Online Learning Reflection Paper

Helen Mongan-Rallis. Submitted to Pat Sterle as assignment for Facilitating Online Learning class, May 3, 2006.

What are the differences between teaching a face-to-face course versus an online course?

Face-to-face Online
Planning & preparation
  • Long term planning of details of the course tends not to be as detailed as online because other than a hard copy of the syllabus, teachers frequently do not share details of units and assignments until nearer the due date.
  • Details of f2f lessons are planned out in detail, including content, methods to be used, in-class activities, formative assessment, follow-up summative assessment. Regardless of the teaching method used, planning for a f2f class tends to be very specific so as to maximize the use of the in-class time.
  • Teaching materials that are used can be very "low tech" and put together at the last moment, in time for class.
  • Planning for f2f is typically a solo activity, with the instructor making all decisions about what, when, and how to teach (within confines of course expectations & requirements, of course), and what materials to use.
  • Usually the entire course needs to be planned out ahead of time, with syllabus, assignments, rubrics, examples of work, core readings and resources posted on the course site ahead of time so that students can make the most of the flexibility of online course to work ahead as needed (note: this is not a requirement for online teaching, but seems to be more typical). Within this clearly planned structure, however, there can be considerable variation. Additionally, if a course is taught using more constructivist approaches, some details within each unit and assignment should ideally be created as the course evolves. For example: Although the purpose and topic for discussions is usually planned ahead of time, the exact nature of the question(s) that will be asked can evolve and change depending on the direction preceding discussions take, so that discussions build on each other and on the evolving interests and expertise of the students.
  • If lecture notes are to be created, these need to be written in a different style or genre to notes that might be used by an instructor in f2f class. Online "lectures" and assignment directions must be very detailed and fully self-explanatory, ideally linked to examples and resources that illustrate the concepts being taught/assessed.
  • The nature of individual lessons within an online class can vary considerably, since the "in-class time" usually covers a much longer time than f2f, often extending to two weeks for a given topic. Planning is focused more on the location and creation of the learning resources to be used by students, rather than on the processes that occur within the lesson.
  • If high tech media are used (such as creation of video, video casts, podcasts, flash movies), this may take considerable up-front planning and creation time, and may required the teacher receiving additional (and often extensive) support from technical staff.
  • Planning online classes is often a collaborative venture, with the instructor working with a team of people such as technical support staff and other instructors who are part of the online program.
Role of teacher
  • I think that even in more learner-centered classrooms, when the teacher sees his/her role as a facilitator of learning, I think the nature of the tradition of classroom teaching makes it very difficult for the teacher not to be at the center of attention, dominating class activities and larger portions of the class. Teachers tend to the focus of the class except when students are giving presentations.
  • Once the course has been created, even in more teacher directed online classes, the role of the teacher is more of a facilitator of student learning. In teacher directed online classes, the teacher assumes considerable control over the material that students use in learning content. In more constructivist classes, once a lesson/unit is introduced, students can assume a key role in locating their own resources (online and hard copy). But in either case, once the students begin using the online materials and engaging in discussion with each other about these, the instructor's role is to "guide from afar," ideally intervening in discussions only as needed to reinforce, guide, and extend the discussion.
Role of students
  • To learn from the resources the teacher provides, and from peers, but following the lead of the teacher.
  • To take responsibility for their own learning, beginning with the lead set by the teacher, but from then on directing their own learning in building on the initial framework created by the teacher. This involves sharing in co-creating the direction of discussions, seeking out resources beyond those provided and integrating them into discussions and assignments.
  • In online learning, students need to be much more self-motivated and self-directed, as they cannot expect the teacher to monitor if and when they are doing the work.
Expectations of students
  • Attend class, be prepared for class by doing homework, participate in classroom activities.
  • Be able to communicate effectively and respectfully in a face-to-face environment, following appropriate rules of social etiquette.
  • Develop their own system to ensure that they "attend class" online at regular intervals and keep up with assigned work.
  • Be able to use the necessarily technology to perform online tasks
  • Be able to communicate effectively and respectfully in an online environment (follow appropriate netiquette).
    • If class is taught in a learning community model, work collaboratively with others so that they contribute to discussions in a timely fashion and follow-up in responding to peers, reading their posts and being attentive to what others are saying.
Expectations of instructor
  • Attend class, be prepared to teach class f2f
  • Teach effectively using f2f methods (see examples in chart below)
    • A key aspect of this is understanding the needs of students in a f2f environment and having the interpersonal skills facilitate f2f interaction among students and to support and guide f2f learning
  • Select and use classroom teaching tools appropriately and effectively to enhance student learning.
  • Be available to students outside of class to provide assistance
  • Provide oral and written feedback in a timely and appropriate way.
  • Maintain a watchful, frequent, and regular online presence (usually checking on at least once every 24 hours on weekdays to respond to student online questions and emails).
  • Be prepared to teach online (content and skills)
  • Teach effectively using online teaching methods (see examples in chart below)
    • Key here: understanding needs of online learners and how to create and facilitate an online learning community; having online interpersonal skills to communicate effectively and supportively in writing with students (in creating online notes, assignment guides etc; in using email communication, and in facilitating online discussions); in online discussion, an important skill is knowing when to contribute to a discussion and how to do so in such as way as to avoid making the discussion teacher centered and/or shutting down discussion unintentionally).
  • Select and use online teaching tools appropriately and effectively to enhance student learning.
  • Be available to students online, by phone and/or via online office hours.
  • Provide feedback to student assignments in a timely and appropriate way, using the different online tools appropriately for different types of feedback (e.g. email for correction and individual feedback vs. posting in discussion for feedback that is positive and can benefit whole class).
  • Keep website current (i.e. monitoring to ensure links stay current)
  • Make the most of online tools and resources (recognizing and using the wealth of these and encouraging students to locate and use their own sources)
  • Little flexibility of when and where to take class. Students need to be in class at a fixed place and time.
  • Little flexibility in how students can learn during class time. Since teaching is "live," the teacher can present each part of the lesson only in one way at a time, so in whole class activities, all students do the same thing at the same time. During individual or group time, students can vary what they do, but still must make their choices within the space and time constraints of the classroom.
  • For asynchronous elements of online class, students can participate in learning activities 24-7 and from any place that has an Internet connection (or at least download necessary elements and then work offline). This flexibility is a major difference between f2f and OLL.
  • Students can work at their own pace and sequence activities according to their own interests and needs (unless instructor blocks access to some course elements except in designated times).
  • Students can review and repeat learning experiences as needed (vs. in class, where they can't replay what a teacher just said!). They can also experience the activities using different modalities if the technology is available to do this (e.g. can read the text on the screen at and/or listen to screen reader reading it; can listen to a podcast and/or read transcript of the podcast).
Types & use of materials
  • All materials of OLL can also be used in f2f classes, either as a supplement for the f2f (so course is web-enhanced) or with the teacher having students go online during class.
  • In addition to using the same tools and materials as in OLL, f2f classes can use hands-on tools and equipment that are available an site.
  • Materials used by students are usually limited to those that can be provided online. A limitation of OLL is access for students to hands-on tools e.g. lab equipment.
  • Can be given synchronously and orally, with non-verbals playing an important part in how teachers convey their intent and how students interpret what is said.
  • Students can demonstrate their skills and understanding "live" and receive immediate feedback from the teacher and from peers.
  • Except in synchronous activities (e.g. chat, video-conferencing, or online testing), there is a delay in students receiving feedback on or responses to their online discussion posts. Instructors should be sure to provide feedback promptly when appropriate (this also means knowing when not to intervene and respond in online discussions, allowing peers to work together to solve problems).

