Tuesday, 7 October 2008
George R. Brown Convention Center, Exhibit Hall E
Distance learning can potentially be a lonely experience for students, especially those who may not be web-savvy, are unsure about interactions via the internet, or are not highly motivated. However, teaching strategies can be used which deliberately focus on fostering an interactive, close-knit classroom environment. These strategies relate to students' affective domain, which relates to motivations, values, attitudes and self-efficacy. For example, implementing immediacy behaviors can lessen the perceived distance between students and their teacher. Specific approaches include offering multiple channels and methods for communication; adapting a friendly, active and approachable on-line presence; placing a high value on participation and communication within the course; and having interactive or team-based projects. Some students in distance learning courses may be self-motivated, but those that aren't may fall through the cracks without deliberate efforts to keep them engaged. To that end, a successful distance learning course can be designed to appeal to a variety of learning styles and motivational types. For example, assignments that emphasize visualizations, local topics, case studies or public policy can be used to create an assortment of approaches that have wide appeal. It is important to note that when a student's performance begins to lag, there is no substitute for a timely, personal approach to connect with them and find out what barriers may be preventing them from fully engaging in the course. Lastly, effective assessment is essential in a distance learning course. By providing a prompt, clear and encouraging assessment, students can feel connected to the course, can learn from their mistakes and can be motivated to work hard in the course. These tactics have been used in a distance learning course in environmental geology with encouraging results. These ideas were explored during the On the Cutting Edge workshop on the Affective Domain (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/index.html).