisfaction with online teaching and learning in higher education. Distance Education , 30 (1), 103-116.

Budhai, S. S. (2016). Designing effective team projects in online courses . Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/designing-effective-team-projects-in-online-courses

Carleton University. (2017). Effective communication in the online environment [Video file]. Retrieved from https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Effective+Communication+in+the+Online+Environment/0_20jjuuc1

Carleton University. (2017). Effective online discussions [Video file]. Retrieved from https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Effective+Online+Discussions/0_g6xu1a3

Conceição, S. C., & Lehman, R. M. (2010, September). Faculty strategies for balancing workload when teaching online. In 29th Annual Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference In Adult, Continuing, Community and Extension Education (p. 69). Retrieved from https://msu.edu/~mwr2p/ConceicaoLehman-MR2P-2010.pdf

Fusch, D. (2014). Help your faculty manage online workload . Retrieved from https://www.academicimpressions.com/help-your-faculty-manage-online-workload

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide . Routledge.

Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, C.O. (2010). Faculty strategies for balancing workload when teaching online. Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, & Community Education , Michigan State University, Lansing, Michigan, September 26-28, 2010. https://www.msu.edu/~mwr2p/ConceicaoLehman-MR2P-2010.pdf

Mitchell-Holder, S. (2016). Let’s talk: Effectively communicating with your online students. In W. Kilgore, (ed.) Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning . Retrieved from https://humanmooc.pressbooks.com/chapter/lets-talk-effectively-communicating-with-your-online-students/

Morrison, D. (2014). Five elements that promote learner collaboration and group work in online courses . Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/five-elements-that-promote-learner-collaboration-and-group-work-in-online-courses

Palloff, R. M., Pratt, K., & Stockley, D. (2001). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education , 31 (3), 175.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2005). Online learning communities revisited. In 21st annual conference on Distance Teaching and Learning .

Ragan, L. C., & Terheggen, S. L. (Eds.). (2003). Effective workload management strategies for the online environment . PennState World Campus.

Roberts, T. (2010). Assessing online participation exploring the problem & possible solutions. Retrieved from https://oer.royalroads.ca/moodle/pluginfile.php/1489/mod_book/chapter/366/Assessing_Participation.pdf

Rovai, A. P. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively. The Internet and Higher Education , 10 (1), 77-88.

Stewart, D.P. (2008). Classroom management in the online environment. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4 (3), 371-374. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol4no3/stewart_0908.pdf

The University of New South Wales. (2011). Conducting effective online discussions [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/TxzipYOGaoE

The University of New South Wales. (2011). Managing your time when teaching online [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bHM6o5RQOnQ

University of Saskatchewan. (2012). Staying on top of discussion board post s [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/FQdGnvCaA-A

University of Saskatchewan. (2012). Guidelines for responding to student inquiries [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/c2xlSFMBaG8

White, N. (2003). Harvesting, weaving and creating summaries . Retrieved from http://fullcirc.com/wp/resources/facilitation-resources/harvesting-weaving-and-creating-summaries/

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