Teaching and Learning Theories Embodied Within the Design of the Course
Elements in the Course Design
Usability, Readability, Accessibility
Site Analysis and Plans for Course Revision
Appendix A – Work Cited
Appendix B - Course/Web Site Listing of Internal Pages
My project addresses the final phase of the Online Teaching and Learning Master’s Degree program at California State University at Hayward. I have created an online course web site with an accompanying paper in order to demonstrate my knowledge of online teaching and learning and to show this knowledge applied in the actual course which I have created.
The course web site is located at: http://www.officeinstructor.com/EssayWriting/. The need for putting in a password has been disabled. It is only necessary to click on the link “Enter Password” for access to the course.
The course contains approximately 275 internal pages: web pages, interactive forms and portable document format pages (PDF). In addition, it includes numerous links to web resources. My students and I will not be required to utilize all the mentioned pages and resources; nevertheless, these numerous resources are available for incorporating into the course over time as teaching experience utilizing the course calls for changes to its original structure. This course represents a totally new course from the one I designed earlier in the master’s program. I decided to design a new course after I realized that my original course would not achieve the goals I had set: to have an online course to satisfy the requirements of the master’s project; to have a course resource which I could refer to and utilize in my current teaching position. In essence, as a result of this master’s program I have created two courses. I am, however, only presenting the course titled, “ Independent Study: Essay Writing,” which is associated to the above link, for my master’s project evaluation.
I purposely have not incorporated the use of multimedia or many graphics features in my course. This is because of the very limited bandwidth capacity of the environment in which the course will be used. However, in order to demonstrate my ability to create and incorporate multimedia and graphics into an online course, I am including links to the course I previously created for the program, “High School English.” This course makes use of graphics, streaming video, audio, and PowerPoint slide presentations. The following links lead to examples of multimedia used in that course:
Streaming Video with accompanying alternate (accessible) text version;
The title of my project is, “High School Independent Studies: A Hybrid Online Essay Writing Course.” The project consists of three main components:
Creating a custom course management system (CMS);
Creating a hybrid distance learning course for teaching high school English – essay writing to independent study high school students presently participating in an on-ground English program; and,
Testing the effectiveness of the distance learning course in meeting its goal of giving additional learning opportunities to students participating in an on-ground English program.
I define a “hybrid distance learning course” to mean a course that provides students with learning over both the Internet and in face-to-face meetings with their teacher.
Background Information - Goal of Course
My Hybrid Online Essay Writing Course was created to teach independent study students in grades nine through twelve, how to write essays. Presently, these students are enrolled in an independent study program in which they are taking all of their required high school courses. The current schedule arrangement is that each student comes to school for only one hour each week to meet with their teacher, me, to receive and turn in assignments, to take tests and discuss questions regarding all of their courses. The rest of the week they work independently at home, having no further contact with the school or their teacher. They have no opportunity for student interaction or to participate in discussions. The limited amount of time students physically attend school impacts on their teacher’s ability to provide lessons and other resources that could enrich their learning. The students represent a cross section of learner levels, from remedial to accelerated. Their school is in the California school system which is presently undergoing severe budget cutbacks. The effect of these cutbacks is a reduced supply of textbooks and learning materials. In addition, the school district where this course will be conducted has no funds to pay for a Course Management System (CMS.)
Rationale for the Project
The purpose of this project is to study whether on-ground, independent study high school students can participate in and benefit from online instruction.
Although I must teach all the required high school courses to my students in the one hour per week I meet with each of them, I have chosen to focus on creating a hybrid course that teaches the high school essay. In my opinion, the study of essay writing has the most universal benefit to all students and makes the most useful online course to create. My course offers students the opportunity to improve in the following areas:
A small group of students will be evaluated to determine if they are qualified to participate in the hybrid course. The course is constructed using various principles and applications that I have learned in the CSUH Online Teaching and Learning Master’s Program, for example: VARK Learning Styles and threaded discussions.
Prior to taking the course, students will be given a Star Reading Test to evaluate their reading levels. Students will also be given a computer skills test. In addition, they will receive surveys to complete which will relate to their experiences with learning English, their perceptions of Online Learning and their expectations for the course. Throughout the course, students will be surveyed about their experiences taking the course. During the students’ weekly on-ground visits with me, students are to be interviewed and observed utilizing the online component. At the end of the course, students will have a final interview regarding their experiences with the course. Students also will take the Star Reading Test again to see if their reading levels have improved. Throughout the course, students will be provided with lessons and tests. These tests are to be collected and evaluated regarding the effectiveness of the course. At the conclusion of the project, the course will be evaluated, in part based on the collected materials. Improvements to the course will be then be recommended.
Course Design Issues
My hybrid course is designed for high school students in a multi-grade setting. The course syllabus meets and exceeds the essay writing requirements of the school district in which I am teaching. The course is also designed so that students will have the opportunity to:
improve their computer skills;
interact and hold discussions with other students over the Internet;
prepare for the California High School Exit Exam (for those needing to pass it.)
Since the school district has no funding available for a commercial CMS, the course is hosted on a web site I have created. The web site has many of the elements found on a commercial CMS. This web site will function as the CMS. In addition, my CMS is designed for ease of use by the students.
There are a number of legal issues that will be addressed regarding the participation of minors in an online course, including, ownership of student posts in discussions, rights to privacy and censorship.
A characteristic of my school district’s independent study program is that students are enrolling throughout the year. There is no official first day of school. To accommodate this situation, this English course is designed to be flexible and permit students to join and begin participation at anytime throughout the year. This is a significant factor in the design of the course.
Students continue to meet with me one hour each week at the school, in order to participate in their other high school classes. In this meeting, a certain amount of time is given to discussing issues related to the course.
