What is online teaching? asks

  • What is involved in online teaching?
  • Why is it needed?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Who makes the decsion to teach online?

My work has always had a diffusion basis, sort of. My interest starts with the people who make the adoption decision. Which in universities tends to be the academics. So I’d like to reverse the order of the questions.

I’m answering because I see it as an interesting exercise in “verbalising” my beliefs.
Who makes the decision to teach online?

Generally, it is the academics. But they are influenced by a whole range of influences including:

  • Student demand – I’ve seen aspects of online teaching added because of students seeing it in other courses and liking it.
  • Word of mouth – positive comments/experiences from others
  • Experimentation – All of these contribute to a desire to “put a toe in the water” and experiment
  • Organisational expectations – i.e. “all courses shall be online”
  • To address specific problems – my personal reason for starting in online learning was that I had distance students who I could not easily communicate with because of geographic distance.

I’m sure there are more.

I must admit that I have a lot of time for the perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use factors as strong contributors to the adoption of innovations, particularly IT based ones. For example, application to adoption of web 2.0 and elearning 2.0 and some local work on its application.

What purpose does it serve?

Initially, it’s to serve the purpose identified by the people who made the decision. For example, my purpose was to enable communication.

But implementation of innovations in a complex situation is not something you can easily control and it often ends up serving an entirely different purpose.

Why is it needed?

Continuing my strong problem driven perspective. It is needed, for many, because it solves a specific problem. It’s why I got started with it.

Increasingly I think that Web 2.0, specifically with its interesting enablers around social computing etc, might allow us to move beyond solving problems with existing methods and develop brand new methods.

What is involved in online teaching?

To me it is entirely contextual. That’s why I started with “who makes the decision”. The answer to who and why generates that answer to what is involved.

My reasons and purpose for online teaching drive what I will try to do and hence drive the requirements.

This is why I think most institutional approaches to eLearning, by starting with an evaluation of existing learning management systems, is the wrong way around.

You can’t choose the tool until you determine what you want to do. It is very hard to identify upfront what you want to do with online learning for a range of factors including:

  • Academics and their teaching demonstrate a great deal of diversity
  • We still don’t really know how best to do online teaching in a range of specific cases, let alone all cases.