How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design

This post examines how instructors teaching online can develop pedagogical and instructional skills by collaborating, communicating and building knowledge online with peers using technological tools and applications.

MP900444382[1]A paper published recently in the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (JOLT) highlights (perhaps unknowingly) one of the most effective methods for teaching faculty and instructors how to become skilled in online pedagogy and instruction—walking-the-talk. In the paper instructors did exactly what the students need to do to learn effectively and deeply online, by collaborating, contributing knowledge, sharing and creating an artifact [in this case two online courses] virtually. What’s significant is that collaboration and learning occurred via technological applications, i.e. Skype, Google Docs, Dropbox, discussion forums, and Voicethread. The point is that the technology wasn’t the focus, but that robust, meaningful and productive learning occurred despite the technology. When used effectively technology, as apparent in this study, becomes invisible—transparent. Communicating and collaborating online should be a seamless experience aided by tech tools—when real learning is more likely to happen.

In order for seamless collaboration, communication, etc. to occur users [students, instructors] need to be familiar with the technical tool—they need to  know how it works. Think of how we use a common device, a telephone for example. Most of us don’t focus on the hardware, the dial pad, the earpiece etc, we focus on the conversation, because we already know how to use a telephone. We can apply this same scenario to ed-tech tools used in online collaboration synchronous or asynchronous, with Skype, Google Docs, discussion boards or Voicethread. Unfamiliarity with the technology is a barrier to learning online.

Benefits of Collaborative Learning Online
The paper Instructional Design Collaboration: A Professional Learning and Growth Experience documents the experience of several faculty members and two course instructors that collaborated virtually on two online graduate-level courses using an instructional design model. The paper highlights the outcomes of the online collaborative experience, outlining the three primary benefits:

1. multiplicative effect of the diverse ideas, expertise, and  experiences of educators from different research disciplines
2. collaborative pedagogical and social support during course delivery
3. enhanced and strengthened professional relationships and pedagogical expertise that developed and endured beyond the duration of the course.

Faculty’s Seamless Technology Use 
Though the primary benefits mentioned in the paper (above) excluded the concept of modeling for students the necessary behaviours for collaborating and learning online, the paper does emphasize the value of the tools used, and its indirect benefits to the instructors’ students.

Collaboration was foundational to the instructional design process for the off-campus instructors and a variety of networked technologies supported online collaboration as shown in Table 2. E-mail was primarily used for short messages, questions, and to arrange meetings. Skype, a free audio and video communication tool, was used to meet virtually to discuss and consolidate ideas, and to refine the instructional design. The instructors shared desktops when building the course components in the Blackboard learning management system (Figure 2) and used Dropbox, a free, cloud-based file-sharing service, to collaboratively develop and share course files, such as the syllabus and assessment rubrics. (Brown, Eaton, Jacobsen, Roy & Friesen, 2013)

The faculty and instructors relied upon these tools extensively, and continued to do when communicating after the design project was complete. Such behaviour demonstrates the seamless nature of the tools upon conquering the learning curve. However despite the benefits of using the tools for collaborating, sharing etc., several challenges persisted.

The instructors perceived increased time was spent in exchanging information and engaging in ongoing professional dialogue…a collaborative instructional design approach takes extra time for meetings, negotiating ideas, document revisions, managing document flow, and online course creation. Consequently, preparing an online course coupled with working in partnership and engaging in a collaborative and supportive approach to instructional design and course delivery demands an increased time investment for instructors. That said, we contend that the increased time investment is worthwhile for improving the process of course design and subsequently supporting job-embedded professional learning experience for the instructors. (Brown, et al., 2013)

Though several ideas are discussed here, my aim is to share with readers the idea that learning as our students learn, walking the talk—can be an effective method for acquiring  skills for teaching in a new modality.  It’s the instructors and faculty that make learning happen online, not the technology, yet mastery of using the technology as a tool provides a seamless experience; the technology becomes invisible and learning reigns.


2 thoughts on “How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design

  1. Pingback: How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design « New Images of Education

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