Due to this course being the pilot, initial enrollment will be limited to no more than ten students. The course will have a duration of eleven lessons, rather than weeks.
This is a review of a variety of publications that present information relevant to my project.
In order for students to receive high school credits for participating in a course, state-mandated standards must be incorporated into the course. The following list is English Language Arts Content Standards from the California Department of Education. These standards apply to grades nine thru twelve.
1.0 Word Analysis, Fluency, and Systematic Vocabulary Development
2.0 Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials)
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics) Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.0 Written and Oral English Language Conventions Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
(California Department of Education.)
There are many free resources available to assist the course developer in creating lessons that will comply with these standards. One free resource is provided by the San Diego County Office of Education. It has placed online, for use by educators, a series of lessons called CyberGuides.
These are supplementary, standards-based, web-delivered units of instruction centered on core works of literature. Each CyberGuide contains a student and teacher edition, standards, a task and a process by which it may be completed, teacher-selected web sites and a rubric, based on California Language Arts Content Standards. (San Diego County Office of Education)
Multi-grade Instruction in a Hybrid Online Class
In many Independent Study programs, the teacher works concurrently with students in grades nine thru twelve. The teacher is required to create a unique learning environment that accommodates this heterogeneous group of students. “The challenge for the multi-grade teacher is to meet the individual needs of students in a classroom setting characterized by multiple levels of ability achievement and social and physical development.” (Susan Vincent)
Ms. Vincent goes on to say that:
In multi-grade instruction, children of at least a two year grade span and diverse ability levels are grouped in a single classroom…Students can be taught specific strategies that help them make decisions and solve problems on their own, process information effectively, become reflective about their thinking and learning processes, set their own goals for personal development, and plan ways to achieve these goals…As the multi-grade teacher emphasizes self-directed learning, a more efficient learning environment is created.
The opportunity for a course to be presented in a hybrid online class environment creates the potential for benefits beyond the traditional on-ground classroom. In her paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Lynn M. Smelser states:
The growth of the Internet and other technologies has teachers finding themselves once again moving away from the “traditional classroom” into educational domains that have no physical boundaries and incredible potential for interaction and collaboration among classroom participants. A hybrid course maximizes this potential by offering two very different environments – the traditional physical classroom and the online space of the Internet – for course members to interact with one another and the course material, thus creating expanded opportunities for uniquely reaching students with different learning styles, backgrounds, and educational goals.
Learning Styles and Online Learning
There are definite benefits that can be achieved when a course designer is cognizant of various learning styles. Studies have shown improvement in student understanding of information when courses are designed with consideration to different learning styles. Diana J. Muir performed research “to determine if online learning could be adapted to individual learning styles and if that made a difference in standardized testing scores of Internet students.” The study showed online learning to be adaptive. Muir states that the “Ideal” online course should include: “…Teacher strategies which address all learning styles, activities that adapt to different learning styles…”
An approach to course design that gives consideration to learning styles is taken thru the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI.) Harvey J. Brightman discusses “the four dimensions underlying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and several teaching approaches that will appeal to different MBTI profiles.”
The High School Student
Are high school students prepared for the demands of taking online courses? What type of expectations should there be for student participation and performance? Ron J. Hammond studied high school and college students’ ability to learn online. “High school students had more complaints about interactive learning… They value interactive classes more than college students, yet do not perform as well…and found the interactive courses to be difficult.”
Prior to enrolling students in a distance learning program, they should be assessed as to their ability to participate. This may be done using a questionnaire pertaining to students’ independent study skills and computer experience. “To avoid failure and inefficacious pedagogy in Web-based environments, potential students should respond formally to a set of criteria.” (Elizabeth A. Buchanan)
In order for students to obtain the maximum benefit from a course, a substantial amount of investigation and planning must go into the developing it.
Instructors must create instruction that supports active learning. The learning environment must ensure that the learners are provided with a specific context, clear goals and objectives based on defined needs and instructional strategies that reflect their needs and interests. Strategies should include problem solving, collaboration and partnering. (American Distance Education Consortium)
The online environment is unique in many ways and this should be addressed in the course design. However it is important for the instructor to be aware that the basic principles which foster a successful on-ground course remain the same for the online course.
Many of the best practices employed by classroom instructors can and should be employed in the online environment. All instructors should consider student needs and interests when creating and delivering courses…All instructors must consider the human element in whatever environment they are instructing. (Roger Powley)
Student Qualifications and Standards
Students must meet certain qualifications in order to participate in the course:
have a home computer which meets hardware and software requirements;
have a reliable home Internet connection; and,
be proficient in their computer and Internet skills.
Prior to the start of the course, students will be required to attend an orientation session that explains how to log on and utilize the online component of the course. Students must agree to meet requirements regarding interaction with each other (to participate in discussion and chats), academic honesty and attendance.
The course is an elective in our independent study program; therefore, it has a great deal of flexibility in meeting any requirements of the California Department of Education in order to award high school course credit to the participating students. The content of the course is basically determined by me.
participate in a Star Reading test to determine student’s reading level.
Students will utilize a variety of applications in order to communicate with each other and complete assignments including:
face to face meetings.
Multi-grade, Multi-skill Level Assignments
Students participating in this course are in different grade levels. They represent different skill levels in the subject of English. However, the course has been created to allow for this heterogeneous grouping.
Evaluation of Course
Data will be obtained for later evaluation of the course by utilizing the following:
Surveys are conducted over the duration of the course. Surveys are given to the participating students. Survey One will take place prior to the start of the course. The remaining surveys are conducted during and at the end of the course.
I will make notes on student feedback (both solicited and unsolicited) throughout the course.
I will observe students using the CMS.
Star Reading Test Results
Reading test scores will be documented prior to and upon completion of the course.