Tuesday, 5 August 2014

e-tivities: scaffolding learning online

Quite recently I had the real privilege of participating in a WiZiQ-hosted MOOC titled "Teachers Teaching Online". The whole experience was exciting - given I've never previously taught English online - and at times something of an eye-opener. Jason Levine and all the teachers who helped make the course such a success deserve huge thanks for doing way more than simply demystify the concept.

However, it also became apparent to me in one or two webinars given by experienced teachers that online teaching is NOT simply a case of transferring what we know about pedagogy in the face-to-face classroom to an online environment. The online world is qualitatively different: at times more exciting, at times more challenging. Online, we may wish to keep our principles but adapt our tactics.

As knowledgeable MOOC presenters made explicit reference to Gilly Salmon's "e-tivities" framework, I decided to follow up and read the primary sources for myself. The embedded presentation summarizes what I believe I've learnt:

As a language teacher, I'm quite impressed by Salmon's work, which is borne of many years of experience in online education as well as research incorporating feedback from practitioners around the world. An early pioneer in this domain, she is a veritable "thought leader" frequently cited by scholars and other researchers. Her 5-stage model for courses based on "e-tivities" is a viable, principled and practical approach that teachers and academics anywhere can adopt and implement for themselves.

What I find particularly good about Salmon's framework - at any rate, prior to trying it out myself - is that it takes learner engagement and group cohesion so seriously. It appears to take the best of what we teachers already know about about group dynamics and make it work online. An initial emphasis on getting preliminary "Access & Motivation" and "Online Socialization" stages right at the beginning ought surely to pay significant dividends once the more serious business of "Information Exchange" and "Knowledge Construction" gets underway.

However, there's also more. The fifth and final stage ("Development") prioritizes learner metacognition and (hopefully good-humoured) critical self-reflection. Learners' attention is focused on what they will do next in future contexts. Learners are encouraged to examine how they think and approach situations: something teachers could consider doing regardless of medium!

Will I teach online any time soon? I can't yet say for sure, but I'm certainly open to it and feel I have received a lot of valuable input this summer. Perhaps you will see me e-moderating in the not-too-distant future! I hope you've found this post and presentation helpful, anyhow. Maybe you'll have a go, too, if you haven't taken the plunge already.