Today, virtually everyone involved in teaching or learning—from kindergarten to graduate school—will experience some version of “online learning.” Colleges and universities across the country are preparing their faculty and students for a radically different learning experience, investing in new online tools and faculty training. Instructional designers at teaching and learning centers are reaching out to faculty whose first online experiences were likely hastily cobbled together this spring. In a recent article in Inside Higher Education, Doug Lederman surveyed several education experts about how colleges and universities are faring. Will virtual learning be better this fall?
The answer is, not surprisingly, that depends. There are challenges that colleges and universities will be hard-pressed to solve, such as inconsistent internet access for students learning from home. Still, faculty are doing what they can to deliver their courses in new and engaging ways to make learning more effective. Some experts point out that more well-prepared colleges and universities have provided training to help faculty structure their courses more appropriately for an online learning environment. In particular, those institutions that have helped faculty discover new ways to engage students in an online, often asynchronous environment, will likely be more successful in the long term. One expert suggested that “rather than just getting on Zoom and talking to students, or red-lining a written submission, a good training [should show] professors how… to give students more detailed granular feedback.”
One very useful mechanism for providing ongoing, substantive feedback is the online discussion forum, a tool that many online faculty have been using successfully to engage students, build community, and deepen learning. This spring, students showed remarkable resilience in adapting to new forms of learning, but many of them were left feeling anxious, uncertain, and disconnected. At Harmonize, we believe the online discussion forum can help students connect in new ways. So we put together an eBook to give faculty some pointers for how to help their students excel at online discussions, connect more authentically, and learn in new ways.