Active Learning Is Critical
Active involvement, student interaction, and varied activities are important for all types of learning, but they are essential in working with students at a distance.
Involve Students. Active involvement is critical in learning. Rather than just assigning a reading, get students to do something with the information they've read. One option is to provide web pages that contain study guides, webquests, and other activities that use class materials.
Provide short bits of information at a time focusing on specific outcomes. Include information, examples, and practice or discussion with each new concept. Use ThinkQuest projects for ideas. The To Kill A Mockingbird example uses this module approach.
Rather than requiring each assignment to be graded by the teacher, use self evaluation, peer evaluation, or selective grading. For example, students might complete ten "idea exploration" activities, but only be required to submit their favorite five activities for a grade. Ask students to share their ideas and projects with others.
Encourage Interaction. Keep students interacting through the use of a class listserv, threaded discussion, or other communication tool. Involve students in collaborative projects and discussions.
Try to get students to choose to participate rather than requiring participation. In other words, if the discussions are helpful to their assignments, projects, or learning, they will participate without an assignment that requires them to "send at least three message to the listserv." Start with nonthreatening discussions that help students get to know each other. Consider developing a web page(s) that contains the names and pictures of students so that visual learners can "see" their classmates. Another way to encourage interaction is through the use of peer evaluation, help sessions, and collaborative projects.
Vary Class Activities. Email messages, a listserv discussion, a threaded web discussion, web page development, and a PowerPoint presentation may all be assignments within a business management course. Each assignment would focus on a different aspect of the course. The listserv and threaded discussions might be used to synthesize the course reading materials and the web page and PowerPoint projects would be used to focus in on a particular topic of interest.
Online tools, software, and calculators can make learning online more interesting. Check out the Healthy Body Calculator.
Adapted from Virtual Sandcastles: Teaching and Learning at a Distance by Annette Lamb and William L. Smith.