Introduction to Teaching Online
The way that we teach and learn is continually being impacted by the proliferation of technology in our society. The development of the Internet has made it possible to create dynamic courses and make them available to students located around the world. Numerous universities, colleges, schools, and organizations have taken advantage of the opportunities made available through distance education. Distance learning has become a viable choice for instructional programs. It has been argued that distance education is a growing phenomenon that is here to stay (Palloff & Pratt, 2001).
Defining Distance Education
Types of Distance Courses Involving Online Instruction
Figure 1: Spectrum of Online Course Designs
Growing Opportunities for Online Learning
Students are actively taking advantage of these opportunities to complete part or all of their coursework online. In the fall semester of 2002 there were 1.6 million students taking courses online. One third of those students (578,986) took all of their courses online (Allen & Seamen, 2003). This may be due in part to the benefits of online instruction, which include:
Effectiveness of Online Courses
The majority of the studies reviewed by Phipps and Merisotis indicated that distance learning compared favorably to traditional instruction. Yet, these results should be interpreted with prudence as the quality of some of the research has been called into question.
The real issue regarding effectiveness of distance education may be related more to teaching methodology than it is to the delivery method. From this perspective the technology used to support distance education becomes a tool rather than the source of course effectiveness. Good teaching appears to be the central factor that makes a course effective. Phipps and Merisotis (1999) articulated this point in the conclusion of their research review when stating, “The irony is that the bulk of the research on technology ends up addressing an activity that is fundamental to the academy, namely pedagogy—the art of teaching” (p. 8). Carol Twigg (2001) expressed related ideas when describing the nature of effective online courses. She has argued that a paradigm shift needs to occur in order to focus on making distance courses better rather than simply as good as face to face instruction. New models of online instruction can be combined with technology to teach in new and innovative ways.
Allen, I.E. & Seaman, J (2003). Sizing the opportunity: The quality and extent of online education in the United States , 2002 and 2003. Needham, MA: The Sloan Consortium.
Cohen, Avi (1999). Instructional technology and distance learning through the Internet. Educational Media International, 36 (3), 218-229.
Milheim, W. (2001). Faculty and administrative strategies for the effective implementation of distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 32 (5), 535-542.
Phipps, R. & Merisotis, J. (1999). What's the difference? A review of contemporary research on the effectiveness of distance learning in higher education. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy.
Palloff, R.M & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
Waits, T. & Lewis L. (2003). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000–2001 ( NCES No. 2003-017). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.