Chart showing how typical face-to-face teaching methods can also be used in online environment

F2F method

Online method

Lecture, guest speaker, demonstration

Synchronous: Audio (e.g. Skype), video chat (e.g. iChat, NetMeeting, Breeze), ITV

Asynchronous: Audio or video file downloaded (e.g. podcast) or sent on CD/DVD; archive of Breeze; ePortfolio.

Class discussion

Synchronous: Video chat, Breeze, ITV.

Asynchronous: Discussion forum (e.g. WebCT, WebX), wiki, blogs, email.

Student presentations

Presentation uploaded to website in any format; students can then engage synchronously or asynchronously with instructor & other students using formats listed above.

Small group work

Synchronous: Chat, Breeze, ITV, phone (conference call).

Asynchronous: Discussion forum, wiki, blogs, email.

Handouts & course materials

Viewed on course website (as webpage) or downloaded in original form (e.g. PowerPoint) & can then be printed or viewed on the computer; Can be mailed to students via email or in regular mail in CD/DVD or hard copy form.


Online tests (formative & summative w/ immediate feedback ); ePortfolio/ students’ websites /blog; discussion forum e.g. final project; if needed, proctored exams; plagiarism check e.g.

What changes will have to be made to make your course an effective online course?


Currently I am scheduled to teach three different courses next year, and one over the summer. Two of the classes for next year are already online classes. The other two are designed to be, and intended to be face-to-face classes (namely: a 5000 level summer class called Teaching with Technology, and a teacher licensure class for secondary education teachers, called General Instructional methods. Both of these are methods classes. For many years I have made these web-enhanced classes, with all my course materials for each posted on the respective course sites (e.g. Educ 5413 Summer 2005 and EdSe 3204 spring 2005). Because I am fairly proficient in using the suite of technology tools provided by UMD, I have been able to create my own online course websites and teaching materials with little if any outside help. I already make extensive use of a variety of electronic tools that are common to online classes (e.g. I create my course website using Macromedia Dreamweaver; I use a variety of applications to present course content and teach classes e.g. PowerPoint, Inspiration, iMovie, QuickTime, MS Word, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, iTunes, UMBlog,, and recently I have begun learning how to use UMWiki). I also use the UM tools WebCrossing, Test Pilot, eGradebook, ePortfolio, Prior to my beginning online course, so that does not fall within the scope of this question.


Improvements and changes in online classes:

How will you include inquiry-based activities in your course?

What techniques will you use to keep it alive and keep students engaged? (discussion board?, chats?, media?, listserv?, video?)


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