As a classroom instructor transitioning into the role of an online facilitator, there are a lot of considerations to be made before the launch of that first class. There are a number of learning management systems (LMS) available on the market from open-source to fee-based services. A facilitator’s choice may depend on the technical prowess and available time commitment to set up and manage the LMS if an administrator is not available to assist with this task. Open-source LMS systems require a considerable amount of time to manage installation, setup and maintenance with unknown variables that can add to the technical side and take away from the instructional development side with little to no support. Depending upon an institution’s choice for a LMS, with all of the features a learning management system can offer, the best approach for teaching the first online course is to keep it simple and only consider the technology tools that are necessary for student engagement (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 57). With an online course, the objective is to move the focus from passive teaching to active learning by exploiting many of the same technologies used every day to connect and collaborate with others (Aldridge, 2013)
Since the most important initial goal within the first weeks of the course is to get acquainted with the learners, establish trust and to launch the learning community (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 56), the easier it is to do this without getting bogged down with a steep technology learning curve for the student or the facilitator, the better. Being able to use audio and video technology to bridge the distance between the instructor and learners can have a benefit as well as a smoother transition into the next phases of a course that can impact the outcome of the learning goals.
There are a number of technological resources that can assist a facilitator such as audio recordings using Audacity for a class introduction or a video introduction using iMovie on an iPad a well as Adobe Captivate. Regardless of the technology a facilitator decides to use, the most important consideration should be how easy it is for the learner to access the technology and the applicability of the resource to the learning. Students in an online course have the advantage of gaining access to learning resources that can connect them to recognized industry experts and engage in an active exchange of information regardless of where they live (Aldridge, 2013). With this availability to resources, an instructor must consider the type of technology they chose to include in a course so that any student, even those living in rural areas or those not so savvy with technology have the opportunity to use the technology without hindrance and focus on the learning, not the technology.
The online environment offers a great opportunity for people from all over the world to come together and meet that would not normally have the opportunity to and share thoughts and perspectives on an intellectual level. As an online facilitator, I believe it is important for the students to engage in meaningful dialog with one another and share perspectives so the tools I use will have that focus in mind. I will be incorporating video into my introduction as a means of connecting with my students on a personal level and have them do the same in a multimedia format to include audio and/or video. I will also use discussion boards as a driving force to engage students in a way that causes learning to occur and change in perspective, thus building a better understanding of the world around us. What I think will also be helpful to incorporate in an online environment is to offer open office hours during crunch times in the course where students will have access to the facilitator and can ask questions in a chat session or through Google Hangouts. By establishing a foundation of effective tools that allow for student engagement, as time moves and technology advances, other more advanced tools may become available, but as a facilitator, one should always remember that as technology changes, it is merely an inevitable tool that is in place to assist with communicating, interacting and finding a means of constructing new knowledge for the student.
Aldridge, S. (2013). 3 Ways Technology-Enhanced Courses Benefit Learners. Retrieved from http://www.learninghouse.com/blog/publishing/3-ways-technology-enhanced-courses-benefit-learners
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.