All posts by Karen Haines

What do learners DO online?

This blog post  continues to explore ‘online taught’, one of the four components in our new teaching and learning models. See earlier posts, entitled Remember when you were at Uni and Teacher Presence Online.

This post explores ‘online taught’ in relation to student online activity, and what our role is as teachers to support this. Below are some examples of activities that learners might do online and how we, as teachers, facilitate learning.

We mediate input

Flipping the classroom is ideal for blended classes. You can give students online input before they come to the class so that when they come together face-to-face, conversations can be deeper and you can check on concepts and explore the knowledge that students have already constructed about a topic. Your role as teacher is to curate or create opportunities for learners to engage with material. You might direct them to different ways of accessing already existing online material in relation to different learning styles. You might create a video in Echo360 for students to watch before they come to class.  You might use Zaption to insert questions into a YouTube clip. You might use the Explain Everything app to explore tricky aspects of content that learners need to know.

Traditionally, we have expected learners to work independently online. In the first flush of using the internet in education (around the early 2000s), teachers would often suggest websites that students might like to explore for themselves in their own time. A variation on creating a reading list for a course might be to create a class group on a social bookmarking site like Diigo and ask learners to contribute useful sites that they have found. Your role as teacher is to keep an eye on the group suggestions and comment on the value of specific sites.

We design for good learning

Web 2.0 was picked up by educationalists as a chance to get students more active online. While initially it was the teacher who created blogs or podcasts, more and more these became tools for to use, whether individually or collaboratively. The facility to create online material became a useful tool for learning, as did the ability to write/speak for an audience wider than the class. Collaborative spaces like wikis allow for interaction to occur round a particular task. Your role as teacher with Web2.0 tools is to design tasks that result in good learning. Set clear guidelines, model good use yourself, and give plenty of practice with new tools before assessing students’ work in them.

Conversations in class can contribute to learning. Just as you create opportunities for learners to engage meaningfully with each other face-to-face, as a blended teacher you can support online conversations.  Your role doesn’t end with setting up a forum or a chat space. Instead, you need to design tasks that require learners to engage with each other online.  Your role as teacher is to establish clear deadlines for contributions and then stay in touch with what is happening. You don’t have to read EVERYTHING that students write, but you do need a clear sense of what the discussion is about and should answer questions that evolve from online conversations – either in the forum itself or in the face-to-face class.

I hope there are some ideas above to inspire what ‘online taught’ means. There are further suggestions on the Blended Learning Moodle page What does ‘online taught’ mean? Feel free to contact us at TPA if you would like to discuss these ideas more, or if you would like to have us facilitate a workshop for you and your colleagues to explore the ‘online taught’ component in relation to your specific context.

Teacher presence online

Think of an online course that you have been part of as a learner. What did it mean for you to be ‘present’ online? Were you aware of your teacher’s presence?

The Community of Inquiry model, developed by Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000) is used and researched widely. It identifies three different kinds of presence that are crucial for good educational experiences to happen in online environments.

Community of Inquiry model

It is important to note that these presences apply to all participants.  This blog post considers what it means as a teacher to be present in these different ways? Here are several comments from students that suggest their expectations of teacher presence.

‘Some lecturers are extremely supportive, others less so or not at all.’

‘We need lecturers who answer questions and reply to emails.’

‘It’s important that teachers actually read the Moodle forums they set as homework.’

 To start you off on your thinking, would any of the suggestions below give you more teacher presence in your online environment.

Teaching and Cognitive Presence: Selecting content

  • Chunk the content of your course into smaller bites than a textbook or academic essay. How can you get learners to interact with a single chunk? What task might help them to engage better with the content?
  • Think of the main points or headlines of your content. Has someone already created engaging content online that you can point learners to? Do a search.
  • Use a YouTube video or a TED talk as a starting point for getting learners to engage with a particular topic.

Social and Teaching Presence: Setting the climate

  • Be positive and friendly in your online interaction, whether it is a welcome notice, online input sessions or responding to students’ questions.
  • Establish office hours when you are available for chat, video conferencing, phone contact.
  • In your face-to-face class, talk about what learners have been discussing online. And vice-versa.

Social and Cognitive Presence: Supporting discourse

  • Ensure presence as a moderator in online discussion forums. How will your students know that you’ve read/valued their contributions?
  • Give feedback in both face-to-face and online modes.
  • Ask good questions that encourage students to engage in more depth with content, rather than just read or watch superficially.

For more specifics on what your presence as a teacher online might be, go to the Blended Learning Moodle which deals with the question How you can develop social and teaching presence with your students.

Image from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/wp-content/themes/The%20Mentor/images/uploads/comm_inquiry.gif

Remember when you were at uni?

The tertiary teaching model which many of us experienced as learners was very centred round transmitting information, usually through lectures. Biggs and Tang (2007) identify that this way of teaching focuses on what the student is and what the students’ responsibilities are. So students attend lectures, listen and take notes, do assignments, sit exams – the onus is on the student to perform, in response to one-way delivery of information.

When considering what online taught means, it is tempting to focus on what the teacher does in order to transmit concepts and understandings. Rather than doing this face to face, what does it look like if we transfer it to the online environment? The Blended Learning Moodle page answering ‘What does online taught mean?’ offers some suggestions around how teachers might give input online, create online activities and support learners at their point of need.

However, Biggs and Tang (2007) identify both of these foci (in bold above) as constituting deficit models, and advocate for a focus on what the student does and how well the intended outcomes are achieved. Teaching becomes student-centred and the teacher takes responsibility for identifying appropriate outcomes and setting up activities to meet the required outcomes. The teacher has to decide how they are going to find out if the outcomes have been reached at an appropriate level.

So how does this help us define what ‘online taught’ might look like? Focusing on the student in an online environment suggests the following question as starting points for ‘online taught’.

  1. Thinking about the class/group of learners: What online activities will help students to meet the intended learning outcomes?
  2. Thinking about individuals: What does a student have to do online to demonstrate his/her understanding?

More about this in my next blog post where I discuss the concept of online presence and what it might look from a teacher perspective. In the meantime, read Mark’s recent blog post here for more details on social imaginaries as an important concept for making changes to what we do in education.


Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university (Society for research into higher education).