UPDATED 19 OCTOBER 2013
Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about education, teaching and learning and what I can do as a teacher to help my students in their learning process. Since I myself enjoy learning and collaborating online, I want to provide the same tools for my students. So far, however, I’ve mostly used our online learning platform pingpong to provide structure for the course, share information and documents, and support my communication with the students. Very much from my perspective – how can I use the platform as a tool to get my messages across?
In a sense, I think I continue to have a rather traditional approach in my online teaching practice and perhaps it has to do with process of developing as a teacher described by Kugel . Kugel identifies 6 stages, separated into 2 phases, where the first phase focuses on teaching (i.e. the teacher’s role) and the second phase on learning (i.e. the student’s role). The six stages are;
- self; when professors being their teaching careers their main concern is their own role in the classroom,
- subject; when they have mastered this role their concern shifts to their understanding of the subject matter they teach,
- student; in the third stage focus shifts from the teacher to the student and their “ability to absorb what they have been taught” and how the teacher can help them in this process. This third stage also marks the bridge to the second phase where focus moves from teaching to learning,
- student as active; concern then typically shifts to helping students learn to use what they have been taught – to be active, and finally
- student as independent; where focus is on helping them to learn on their own. 
Probably we all move more or less between these different stages, but I find the idea that becoming a teacher in higher education is not something that happens overnight quite comforting (although pedagogical education will probably help you move more rapidly across this process). My reflection so far, is that while in the classroom, I have moved on to stage 4 (and perhaps touching on stage 5), my use of e-learning tools have remained in the first phase, focusing very much on how I as a teacher can use these tool to communicate knowledge to my students. I believe there is great room for improvement here, finding ways to use e-learning tools to help students becoming more active and independent in their learning.
I have provided the students with areas where they could (in theory) collaborate in their respective groups, but so far they haven’t used these facilities much. Today I’m pondering why… so far I’ve come up with a number of reasons:
- the courses I teach are not exclusively online, and students do not have to use the online facilities to complete their group work assignments
- pingpong is not the most easy-to-use and accessible tool – many students are more comfortable communication through e.g. facebook – perhaps they are using online tools to collaborate and I just don’t know about it! Not necessarily because other tools are easier to use than pingpong, but because they are more familiar with them?
- pingpong provides opportunity for us as teachers to monitor activity and follow discussions – perhaps this is a reason why students prefer to use other tools? Autonomy is an important part of work and if you feel constantly watched it may decrease your motivation. On the other hand, having support and facilitation from teachers would probably be considered very positive by most students – so perhaps this should rather be emphasized as a benefit.
So, in the future – how could I support my students in using online collaboration and communication tools? First of all – is it necessary? Well, I actually think that many of the students would appreciate being able to collaborate when and where they want to – even if it’s not a distance course. Every year there is some conflict about some students not contributing enough – and perhaps by enabling more flexible ways of collaborating some of these issues could be resolved.
Secondly, do I need to monitor their work? This is a trickier question. I don’t think I necessarily need to monitor everything they do – I don’t have the time anyway… but I need to be accessible as a facilitator. So perhaps different fora/platforms are needed. Some room where they can actively collaborate without me watching over their shoulder, and a common area where issues can be raised and results presented.
Many of the issues discussed above relates to the different roles of the teacher as described by Harden and Crosby ;
- the information provider in the lecture, and in the
- the role model on-the-job, and in more formal
- the facilitator as a mentor and learning
- the student assessor and curriculum evaluator;
- the curriculum and course planner; and
- the resource developer, both of resource materials, and study guide producer.
So far, I’ve mostly used the e-learning tools to support my activities as an information provider, planner and resource developer, but not as much to develop my activities as a role model, facilitator and assessor. We do have some discussions online (acting as a facilitator) and they do submit assignments and are given feedback online (acting as an assessor), but I do think these aspects of my teaching practices could be strengthened. This I hope to explore more in the future.
 Kugel “How professors develop as teachers” Studies in Higher Education Volume 18, Issue 3 1993 , pages 315 – 328
 Harden & Crosby, “The good teacher is more than a lecturer – the twelve roles of the teacher”, Medical teacher, 2000, vol 22, nr 4, pages 334-347