This year I am teaching VCE Environmental Science to a class of eight students – only one of which who actually attends Hawkesdale P12 College. The seven other students are from Shepparton H.S. and McGuire College in Shepparton and Brauer College in Warrnmabool. These students are all passionate about environmental science and wanted to study the subject in Year 12, but it was not offered at their schools. Through the Victorian Association of Environmental Education teacher’s network, I offered to provide an online course to these students using the Ultranet, blog, ning, Skype and Elluminate. They each provided details of their school and home email addresses, phone numbers, parent and teacher contacts and their timetables. It was obvious that there was very little opportunity for the timetables of four different schools to co-ordinate to allow these students to attend the classes scheduled at Hawkesdale. It was also apparent that these schools have not yet provided Ultranet access to their Year 12 students. Another difficulty is that email, blogs and Elluminate is blocked at these schools.
So far we have had three weeks of classes, with communication from home via email, the blog and four Elluminate sessions, each about 90 minutes in duration. The first two sessions were introductory sessions, getting to know each other and becoming familiar with the Elluminate tools, which include an interactive whiteboard, audio, text, chat, video and application sharing. We will need to increase the number of online sessions as we are not covering enough material to get through the course in a timely manner. By alternating Tuesday and Wednesday and having a weekend session we will be able to increase the number of contact hours.
VCE Environmental Science is not offered by Distance Education in Victoria, as it has a high practical component, with experimental work part of the student assessment. We have overcome this difficulty by meeting at “Ecolinc”, in Bacchus Marsh, where we completed several experiments, including monitoring power output of household appliances, recording the energy transformations in solar panels, hydro and wind turbines and observing a model hydrogen car and the Environmentally Sustainable Design features of the Ecolinc building itself. These practial demonstrations were video taped and uploaded to the blog for the two students unable to attend. Students have also been able to undertake practical work with supervising teachers in their schools. It was a great pleasure to meet these students as it helps to add a face to a name in my memory and find out more about each of them. One of the students is particularly shy, although this wasn’t noticable in an online enviroment, because she had been contributing to the online discussion in the same way as the other students. I think this is an interesting aspect of the online environment that I noticed last year when doing our Virtual Teaching Rounds with Pre-Service teachers from Ballarat University. The online environment reduces the likelihood of one student dominating the discussion and allows students to participate more democratically.
I think the keys to the success of these students will be their motivation to complete the course, their persistence with technology and their ability to take responsibility for their own learning. They will need to have the confidence to ask for assistance when required and the ability to recognise when they lack the understanding they need to fulfill the requirements of the course. On my part, I need to make these requirements explicit to students and have clear expectations of the work required. I need to provide them with the materials they need to develop an effective understanding of the content as well as the skill to synthesize, apply, evaluate and create. I will also need to monitor these student’s learning carefully to ensure they are completing the work required and developing the understandings to allow them to do well in both mid-year and end-of-year external examinations.
I am very interested in feedback from other teachers who have taught online classes abAout what they think is important to ensure the success of online teaching and learning. What are the key ingredients to the success of an online course?
“For a Successful Online Teaching and Learning Experience – Communicate” by Lawrence Regan PhD
“A Top Ten List for Successful Online Courses” at the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching.